About 29 million people watched Fox’s “American Idol” finale Wednesday, when Scotty McCreery was crowned the latest Cute White Guy With Guitar to win the singing competition.
What with that being about 5 million better than last year’s finale, it becomes the crowning achievement in “Idol’s” comeback 10th season.
With the departure of the show’s virtual anchorman, Simon Cowell, the producers had made some bets on personnel and format changes – like lowering the eligibility age to 15 -- that paid off in the ratings. Those changes included making a statement with the judging panel, bringing back Randy Jackson but sloughing off others to make way for Aerosmith front-man Steven Tyler and singer/actress/diva Jennifer Lopez.
Some industry navel gazers had worried the finale would take another nosedive – like last year’s did when CWGWG Lee DeWyze beat the likeable, laidback blond Crystal Bowersox.
On Wednesday, McCreery, the 17-year-old with the deep voice and chill attitude, beat likeable, laidback blond Lauren Alaina, during a 127 minute finale also featured performances by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Gladys Knight, Carrie Underwood, Steven Tyler, Marc Anthony, Judas Priest, and, of course, the Top-13 Idolettes, among others.
But instead of plunging, the “Idol” finale snagged a substantially larger crowd than its previous season wrap-up episode -- for the first time in three years.
This year’s finale was “Idol’s” first all-country finale. Scotty is the fourth consecutive Cute White Guy With Guitar to win the pop singing contest, but the first male country singer to win.
The last time a country crooner won “Idol” – which was also the first time a country crooner won “Idol” – was Season 4 and the winner: Carrie Underwood. She’s gone on to become one of the franchise’s most marketable winners, earning five Grammys and becoming a fixture on country radio.
Wednesday’s crowd, nearly 29 million strong, most closely approximates the nearly 29 million who caught the Season 8 finale, when Cute White Guy With Guitar Kris Allen beat the crazy-talented Adam Lambert.
As show host Ryan Seacrest announced Scotty’s completely non-surprising win in the show’s final minutes, nearly 40 million people were tuned in nonetheless.
For comparison sake, Tuesday’s “Dancing with the Stars” finale on ABC clocked 21 million viewers.
The “Dancing” finale beat the “Idol” final performance show that night -- the first time a program on any network has pulled that off.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward claimed that show’s hideous Mirror Ball Trophy, as winner of the dance competition’s 12th season.
Overall, “Dancing” enjoyed its most watched season ever.
Meanwhile, only very preliminary numbers are out for the final “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” indicating her swan song garnered the show’s biggest audience in 17 years.
“The Oprah Winfrey Show” averaged a 13.3 household rating among Nielsen’s 56 overnight metered markets. Those markets cover about 70 percent of all U.S. TV households.
This means that about 13.3 percent of the homes in those markets were tuned to Oprah’s so-long Wednesday afternoon.
The preliminary numbers do not include the show’s performance in St. Louis, where it got preempted Wednesday when the TV station that carries the show there instead aired storm coverage. Oprah’s last episode was re-scheduled to air in that market on Thursday. St. Louis is one of the country’s larger TV markets, ranked No. 21.
According to Nielsen, that’s the biggest audience for the show since a Feb. 21, 1994 episode called “People Shed Their Disguises,” which bagged a 13.4 household rating in the overnight markets. In that episode, a man with a 20-year-old beard shaves it; another man took off his toupee, a makeup addict went in for an intervention and a woman who’d worn wigs for 25 years was convinced to let her false hair down. That’s according to the the show’s Web site.
Final numbers for Oprah’s finale won’t be available for more than a week. That’s how it goes in syndication.