ABC's American Idol crowned its Season 17 winner in a stunning live finale twist where America's live coast-to-coast vote determined the winner of the legendary singing competition series, with all voting taking place during the show.
Laine Hardy was given the top spot of the season, beating his two competitors: Alejandro Aranda and Madison VanDenburg. The latter was eliminated mid-show, tearfully exiting the stage after performing covers of the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper hit "Shallow" and Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway."
Hardy, a 19-year-old who has the swagger and smoldering looks of a young Elvis Presley, appeared shocked when his name was announced as the show's overall winner over Aranda.
The Lousiana native's win shocked viewers who saw Aranda perform steadily throughout the competition and become one of the series' most beloved performers in recent history with his humble gratitude for the acknowledgment that came his way after years of struggling in his native Pomona, California.
After Seacrest announced that Hardy had won this sophomore edition of the ABC version of American Idol, he performed his winner's single, "Flame."
Hardy, who also appeared on the 16th season of American Idol, wasn't planning on auditioning for the show a second time but was persuaded to do by judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie after accompanying a friend to auditions. His decision would eventually land him in the top spot of the competition.
"Every week, Laine, your hair seems to be getting higher and higher. You seem to be taking some pop star vitamins," said judge Perry. "If you apply yourself, you're gonna be one of the biggest pop stars on the planet."Hardy performed covers of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and Marc Broussard's "Home" during the finale while Aranda sang his original song "Out Loud" as well as three other originals.
Aranda was predicted to win the competition from his first audition by Perry and was considered the front-runner for weeks leading up to the finale, according to online polls, but Hardy's pop star swagger made him a natural fit for the young women who made up a majority of the voting pool, reported Goldderby.Also performing for the finale was Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood, who returned to the show that set her on a path to superstardom with a sensational performance of her song "Southbound." Underwood is currently touring on her "Cry Pretty Tour 360." Queen frontman and AI Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert also performed. ABC confirmed that the reality singing competition hosted by Ryan Seacrest was renewed for a third season. It has not been confirmed if Perry, Richie, and Bryan would be returning to the judges' chairs.
American Idol airs on ABC.