The outcome was so predictable, even political gossip hound Matt Drudge called it, hours before American Idol's finale episode would begin.
But deep-voiced country singer Scotty McCreery still seemed a little shocked when host Ryan Seacrest called his name Wednesday as winner of Idol's 10th season, beating finalist Lauren Alaina and capping a season that saw the show rescue itself from potential pop culture oblivion.
"I gotta thank the Lord first," said a typically understated McCreery, before growing so emotional he collapsed onstage, catching confetti with his tongue. "Because he got me here."
When McCreery and Alaina emerged as the last two singers in contention last week, critics predicted a massively boring finale centered on two country singing teenagers with understated onstage profiles. So Idol producers threw a curveball — they hardly ever showed them.
Instead, Wednesday's show was mostly a celebration of the entire season, packed with guest performances by big names with new albums, Las Vegas shows and concert tours to sell. Judas Priest shared the stage with Idol semifinalist James Durbin, Gladys Knight and gospel singer Kirk Franklin sang with Jacob Lusk and fuzzy-faced jazzer Casey Abrams cut up on Queen's Fat Bottom Girls with Jack Black.
More than half the show passed before viewers saw a duet featuring one of the finalists — McCreery singing Live Like You're Dying with Tim McGraw — and the contest's final result was saved for the last five minutes of a 127-minute show.
Viewers saw judge Steven Tyler tear into a version of Aerosmith's classic hit Dream On by himself, an ominous sign for a guy who once said he was eager to get his band on the show and now seems permanently isolated from them. And the program's other new judge, Jennifer Lopez, joined her husband Marc Anthony onstage in a Spanish-language salsa workout featuring percussionist Sheila E. and long camera shots of Lopez's undulating behind.
This cavalcade of stars had the curious effect of making the Idol performers look smaller, as they tried to match stage chops with people who, in some cases, built gigantic musical careers long before they were born.
In the biggest episode of a five-month contest to find an industry dominating recording artist, the focus of Wednesday's finale seemed to be on everything but the two people who just might win this thing (though the moment where they each gave a treasured teacher a free Ford vehicle was a nice touch).
And as the show finally got around to revealing a winner many critics — including me — had predicted long before, Idol still seems stuck with a serious question: Why does the contest keep producing winners so much blander and predictable than the megastars who surround them in the final episode?