Back in January, Simon Cowell declared that a woman would win this season of American Idol. And it soon became clear who that woman should be: Crystal Bowersox, the bluesy, sheepish guitar strummer from Ohio. After Tuesday night’s final face-off, the voting just seemed like a formality. All the judges piled praise after praise on Crystal, casting off her competitor as if he was already the next Blake Lewis. (Remember him? Didn’t think so.) Even Simon Cowell, taking a moment to drum up the fact that he was about to offer his last critique on the show, was uncharacteristically superlative: he called Crystal’s last song “outstanding.”
So why is Lee DeWyze the new American Idol? In fact, Lee is the third consecutive winner (after Kris Allen and David Cook) to steal away the crown from the contestant (Adam Lambert, David Archuleta) the judges championed in the finale. Here are seven reasons Lee won—and Crystal lost.
1. Tween girls. In recent years, they have become a larger and larger segment of the Idol voting bloc because they stuff the ballot boxes by mass texting for hours (as compared with nine years ago, when no junior-high-schooler owned a cell phone). Lee was the heartthrob who won the audience shriek award, a healthy indicator of his popularity. It’s also probably the reason that the last three American Idols have been attractive men. The last woman to win was Jordin Sparks, who overcame the tween factor by being a teen herself (at 17).
2. Crystal didn’t look the part. Like it or not, Idol is—like all high-school elections—a superficial contest. Crystal was constantly wearing baggy outfits that were right out of Lilith Fair. When she slipped into a gown for the finale, Ellen didn’t help her cause by pointing out how uncomfortable Crystal felt in a dress.
3. Song choice. Lee was often jittery onstage, but it was a cool nervousness. He came off as a more credible rock star, at least to Idol’s younger demographic who have never heard of Melissa Etheridge. Lee sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah ” (otherwise known as the anthem from The O.C.) and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” (a song so angsty it was featured in the first episode of My So-Called Life). Crystal almost always nailed her songs, but they were from a different era: Janis Joplin, Paul McCartney, even Kenny Loggins. That brings me to my next point.
4. Crystal didn’t show her age. Who else was surprised when Ryan announced this week that both Crystal and Lee were 24? That’s because Crystal seemed about a decade older than Lee (and the fact that she’s a mom didn’t help).
5. The jokes. Her banter with Ryan and Simon was strained and painful. And uncool. Another point for Lee.
6. The Ellen factor. As a judge, she’s so gooey, she loves everybody. She kept telling Crystal how great she was to the point of tediousness.
7. Apathy. Idol’s ratings were down this season. So were the votes. That probably meant adults who were more likely to dig Crystal didn’t call in. Which takes us back to our first point: the tweens carried the election for Lee.