AMERICAN IDOL 3
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In the world's ultimate talent search - where the eyes of a nation are upon the best undiscovered singers in the country, where the audience has the power to make or break you, and where a million-dollar recording contract is on the line, there is only one rule: If you can sing it, bring it.

Recaps by Gordon Pepper and Chico Alexander, GSNN


FACT FILE:
Host: Ryan Seacrest
Judges: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
Creator: Simon Fuller (based upon "Pop Idol")
EP: Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller
Packager: 19 Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America
Airs: Tuesdays at 8:00pm ET and Wednesdays at 8:30p ET on FOX


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May 25/26 - The Final Showdown - The Results

Okay, Gordon's giving the big show to me tonight, so you've got one more night with me.

Anyway, it's the moment we've all been waiting for... the big night... A big... concert? Yes, as part of tonight's two-hour celebration of the last four months, we are treated to an outdoor concert hosted by Ryan and two beautiful women. On the left, Christina Christian, blowing up the charts in Europe from her season one exit, and on the right, Jennifer Love Hewitt, who's either a) a really big fan, b) there to plug her new film "Garfield: The Movie", or c) currently shagging Ryan.

Starting off with La Toya, voted off in the round of four, singing "If You Don't Know Me By Now". Meanwhile, Ryan sneaks off to Diana's dressing room, where he gives her a surprise -- it's Kim Caldwell taking a break from 5-4-3-2-1 to host a support party from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. We even have the governor dressed in pink, who offers up the bet from Governor Mike Easley. Peaches and NASCAR tickets against blueberries... and NASCAR tickets.

Then he goes over to Fantasia's dressing room, where she is bombarded by a crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum, where second season sous-Idol Clay Aiken (yes, despite his popularity, he only came in second last year) is hosting HER support party, all 6000 of them. And we can hardly hear him OR the mayor of High Point scream over his own voice, it's so loud.

Continuing the season 3 CD concert outside is George, eliminated from the round of five, singing "If You Don't Know Me By Now".

Seacrest... in... Paula's dressing room, where Randy is also visiting. Was it the best season ever? Paula says not just the best, but the most exciting. She's still feeling like a proud parent. But she insists there won't be tears... Yeah right.

Christina's outside with Ray Romano. He's going for Fantasia. Jasmine, bounced last week, takes the stage next with "Midnight Train to Georgia". Meanwhile, Ryan visits his favorite judge, Simon, in his dressing room. Most difficult thing about being a judge: being the only one (without sounding conceited) who knows what he's talking about, citing Fantasia. He insists that (after a long pause) it's about the final two tonight. Then Ryan hands out small black T-shirts.

Christina's out with Sharon Osbourne. I don't know why, possibly because she's just there. The choir is practicing in the red room, and that can only mean we are minutes from showtime. Seriously, as we head to the main stage, and its incredibly giant audience.

Cue the opening sequence... again.

Now, we know that this is the Super Bowl of singing, so what better way to start it than Tamyra Gray (whose name has been all over this finale) singing our National Anthem. Even as an Aussie is in the crowd (guess Guy Sebastian wanted to see who won for himself).

Out comes Ryan again, as he details that after four hours of voting and over 65 million votes (which shatters last year's record), 1.3 million votes separate the two finalists.  Randy says "This is the place to be. If you ain't here, you ain't nowhere."

Starting tonight's show with "The Impossible Dream", as Diana (later joined by Fantasia) shares the stage in the literal and figurative sense with the powerful first-series Idol Kelly Clarkson and the velveteen second-series Idol Ruben Studdard. Four singers, each with their own unique character.

Once again, we go to the support parties, first to Greensboro and Clay. Guilford County commissioner Bruce Davis got a few friends together and erected a massive billboard outside of High Point. Meanwhile, with Atlanta and Kim, as all they have is a choir teacher willing to tell all. The mayor of Snellville is also in the crowd, and reiterates the town motto: "Where everybody's somebody." And Diana's one hell of a somebody tonight.

Kelly returns to perform the latest single off of "Thankful", "Beautiful Disaster". This version seems to be better than the one on my CD. And it's.... uh... Sorry, got distracted there.

After that, we get a tribute to the guest judges courtesy all 12 finalists, as they prepare to go on the road this summer on their 50-city tour.  And we find out that, like some of their voices, yellow and white don't work that well. And after that, a blooper with the makeup girl not knowing who Barry Manilow is. Almost powdered the pianist. Not Barry, the pianist.

Ruben... Sorry, Rooooooo-ben returns to the stage to perform his latest single off of "Soulful", "What If". Great song, but alas, the time to crown his successor is nigh.

RIGHT AFTER Diana takes the stage with "I Believe". Now theoretically and historically speaking, the first person to take the stage solo has always been the loser. Not boding well for her. Wonder if she realizes that. Well, if anything, dressing like Celine won't work. Fantasia's next, as she sings "Dreams." I'm guessing it's a B-side. Both join on stage for "Knew You Were Watching". Fantasia is singing the George Michael parts, while Diana takes Aretha.

Okay, NOW it's decision time. First, some words of thought from the judges...

Simon: [Whoever wins] will get what they always wanted. Fame, stardom, a ton of money. It's what it's all about. This is THE BEST talent show on Earth.
Paula: I think both of you have made all three of us extremely proud. It's time to move on now, get on with your careers. Whoever wins this, it's the first day of the rest of your exciting life. Remember your first everything, and remember that your dysfunctional family will be there every step of the way.
Randy: Think about it. You're the top two out of 70,000 people we saw. You should stand proud. You're both winners.

Okay, comments. Randy called Fantasia brilliant, Paula said she stood out as a standout artist, and Simon was won over by round 2. Randy said Diana worked it out and came to win, but was puzzled by round 3. Paula said likewise. Simon also said likewise, saying that she didn't nail the competition.

"After 70,000 auditions... after a phone vote of 65 million... the winner of American Idol 2004 is..."

Wait for it...

"Fantasia Barrino!" North Carolina is on its feet, and I get this call from Gordon...

"You all suck."

But we agreed to agree that the better singer won. But as she said "Work hard, it pays off." First words out of the new American Idol's mouth: "I broke my shoe."

Diana gives thanks to the fans for their support. "Not only have I grown as a singer and a performer, I've grown as a person. I'm so proud to have come here with Fantasia. She's my girl, and you guys will treat her well."

Fantasia takes us out with her upcoming single, "I Believe", in the traditional winner's spotlight. And there's not a dry eye in the house. And soon, there won't be a dry eye in the audition rooms as Simon, Paula, and Randy hit the road in search of the winner of Idol 4.

But for now, after a season of terrifying lows, dizzying highs, and creamy middles... Fantasia Barrino emerges the new American Idol.

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