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 pop singing competition.
With that viewership being about 5 million better than last season’s finale, it becomes the crowning achievement in “Idol’s” comeback 10th season.
With the departure of the show’s virtual anchorman, Simon Cowell, before this season, the producers had made some bets on personnel and format changes — such as lowering the eligibility age to 15 — that paid off in the ratings. Those changes included making a statement with the judging panel, keeping Randy Jackson but sloughing off others to make way for Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and singer/actress/diva Jennifer Lopez.
Some industry navel-gazers had worried the finale would take a nose dive — as last year’s did, when CWGWG Lee DeWyze beat the likable, laid-back blond Crystal Bowersox.
On Wednesday, McCreery, the 17-year-old with the deep voice and chill attitude, beat likable, laid-back blond Lauren Alaina, during a 127-minute finale that also featured performances by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Gladys Knight, Carrie Underwood, Marc Anthony, Judas Priest, Tyler and, of course, the Top 13 Idolettes, among others.
This season had “Idol’s” first all-country finale. Scotty is the fourth consecutive Cute White Guy With Guitar to win the contest, and 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, with 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 most closely approximates the nearly 29 million who caught the Season 8 finale, when Cute White Guy With Guitar Kris Allen beat crazy-talented Adam Lambert.
As 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’s sake, Tuesday’s “Dancing With the Stars” finale on ABC clocked 21 million viewers.
The “Dancing” finale beat Fox’s season-finale performance show of “Idol” that night — the first time a program on any network has pulled that off.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward claimed “Dancing’s” hideous Mirror Ball Trophy, as the winner of the dance competition’s 12th season.
“Dancing” also enjoyed its most-watched season.
Meanwhile, only preliminary numbers are out for the final “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” indicating that her swan song garnered the show’s biggest audience in 17 years.
“Oprah” 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. That means 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 ratings in St. Louis, where it was preempted Wednesday when the local TV station that carries the show instead aired storm coverage. Oprah’s last episode was rescheduled to air Thursday in that market.
St. Louis is one of the country’s larger TV markets, ranked No. 21.
According to Nielsen, the 13.3 rating is 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 shaved it; another man took off his toupee; a makeup addict received an intervention; and a woman who’d worn wigs for 25 years was persuaded 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.