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Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - Page updated at 10:22 PM

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Beauty or the beatboxer: Who is the next "Idol"?

AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES — In the end, Bothell beatboxer Blake Lewis couldn't beat 17-year-old Jordin Sparks, who was crowned Wednesday night as the newest and youngest "American Idol."

Sparks, of Glendale, Ariz., prevailed over Lewis, 25, after a triumphant performance Tuesday that wowed the show's judges and the viewers who gave her the majority of the record 74 million votes cast.

"Mom, Dad, I love you," Sparks, the daughter of retired NFL player Phillippi Sparks, said after hugging Lewis.

Lewis was an unlikely contender from the start; before auditioning for "American Idol," he had never watched an episode of the show. But he captured fans and praise from the judges with his innovative musical style and professional polish.

Lewis is a graduate of Inglemoor High School, where he sang in the school choir; later he began performing under the stage name "B-Shorty." He slowly gained attention among the Seattle underground scene, making small stipends at local venues like Tost and Nectar in Fremont.

Last summer, Lewis decided to quit his job at the construction company he worked at with his dad, to try to make a living performing. Two months later, he tried out for "Idol."

His bid for the championship came to an end Wednesday night, in a finale that pulled out the stops and the stars, including Gwen Stefani, Smokey Robinson and Tony Bennett.

The show opened with Lewis and Sparks dueting on the Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There," followed quickly by a touring Stefani singing "4 in the Morning" via satellite from Massachusetts.

Past "Idol" winners and this season's contestants got a hefty share of attention, starting with first-season winner Kelly Clarkson. She performed her new single "Never Again," with the gritty rock song matched by her black dress and thigh-high boots.

Robinson, a Motown great, performed "Being with You" after the top six male contestants, including fan fave Sanjaya Malakar, sang "Ooh Baby Baby," a hit for Robinson and his group the Miracles.

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Blake, whose beatboxing scored with viewers, performed with veteran rapper Doug E. Fresh on his old hit, "The Show." It was a signature moment for a contest that has introduced young viewers to Gershwin and other standards.

"True originals," host Ryan Seacrest said of the duo.

Gladys Knight took the stage with the six female finalists, belting out "I Feel a Song" and "Midnight Train to Georgia." Bennett performed a mellow version of "For Once in My Life" that ended with a big finish.

"A true idol, Tony Bennett, ladies and gentlemen," Seacrest gushed.

Melinda Doolittle, arguably the best "Idol" contestant to miss out on the finale, returned to impress the crowd again as she sang "Hold Up the Line" with gospel stars BeBe and CeCe Winans.

The two-hour show also had its share of filler, including bits such as the "Golden Idols," an award saluting the oddest of odd auditions, or the worst. The winners included Margaret Fowler, who proudly accepted her trophy and recited poetry after smooching Seacrest.

Hundreds of "American Idol" fans lined Hollywood Boulevard leading up to the theater where Sparks and Lewis faced the music one more time Wednesday.

Sparks and Lewis competed on Tuesday's show with three songs each. The winner of the audience vote was to be announced Wednesday at the Kodak Theatre.

Both contestants performed "This Is My Now," a tune written by a Seattle-area songwriting duo, picked by viewers in an online "American Idol" songwriting contest introduced this season, along with two other songs of their choice.

The contest came down to either the stronger singer, Sparks, or the better entertainer, Lewis. Sparks delivered her songs simply and powerfully; Lewis' flourishes included his sound-effects beatboxing and sharp dance moves.

"These are some of the most commercial finalists we've had since Carrie Underwood," said one of the series' executive producers, Cecile Frot-Coutaz. "They both have the potential to sell many records."

On Tuesday, series judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson made their choice clear. Diplomatic Paula Abdul kept her counsel as usual, praising both singers. Although the judges don't have a say in the decision their opinions have the potential to sway voters.

"You were the best singer tonight. You deserve it all, baby!" Jackson told Sparks.

"You just wiped the floor with Blake," added Cowell, who then told Sparks he was wrong for initially thinking she wasn't good enough to win the Fox talent show.

"I would say the best individual performance of the night was Blake on the first song," Cowell said. "But, based on overall singing — Jordin."

Lewis opened the show Tuesday with a reprisal of his infectious interpretation of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." The crowd was thrilled the judges were less taken with Lewis' voice than his performance as a whole.

"Blake, you're not the best singer in this competition. But you're the best entertainer I think we've had," Cowell said.

He later chose to sing the Maroon 5 hit "She Will Be Loved."

Sparks crooned Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and offered a soulful take on Martina McBride's "Broken Wing."

Lewis stumbled over the contest song, "This is My Now," while Sparks soared on the ballad.

Before the finale, Cowell spoke warmly of Doolittle and what wasn't to be.

"I'm pleased for the two of them," Cowell said of Sparks and Lewis. "They're nice kids. But I would have liked to have seen one of them up against the big singer."

Seattle Times reporter Haley Edwards contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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