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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Bright futures ahead for newest 'American Idols'

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 5:18 p.m. MDT

A female was crowned winner at the last "American Idol" finale I attended: Jordin Sparks.

That was back in 2007.

After a “world-record” number of votes — 132 million cast and counted, to be exact — Phillip Phillips was crowned the Season 11 winner Wednesday, continuing the male winning streak for a fifth straight year.

Runner-up Jessica Sanchez was gracious as always, pulling him in for a tight hug and offering congratulations. Fellow contestant Heejun Han even joined in the love fest, grabbing Phillips’ cheek and giving him a big kiss.

And another star is launched.

The finale was star-studded as usual, with celebrity performances and duets. Because it’s "Idol," there was something for everyone. Among some of my favorites was a kickin’-country number with Skylar Lane and Reba and a dynamic diva number featuring Jennifer Holliday with Jessica Sanchez that blew the roof off the place. It almost sounded like they were trying to out-anger each other at one point and was maybe slightly over the top. (Wait, there’s not such thing as over the top for a diva, right?) But it was nonetheless freakishly phenomenal. Steven Tyler even took the stage with Aerosmith and slashed the stage with some good, old rock.

The one performance I was a little surprised at was Rihanna’s, whose outfit and dance moves weren’t exactly family-friendly. I actually shooed my two little boys out of the room as soon as she came on stage. It seems like every year there has to be somewhat of an edgy number to make everyone slightly uncomfortable (remember last year’s Lady Gaga?).

And speaking of surprises, there was even a proposal between past contestants from different seasons — Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo on stage, complete with mood lighting and elimination music to hype up the drama. She said yes.

But my favorite number of the night was a duet with this season’s favorite, Hollie Cavanagh, and past winner Sparks singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It just reaffirmed all over again how this competition is not, as we all should know by now, about singing. Well, not just about singing. Of course it’s a singing competition, but this year’s winner proved that it’s just as much about musicianship, artistry, originality and of course — and most importantly — popularity.

Did Phillip Phillips win because he was vocally the best singer? No. I think there’s only been a handful of winners in seasons' past who have actually won based on vocal talent alone.

No, Phillips won because he was the most popular. He’s different or “unique” as Simon Cowell would have said. (Man, I miss him!) And honestly … it doesn’t really matter.

Every contestant in the Top 12 has the opportunity to make anything out of his or her life now. Absolutely anything. Many will go on to live very fortunate, famous lives. Some will make their own albums. Some will write books (a form of self-help, perhaps? Mine was.) Some will turn to Broadway. There have even been a few who have opened restaurants, appeared in movies or competed on other reality shows.

And some, like me, will do a little of all the above (sans the restaurant thing), then settle down, start families and think of "Idol" as some crazy, amazing dream that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

My favorite question I get asked from people who vaguely remember me from the show is, “Are you still singing?” As if my voice was born and then died on the show.

But life really didn’t begin with "American Idol," and it certainly hasn’t ended since. It just changed direction. And became even better.

That’s what’s so great about the show. It gives these new dreamers — fresh faces full of hope and bright futures — a choice. A chance. For so many hundreds of thousands, that will never come.

So I say to this new batch of "Idols": Drink it in. There will come a day when the constant battle between hoping to remember yet wanting to forget will end, and all they’ll be left with will be magical memories.

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