Candice Glover, an R&B dynamo from St. Helena Island, S.C., was crowned the Season 12 winner of "American Idol" Thursday night.
Glover, 23, who consistently blew away the judges and fans with dramatic power ballads and impressive vocal gymnastics, defeated Kree Harrison, a 22-year-old country singing specialist from Woodville, Texas.
She became the show's first female champion since Jordin Sparks in Season 6, and now assumes the mantle previously carried by the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Fantasia.
Glover's victory was a testament to her resilience. This season was the third time she had tried out for the popular talent show.
"Three years, persistence, determination and a lot of talent. You deserve it," said host Ryan Seacrest.
Glover broke down in tears as she was mobbed by her fellow contestants. She then finished off her triumphant run by sobbing her way through her coronation song -- and first single -- "I Am Beautiful" as streamers and confetti rained down in the Nokia Theater.
In addition, she had one more "wow" moment earlier in the show when she combined with former "Idol" contestant and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson on a rousing, soul-stirring rendition of Natalie Cole's "Inseparable."
Thursday's finale also was a send-off for Randy Jackson, the show's lone remaining original judge. He announced last week that he's leaving "Idol" to focus on other business projects.
Jackson was feted with a clips package of highlights through the years and then bid farewell.
"I love all you fans. I love everybody that walked on this show," Jackson said. "Hopefully, I touched their lives a little bit. They certainly touched mine."
He may not be the only judge making his exit. On the tail end of a season that saw an alarming drop in the ratings for "Idol," persistent rumors have it that the show will make a clean sweep of the panel, which also includes Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.
Both Carey and Urban performed during the finale. Carey, decked out a snug, sparkly silver and white gown, delivered a cursory medley of her greatest hits. She may have left something to be desired as a judge, but there's no denying that Carey's a vocal powerhouse who has inspired a long parade of "Idol" contestants in this and past seasons.
Another highlight was the appearance of Aretha Franklin via remote video. The Queen of Soul performed a medley of her standards with the Top 5 "Idol" finishers, all females, of course.
Other artists helping to fill out the jam-packed two-hour finale included The Band Perry, Psy, Frankie Valli, Emeli Sande, Adam Lambert, Jessie J, Travis Barker, Blink 182, and Pitbull, with former "Idol" judge Jennifer Lopez.