Scotty McCreery, whose deep voice, country twang and aw-shucks charm made him an "American Idol" favorite all season, was declared the winner of the TV singing competition Wednesday night.
After a record 122.4 million viewer votes were counted, "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest announced that Scotty, the 17-year-old Garner High School junior, had defeated Lauren Alaina Suddeth, a 16-year-old from Rossville, Ga.
As the confetti fell during the "Idol" finale at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, more than 8,200 Scotty fans roared their approval at the RBC Center in Raleigh. All night, the crowd had been cheering whenever Scotty's face appeared on the giant screen. During commercial breaks, they chanted "Let's go Scotty!" in unison.
"I think people just fell in love with him. He's just a nice little role model," said Elizabeth Worley of Raleigh, who was at the RBC Center with five friends who wore red, white and blue top hats that spelled out "Scotty."
In Los Angeles, an emotional Scotty tried to sing as he hugged his parents, Mike and Judy McCreery of Garner, his sister, Ashley, and his fellow contestants, including Lauren, whom he has grown close to during "Idol."
Scotty is the second North Carolinian - and the first from the Triangle - to win "Idol," which is now in its 10th season. Fantasia Barrino of High Point was the winner in Season 3.
Scotty also is the first male country singer to take the "Idol" title. He stuck with country music from his audition last year through the live performance shows of recent months. Even when faced with a theme week such as the songs of Elton John or Carole King, Scotty found a way to put his own country stamp on things.
In doing so, he won not only praise from the "Idol" judges but the hearts of millions of teen and preteen girls. Many adults, meanwhile, became fans because of the wholesome, boy-next-door image he projected from week to week.
"He's a total package - a good kid you would want your daughter to bring home," said Teresa VonCannon, who was at the RBC Center.
'Lock them doors'
Scotty tried out for the show last summer during auditions in Milwaukee. It was the first time the judges got to hear "Baby, lock them doors ..." - the opening lines of Josh Turner's "Your Man," which would become Scotty's unofficial theme song.
Though he passed the audition, it wasn't common knowledge in Garner last fall. Scotty went about his normal life - active in the church youth group, with the school chorus and as a cashier at Lowes Foods.
Scotty's audition didn't air on TV until the "Idol" season began in January. In February, Scotty made the "Idol" Final 24. In March, he was named to the Final 13. Since then, he and Lauren prevailed each week as the other finalists - including soul singer Jacob Lusk, rocker James Durbin and bluesy Haley Reinhart - were eliminated one by one, based on viewer votes.
Through it all, Scotty was the only contestant this season who was never among the bottom two vote-getters any week.
Odds were on Scotty
Most "Idol" followers, critics, bloggers and online betting sites gave Scotty the edge going into Tuesday night's last performance show against Lauren. Each sang three songs, including one that will be released as a single. Lauren's single, "Like My Mother Does," was arguably a better tune than the one picked for Scotty, "I Love You This Big." The "Idol" judges also thought Lauren gave a better performance.
Plus, Lauren was struggling with a sore throat during the Tuesday show, leading some Scotty fans to fear that she would benefit from sympathy votes.
But Scotty was the winner when Wednesday's show finally got around to the big announcement. Before that, there was a who's who of music past and present performing - Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Judas Priest, Tony Bennett, even Tom Jones.
Scotty performed with country singer Tim McGraw on "Live Like You Were Dying." It's the song young Scotty wanted to learn when he first started guitar lessons, said Gary Epperson, his longtime guitar teacher.
Epperson was at the live finale in Los Angeles, along with Bud Moffett, a Willow Spring musician who helped Scotty prepare for "Idol," and Meredith Covington Clayton, Scotty's Garner High music teacher.
Clayton got a special surprise on the live show - a new car as part of a Ford promotion to honor the teachers of the finalists. (Scotty gets a new Ford, too.)
Clayton also has a connection to the Triangle's previous "Idol" finalist - her mother, Diane Covington, taught music to Clay Aiken when he was a student at Raleigh's Leesville Road High School. Aiken finished second in Season 2 of "Idol."
"I am extremely proud that Scotty is representing the Triangle and (North Carolina) in such an incredible way, and I am rooting for him," Aiken said Wednesday in a statement released by his publicist.
Revelry in Garner
Scotty's "Idol" run has meant a springtime of excitement in Garner. Mayor Ronnie Williams has said it has been the best thing to ever happen in the southern Wake County town of 26,000.
Scotty's "Blue Crew" friends from the high school have become celebrities, and the Lowes Foods where he worked has become a tourist attraction. And a crowd estimated at 30,000 turned out in the town's Lake Benson Park two weeks ago for a homecoming parade and concert by Garner's new favorite son.
But Scotty likely won't be coming back to town soon. The immediate future will include stops on the talk show circuit, as he promotes the "I Love You This Big" single.
Then, the "American Idols Live!" concert tour, featuring Scotty and the others in this season's Top 11, will launch in July and continue through early September. The tour will stop at the RBC Center in Raleigh on July 27.
After that, of course, Scotty will be recording an album for "Idol" producers.
It's a busy future for the teen who was working the grocery store cash register just a few months ago. But it's one he seems ready for.
During a brief free moment on his homecoming day, he said, "This is just such a rollercoaster. If I could do this every day, I would. 'Idol' has been so good to me."