Jordin Sparks didn't just win American Idol last week – she won a lifelong battle to accept herself.
"I think it really helped boost her self-esteem and made her realize she's beautiful as she is," her grandmother, Pam Weidmann, tells PEOPLE for its new issue. Jordin's mom, Jodi, says of her daughter's May 23 victory: "It was huge to see her confidence level grow. ... She's standing taller now."
At 5'10" and size 12 by the time she was in junior high school, "I stood out everywhere," says Jordin, who use to hunch, wear oversize clothing and search in vain for her size at teen mall stores. "I'd look at my friends who were just naturally tiny, and maybe they weren't even a size 2, but they were smaller than me and that was good enough. I was like, 'Oh, why can't I look like that?' "
Does Taylor Hicks have a new girlfriend?
The American Idol winner – and PEOPLE'S 2006 Most Eligible Bachelor – was photographed last week on a Hawaii beach with a bikini-clad blonde, later identified as Caroline Lyders, a morning anchor at Milwaukee's ABC affiliate WISN.
When asked about Hicks by local magazine onmilwaukee.com, Lyders, who first met Hicks when she interviewed him in March, played coy. "Taylor and I are friends," she told reporter Bobby Tanzilo on Wednesday, "and as a journalist I respect your asking. But beyond that, I'd rather not comment on my personal life."
Last week's Idol finale could have been a whole lot freakier. According the New York Post's Page Six, Ozzy Osbourne was originally confirmed to perform at the two-hour show, which crowned Jordin Sparks the sixth American Idol. But Osbourne cancelled at the last minute when he learned he would have to do a duet with Sanjaya Malakar, calling the 17-year-old a "hairstyle-challenged idiot," a source told the paper. "Ozzie said he didn't want to be on stage with that idiot." Instead, Sanjaya performed "You Really Got Me" with Aerosmith's Steve Perry on guitar.
American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and second place-finisher Blake Lewis both have EPs available on iTunes this week, while Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington and Paris Bennett all released albums recently. But these young contestants aren't the only ones making music in hopes of a post-Idol singing career. Sherman Pore, a 65-year-old contestant who sang for the Idol judges, has released an album called For My Lady Love.
Blake Lewis may have lost the title of American Idol to Jordin Sparks but he's perfectly fine with his second place finish.
"I never looked at it as winning and losing. I just tried going out and performing really well each day," the 25-year-old says. "In a sense, I’m kind of glad I didn't win just for like contractual reasons. I think if you're first you might have to come back for like three years or something."
Not that Lewis, who spoke to reporters on a conference call Friday, wants to distance himself from the show. "American Idol is such an amazing show and experience," he adds. "I honestly didn't care one bit [about] winning or losing, because I call myself a winner just by getting into the top 10."
Though she was crowned the newest American Idol, is on a whirlwind press tour and has a shiny new red Mustang to drive, Jordin Sparks is no different than your average high school student (for now). Here are the following three reasons we feel the girl has her feet planted firmly on the ground:
1. She readily admits that passing her learner's permit test was no walk in the park. "I did get my license and that was cool."
2. Like lots of teenage girls, Jordin swoons at the thought of Brad Pitt. "He's just really cute!"
3. The best moment in her life before her win: Getting her braces off! "[It] was awesome!"
During a recent conference call, Jordin dished on her celeb crush, her driving skills and how she plans to keep it real in the post Idol frenzy.
Simon Cowell is offering up some career advice for Britney Spears, telling the pop star to "go home to your family."
In an interview with Good Morning America on Thursday, Cowell tells ABC news correspondent Juju Chang that Spears is perfectly capable of saving her career because she's "still one of the most talked about pop stars on the planet."
"She has the X-factor because people want to write about her," Cowell says. "She's not conventional, she's not normal."
At the same time, Cowell says that Britney "can't handle the tension and the pressure" that comes from being in the spotlight so she needs to refocus herself at home.
Although Jordin Sparks was overcome with emotion when Ryan Seacrest announced that she was the sixth American Idol, she still managed to talk to reporters when the show ended. After sharing her win with her family, getting her makeup touched up – and meeting Bette Midler! – she spoke backstage at the Kodak Theatre about winning, paparazzi and what's next.
What was going through your mind right before Ryan announced that you won?
I was standing up there and Blake was holding my hand and he was like, "I love you, sweetheart." I was like, "I love you too." He squeezed my hand and I knew whatever happened I'd be okay and everything would be fine. He's such a great supporter and so encouraging of me. I'm one of his biggest fans and he's one of mine. It turned out pretty cool, I guess!
PEOPLE critic Tom Gliatto thinks America made the right decision.
At the end of two long hours Wednesday, Ryan Seacrest stood onstage at the Kodak Theater with Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis and a long, awkward-looking man holding a gold envelope which contained the name of the new American Idol. The final night's performance brought in a record 74 million votes, Seacrest said, then asked the judges to offer their verdict.