Kelly Wins First 'American Idol' Race

09/04/2002 at 11:00 AM EDT

Wednesday night on Fox, the two questions America has been asking all summer were answered.

Question No. 1: Who would viewers vote to become the first "American Idol" winner of a $1 million recording contract?

Answer No. 1: The big-voiced, ebullient Kelly Clarkson, 20, a cocktail waitress from Burleson, Texas, who sang her heart out to beat the baby-faced, bushy-haired Justin Guarini, 23, a door-to-door salesman from Doylestown, Pa.

Question No. 2: How the heck were the producers going to fill the entire two hours of the live finale?

Answer No. 2: With a lot of commercials and plenty of rehashing of previous episodes, including the memorable audition of one tone-deaf Miami hopeful who warned judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson that she was going to sing "whatever God puts in my mouth."

The winner, however, was not announced until 9:52 p.m., Eastern time, shortly after Guarini and Clarkson sang a duet of "It Takes Two," followed by six commercials and all three judges saying Kelly deserved to win.

Justin then planted a big kiss on the winner, who told the crowd, "I pretty much think, 'How am I going to sing this next song when I'm crying?'" She then sang, "A Moment Like This."

Immediately beforehand, Justin took a bow and bade farewell. "I am so blessed to be up here," he said as he thanked everyone inside Hollywood's Kodak Theater.

Kelly, who didn't seem to get as much airtime as the show progressed, was noticeably touched when the people back home told her they were rooting for her. "I take it day by day," she said at halftime, when asked how she was coping with the excitement.

The Top 10 finalists also returned to the stage, delivering a relatively bland '60s medley.

The penultimate "American Idol" episode, which aired Tuesday, drew 18.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That made it the most-watched program of the summer.

So powerful was the impact of "Idol," reports Reuters, that following Tuesday's installment, Verizon Communications on the East Coast claimed to have logged 107 million calls on its network -- about 32 million more calls than usual on a typical weekday evening at the same time.

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Open, Venus Williams, 22, easily beat Monica Seles, 29, in the Women's Quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-3.



Can't get enough "Idol"? Check out PEOPLE's backstage peek at the "American Idol" finalists.

An "American Idol" photo gallery: The Final Three

Dressed to Trill: PEOPLE's "Idol" fashion review

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