Lee DeWyze was crowned the new American Idol winner, beating out Crystal Bowersox by nearly 2 percent of the vote on the star-studded season nine finale that marked judge Simon Cowell's last episode. "It's amazing, and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders," says Lee. Runner-up Crystal had nothing but words of praise for the new champion. "I knew he was going to win," she reveals. "I told him at our audition in Chicago, 'I'll see you in the finals.' He is a genuinely sweet guy, I love him." The two finalists were nearly upstaged by a generation-spanning group of guest performers (Bret Michaels, Janet Jackson, Chicago, The Bee Gees, Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, Alanis Morissette, Alice Cooper and Hall and Oates), who all turned out for Simon's last stand (the judge is leaving to launch a U.S. version of The X Factor on Fox in fall 2011.) However, it was the return of Paula Abdul that prompted the most moving moments. As Paula paid tribute to her old sparring partner Simon, even the departing "Mr. Nasty" had a tear in his eye.
For more with winner Lee and runner-up Crystal, click here.
American Idol winner
How does it feel to win?
Lee: It feels really good. It's an amazing experience for me, especially since this has been such a long process and a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. So to be here now is awesome.
When Ryan announced your name, what went through your head?
Lee: It was amazing and felt like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Now that this step is done, it's on to the next step, which is to make an album and go on tour, and do all the things I have wanted to do for a long time.
When you started this, did you think you'd be here right now?
Lee: I think you audition with the intention of winning. If you don't think you can win, there is no reason to audition. You question yourself throughout this competition because you are putting yourself on a platform to be judged in front of millions of people, Getting over the feeling of self-doubt is the biggest part of this process.
What did your parents say afterward?
Lee: I didn't get to talk to them too much after the show. I was kind of here, there and all over the place, but when I did get to see them for a minute, it was "Hey, Lee, I love you," and that kind of stuff. It was really nice, I know they are proud of me and I am proud of myself.
How will next week be for you, as there's no show on?
Lee: I don't know. I am going to hate Wednesdays for the rest of my life, though [laughs]. Wednesday was judgment day! It's going to be cool - I am just looking forward to the next step. I am glad it went the way it did. And as far as Crystal goes, I love her to death. I wish her the best and know she will be successful. She supports me, and it's been good for everyone. It's just crazy, and I am trying to take it all in.
American Idol runner-up
How do you feel about the outcome?
Crystal: I feel good. I made it this far, and now I can be happy for Lee. I knew he was going to win. I just had a feeling, and I couldn't be happier for him. He deserves every minute of this.
Why did you think he was going to win?
Crystal: I don't know. It's just something that I felt and I knew, and I'm fine with that. I just had this strange sense of peace of calm. I've been that way through the whole season. If you haven't noticed, I'm just mellow and I was willing, ready and happy for whatever the outcome was. We both win. There's not a winner or loser. Both of us are going to have very successful careers, and we're going to be friends for a long time.
What was your favorite moment tonight?
Crystal: It was a tie between Alanis Morrissette and Joe Cocker. The final two. The Simon tribute was really moving, too.
What have you learned from the experience, and what will you take away?
Crystal: How to walk in heels [laughs] Life lesson: walking in heels, down stairs. I've learned a lot about myself, and I've learned a lot about the business. I already knew who I was, but I just am picking the things I like and adding them to it. I'm never going to be the same. My life is never going to be the same, and I'm ready.
What's next for you?
Crystal: Tour. We're going to go on tour, do some more press, hug my baby boy. Get back to work - now, the real work begins.
At the end of the show, when Lee was singing, you hugged Simon. Did he say anything to you?
Crystal: He winked, and I winked back, and he said "I'm sorry." I told him, "Don't be sorry." This is amazing, and I couldn't be happier.