SIKESTON -- Since June fans have been glued to their television sets waiting to see who of the 10,000 aspiring pop stars will snatch the sought-after title of American Idol. Last week the competition narrowed to two. Last night, they voted for the winner. And tonight, one person will be named American Idol.
The series started out with a summer audience of 11.5 million when it debuted June 11. Viewership swelled to nearly 17 million last week as viewers voted Nikki McKibbin out of the competition, leaving Justin Guarini, 23, of Doylestown, Pa., and Kelly Clarkson, 20, of Burleson, Texas, to compete for the idol title.
Even local residents can't wait to see who wins. Vanessa Burger, 23, of Benton, and her sister Paris Burger, 11, have watched the show since its debut June 11. Vanessa Burger would like Kelly to win the title.
"Kelly seems like a genuinely nice person," she said. "She seems like she would fit in right here. I think she's the best one."
Paris Burger admits her first pick for American Idol was Christina Christian, who was voted out in the Aug. 7 episode. But she, like her sister, would like to see Kelly take the prize.
Kelly is Tim Morrison's, 17, of Sikeston, pick as well. He caught the show half-way through the season while flipping through the channels one night and heard a girl singing, he said.
Ashley Thurman, 18, of Sikeston, learned about the show through friends. However, she would like to see Justin win. "I think Justin's more passionate about singing than Kelly. I like his personality."
For those who haven't seen the show, it began with 10,000 contestants from six audition sites in the United States. The competition was eventually narrowed by the judges to 30 contestants, then to 10. Once the contest reached 10, each week viewers called in and voted for their favorite performers. The contestant with the least amount of votes was kicked off.
Ever since the first episode, contestants have succumbed to the praise and sometimes ridicule from three, now popular, judges after each performance. Judges, in order of commentary, are: record producer Randy Jackson, former Los Angeles Laker Girl and popstar/choreographer Paula Abdul and British record producer Simon Cowell.
The American Idol is guaranteed a recording contract, although many of the contestants will receive record deals just by being in the contest. Over the last couple months, viewers have become familiar with the American Idol contestants.
And just as viewers have gotten to know the contestants' style, they've also gotten to know the judges' style. For example, when viewers hear a "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly" or a "Justin, Justin, Justin," from Jackson, they know he's happy with their performance.
Abdul always has a positive comment to say and inspires contestants to keep working on their dreams. Abdul didn't shut contestants down, Paris Burger said. If their performance wasn't good, she would just tell them it wasn't their best, she explained.
The show's also brought generations together. "The funniest thing to me is that Paris had no idea who Paula Abdul was until this show," Vanessa Burger said of her sister. "She just knew her as a judge. Paula Abdul to me is what Britney Spears is to her."
And last, but certainly not least, there's Simon. Contestants literally cringe as Simon's turn to speak nears. Sometimes they walk away fuming at his insensitive remarks ranging from "That was absolutely boring" to "That was dreadful" -- or they walk away mystified by an unusually pleasant comment.
Ironically, it was brutally honest Simon who really drew Vanessa Burger into the show. "He says things that people think, but would never say to someone," she laughed. "I remember the first episode and there were some really bad singers. Simon just told them, 'You're really awful.'"
When asked what she thinks about Simon, Thurman replied , "Oh you mean 'Mean Simon'?" Don't let her fool you. Thurman thinks Simon's criticism is constructive. "Even though he can be cruel sometimes, I really think he can help them in the future. I respect him," she added.
So, after weeks of watching the show, what exactly is an American Idol?
"I think an American Idol is someone who relates to the people. They know current events," Morrison said. "They're average Americans."
They should be in shape and be able to sing good, Paris Burger said. She added that they should also be a good role model.
Guarini and Clarkson performed last night and votes were cast. The number of callers voting for their favorite performer has jumped to more than 14 million weekly since the show's origin. Paris and Vanessa Burger said they called in and voted for Kelly last night and the week before that. Their parents also watch the show on occasion.
"It's a family show," Vanessa Burger said. "Survivor, Big Brother and the Osbournes are geared to the older audiences. With American Idol, the whole family can watch."
Show results will be announced from 7 to 9 tonight on Fox.