Winner Candice Glover poses backstage at the "American Idol" finale Thursday at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES — With a flawless voice that recalled past American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson and a sense of determination after not making it in previous seasons, Candice Glover did the one thing Hudson wasn't able to do: She won the title of American Idol.
"I always knew for some reason that it would happen if I kept going," Glover said backstage Thursday after her coronation.
The 23-year-old vocal powerhouse from St. Helena Island, S.C., auditioned for the ninth and 11th seasons of the Fox singing competition but didn't ascend to the finals until this season.
Glover looked stunned when Idol host Ryan Seacrest announced amid a flurry of confetti that she had bested soulful 22-year-old country singer Kree Harrison from Woodville, Texas.
"I don't remember him saying my name," Glover said. "I do remember confetti getting in my mouth."
After her crowning, an emotional Glover sobbed her way through her new single "I Am Beautiful."
It was fitting that Hudson, who went on to win a Grammy and an Oscar after being the sixth contestant eliminated during the third season, returned for Thursday's 12th season finale to duet with Glover on Natalie Cole's "Inseparable."
"I look up to her and, honestly, she is so successful after this show, and I really admire her," said Glover, who worked as an excursions coordinator renting scooters and golf carts back home. "I finally got a chance to not only meet her but sing with her."
Hudson was among the guest stars who helped fill out the two-hour finale show, including Psy, Frankie Valli, Emeli Sande, Jessie J, Aretha Franklin and former Idol judge Jennifer Lopez. Current Idol judges Keith Urban and Mariah Carey — along with Randy Jackson on bass — also performed.
Jackson previously declared Wednesday's three-song showdown a dead heat between Harrison and Glover, who have both once been among the show's low vote-getters.
"The title is freaking amazing, and I'm so proud of Candice, but for me, I'm so thankful I could even stand next to her on the finale," said Harrison, who now lives in Nashville.
Glover's win marks the first time a female and a nonwhite singer has won the competition since Jordin Sparks dominated the sixth season in 2007. The previous five winners — Phillip Phillips, Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, and David Cook — were all Caucasian guitar players, known to Idol fans as WGWGs, or white guys with guitars.
The lack of a female champion for the past five years was mocked in a finale bit featuring the female finalists, in cahoots with Sparks, jokingly sabotaging this season's five male contestants.
Last year's finale between Phillips and budding pop diva Jessica Sanchez brought in 132 million votes. The vote totals for Thursday's finale weren't shared with viewers.
Besides the crowning of Glover, Thursday's finale also served as a farewell for Jackson, the show's last remaining original judge who announced last week that he's leaving Idol to focus on his record label and other business opportunities. Jackson served as a judge on all 12 seasons of Idol.