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(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Unidentified Man (Announcer): This is "American Idol."

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Last night, Kris Allen won America's biggest popularity contest.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KRIS ALLEN ("American Idol" winner): (Singing) …every step you climb another mountain, every breath it's harder to believe, you make it through the pain, whether the hurt came…

INSKEEP: A record one hundred million votes were cast, we are told, for the winner of this year's "American Idol." NPR's Neda Ulaby reports this was an absolute upset.

NEDA ULABY: Chris Allen is a sweetly sincere 23-year-old former missionary from Arkansas. He was competing against a flamboyantly powerful singer, Adam Lambert, a gilded glam rocker who appeared to have the competition sewn up.

"American Idol" did its best to establish the two as opposite personas.

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Mr. RYAN SEACREST (Host): The guy next door versus the guyliner.

ULABY: When Ryan Seacrest announced Kris Allen's victory last night, Allen seemed almost on the verge of turning it down.

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Mr. SEACREST: How does it feel?

Mr. ALLEN: It feels good, man, but Adam just - Adam deserves this. I'm sorry, I don't even know what to feel right now. This is crazy.

ULABY: Allen was not the only person utterly floored by his win. Michael Slezak writes for entertainmentweekly.com.

Mr. MICHAEL SLEZAK (Entertainmentweekly.com): I did not expect Kris Allen to beat Adam Lambert and I don't think Kris Allen expected to beat Adam Lambert. I mean, honestly, saying Adam deserves this, I'm sorry, I've never heard that kind of quote from an "Idol" winner.

ULABY: The "American Idol" franchise says Slezak was completely rejuvenated by Adam Lambert.

Mr. SLEZAK: You know, trying to imagine season eight without Adam Lambert would sort of be like trying to imagine your bowl of cereal without the milk. It would be hard to swallow and kind of dry.

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Mr. ADAM LAMBERT ("American Idol" contestant): (Singing) (Unintelligible)

ULABY: Adam Lambert's performances and song choices were intelligent, audacious, and consistently thrilling. With his anime haircut and feline eyes, Lambert seemed poised to redefine rock and roll masculinity. All of the judges, including Paula Abdul, bestowed him with an aura of inevitability.

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Ms. PAULA ABDUL ("American Idol" Judge): I'm in awe of your talent. Whatever happens with this "Idol" journey, I know with every fiber of my being you are going to be iconic. Yes, you are.

(Soundbite of applause)

ULABY: There's going to be a lot of speculation that Lambert lost the title because he presents — very deliberately — as gay. But Michael Slezak says he thinks that viewers just went for the underdog.

Mr. SLEZAK: You know, I have to say, I think that there may be a slight backlash against the show's producers and judges who have a tendency to push really hard for the contestants that they want to win.

ULABY: Another backlash of sorts came from the contestants themselves. The "American Idol" machine did its best to pit the folksy country Christian against the showy, sophisticated dandy. But the two men formed a friendship that transcended typical reality show expectations.

Ms. SHANA NAOMI KROCHMAL (Out Magazine) Kris and Adam said they were going to vote for each other, that they wanted to buy each other's albums, that they wanted to support each other.

ULABY: Shana Naomi Krochmal is a contributing editor to Out magazine.

Ms. KROCHMAL: I think, you know, we need as many indicators to young men in America that someone like Adam is the kind of guy who can be their best friend as we do to, you know, little eight year olds watching Adam Lambert as the kind of performer they can grow up into being themselves.

ULABY: Krochmal says she took real pleasure in watching what seems to be an authentic mutual affection develop in such an artificial environment of constant hype and relentless product placement.

And they'd better be friends. They've got a 50-city tour to get through this summer.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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