By Patricia Reaney
(Reuters) - Candice Glover, a soul singer from rural South Carolina, was named "American Idol" on Thursday, becoming the first female singer to win the television singing competition since 2007.
Glover, 23, defeated country singer Kree Harrison in the popular vote with her powerful voice in what judges deemed a close contest to take the title on season 12 of the Fox network show.
"You are officially our American idol," host Ryan Seacrest said as the crowd of more than 7,000 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles cheered.
With tears streaming down her face after hearing her name, Glover seemed lost for words. "Oh, my God," she said. "Three years."
The third time was lucky for Glover, who appeared in two earlier seasons of the show, and finally won the crown by making songs like "Somewhere" from the musical "West Side Story," and the jazz tune "You've Changed" all her own.
"Three years, persistence, determination and a lot of talent. You deserve it," said Seacrest.
He announced Glover as the winner at the end of Thursday's two-hour show, which featured performances by judges Keith Urban and Mariah Carey, as well as Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and South Korea's Psy, who sang his new single "Gentleman."
Glover, the first woman to be crowned "Idol" since Jordin Sparks six years ago, won a record deal, which could help propel her to the stardom enjoyed by other women "Idol" winners such as Grammy Award winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
TOO CLOSE TO CALL
There was no doubt about the impressive talent of either Glover or Harrison, with Carey describing them as "magnificent" and the winner too close to call on Wednesday's performance finale.
But Glover seemed to have the edge over 22-year-old Harrison going into the two-part finale. General Sentiment, a social and news media analytics company, predicted she would take home the crown based on the social media buzz about her.
Data from the company showed mentions of Glover across the Internet, news media, Twitter and social media, were comparable to 2011 winner Scotty McCreery in the two-week buildup to the finale shows. Harrison's volume trended lower than all the other finalists from the past two years.
Harrison, who hails from Texas and lost both of her parents in accidents, showed her versatility on the show and won a standing ovation on Wednesday with her take on Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," which judge Randy Jackson described as a "winning performance."
But Glover seemed to seal the deal with her moving rendition of "I Who Have Nothing," which closed the show and brought the judges to their feet.
"What came across from you is - superstar," judge Nicki Minaj said.
Fans agreed, and in text, phone and online votes after the performance finale on Wednesday showed their support for Glover over Harrison.
Glover closed Thursday's finale show with "I Am Beautiful," her new single.
"Idol," once the most watched television show with 30 million viewers, has seen a decline in numbers during the past two seasons, overall and in the young adult audience, which is so coveted by advertisers.
Jackson, the only original judge since the show's start in 2002 who announced he will be leaving the show, bid farewell on Thursday after a tribute. US Weekly magazine reported Minaj would also not be returning.
Fox had no comment about Minaj, or media reports about a complete revamp of the highly paid judging panel.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Philip Barbara)