- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carrie Underwood, the country sweetheart who beguiled national television audiences with her strong voice and bright smile, is this year’s “American Idol,” defeating Southern rocker Bo Bice in the show’s finale last night.

The Oklahoma native received more viewer votes than runner-up Mr. Bice after the final round, snaring the title and a record contract.

“Thank you, America,” said Miss Underwood, fighting back tears.

She then reprised “Inside Your Heaven,” which both she and Mr. Bice performed in the final round. The judges thought Mr. Bice out-sang her; the voting audience obviously disagreed.

A 22-year-old college senior, Miss Underwood became the talk of her hometown of Checotah — and the choice of fourth-season “Idol” voters — as she delivered almost uniformly consistent performances each week.

“She has more of the star quality,” said Cindy Monteleone of Chicago, who was among hundreds of people who dropped by the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood to watch former “American Idol” contestants arrive for the show’s taping.

Miss Underwood couldn’t compete with rock ‘n’ roller Mr. Bice on his style of music — “I’m not sure I’m loving the rocked-out Carrie,” judge Randy Jackson said after one attempt.

But she shined in her favorite genre, country.

Friends and family describe Miss Underwood as a polite, quiet, small-town girl who is dedicated to music.

Mr. Bice, 29, of Helena, Ala., would have been the oldest “Idol” winner. He brought an unexpected rock edge to the show’s usually mainstream pop style, shining on songs such as the 1970s hit “Vehicle.” He also performed with Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“He’s just so sincere, and he projects that,” fan Donna Leoni said outside the theater.

The live two-hour finale was padded by clips from throughout the season, interviews with the judges and the finalists, and concert and product plugs (the finalists received gift cars, which were featured in a big-screen video close-up).

There were also, finally, songs. A series of duets featuring the top 12 finishers and guest artists included Anthony Fedorov and Anwar Robinson performing with Kenny G; Scott Savol and Nikko Smith with George Benson; and Vonzell Solomon with Billy Preston.

During the season, although onstage performances were not affected, an offstage drama played out involving judge Paula Abdul and former contestant Corey Clark.

Mr. Clark said he and Miss Abdul had an affair while he was competing in 2003 and that she coached him on how to do better on the show. Miss Abdul has called the accusations “lies” and an attempt at character assassination.

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