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Kevork Djansezian  /  AP
Carrie Underwood, a 22-year-old college senior, became the talk of her hometown of Checotah — and the choice of fourth-season "Idol" voters — as she delivered almost uniformly consistent performances each week.
updated 6/7/2005 7:29:35 PM ET 2005-06-07T23:29:35

Carrie Underwood said winning “American Idol” was “the best night of my life” — and she had an estimated 29.4 million witnesses.

The preliminary audience estimate from Nielsen Media Research was up slightly from the 28.8 million who watched Fantasia Barrino take the “American Idol” crown last year.

Shortly after Underwood won Wednesday night, she was greeted by an enthusiastic and important fan: A top executive at the company that will put out her first recording.

“We can’t wait to meet with you in New York,” Richard Sanders, general manager of RCA Music Group, told Underwood after briefly interrupting an interview.

Underwood, a 22-year-old from Checotah, Okla., with a sweet smile and an affinity for country music, looked dazed after besting runner-up Bo Bice in Fox TV’s talent contest.

“This is the best night of my life. And it’s going to get better,” Underwood told The Associated Press.

Friends and family describe Underwood as a polite, quiet, small-town girl who is dedicated to music. Underwood’s mother, Carole, said she hoped her daughter’s success wouldn’t change her.

But Underwood said there’s no reason to worry. She plans to focus on the country sound and won’t abandon her roots.

“I want my permanent address to be in Oklahoma,” she said. “Someday, when I get married and I have kids, that’s where I want to raise my kids.”

Bo brings rock edge to show
Bice, 29, of Helena, Ala., would have been the oldest “Idol” winner. He brought an unexpected rock edge to the show’s usually mainstream pop style with songs such as the 1970s hit “Vehicle.”

Bice said he was satisfied with the experience. He entered the “Idol” contest on a bet with his mom, expecting only that the exposure might get him better gigs back home. Turns out the payoff will be bigger.

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“We can look forward to an album coming out soon, so keep your eyes open,” Bice said. He did not provide further details.

An offstage drama played out during the show’s season when former contestant Corey Clark claimed he had an affair with judge Paula Abdul while competing in 2003 and that she coached him. Abdul has called the allegations “lies” and an attempt at character assassination.

In a comedy bit Wednesday, “Idol” fired back at ABC News’ recent “Primetime Live” episode detailing Clark’s claims. TV newsman Steve Edwards presented a satirical report titled “Bad Judgment” that purported to reveal judge Simon Cowell’s “secret relationship.” (The punch line: It was the self-centered Cowell’s love affair with himself).

“We won’t let the truth get in the way of our ratings,” the faux report said in an obvious dig at ABC.

Viewership didn’t suffer from Clark’s claims. “American Idol” is the No. 1 series for the season in viewers (as opposed to households), averaging 27.3 million viewers a week. The finale, on the last day of the TV season, could guarantee Fox a first-ever ratings win among viewers age 18 to 49.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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