Lee DeWyze Wins American Idol!

 Michael Becker/FOX

And the winner of American Idol's ninth season is…

Lee DeWyze!

"This is amazing!" DeWyze said once host Ryan Seacrest announced his name. "Thank you guys so much for everything… I can't believe this… I'm so happy right now. I've never been happier in my life!"

The 24-year-old Mount Prospect, Ill. native bested fellow competitor Crystal Bowersox during Wednesday night's live finale. Choking back tears of joy, he ended the evening by singing his debut single, "Beautiful Day."

After being told he lacked confidence in his performance the previous night, DeWyze admitted to reporters it wasn't easy singing in front of 7,000 people.

"Throughout the season, the word 'confidence' has come up with me a lot. I think looking confident and being confident are two different things for me," he said. "If I wasn't confident, I wouldn't be able to do this."

Despite the criticism, he remained optimistic. "Thinking about winning… I'm lying to you if I said I'm not," he said. "But what can you do? You put everything out there and hope for the best."

And in the end, DeWyze's positive attitude and stage presence managed to impress the toughest of the four judges, Simon Cowell.

"If you'd of asked me [who should win] five or six weeks ago, 100 percent I would have said Crystal," Cowell told Ellen DeGeneres earlier in the week. "But now I've changed my mind… he's talented. He hasn't had any real breaks in life and this has given him a shot and I like that."

The night was also a milestone for Cowell, who is leaving Idol after eight years to become a producer and judge on the American version of The X Factor, set to debut in 2011.

"I didn't think I was going to be this emotional, but I genuinely am," Cowell said as he joined past Idol contestants onstage. "The show will go forward, it'll be different, but I just want to thank you for the support, the fun and… everyone, your sense of humor, thats what's been the best part."

Also on hand to bid the acid-tongued Brit farewell? Former Idol judge Paula Abdul, who left the singing competition in Aug. 2009 after a much-publicized stall in contract negotiations.

"I've worked with a lot of people over the years… but the truth is, none of them hold a candle to you, my friend," Abdul said. "I've loved all the fun we've had together. I love all the laughter we shared together. American Idol is not going to be the same without you, but as only I can tell you: it will go on."

Seven former Idol winners — including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood — paid tribute to Cowell when they performed the song "Together We Are One." (Noticeably absent: season seven winner David Cook).

The two-hour finale also brought out a number of surprise collaborations from musicians such as Christina Aguilera, Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson, Alanis Morisette, Hall & Oates and others.

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