The crowning of Lee DeWyze as the ninth season "American Idol" champ drew 24.2 million total viewers Wednesday night, down 15.9% from the 28.8 million that watched Kris Allen take the title in 2009, according to numbers provided by Nielsen Media Research.
It's the lowest-rated season finale for the show since the first season, when Kelly Clarkson was named champion. That finale earned 22.7 million viewers. The highest-rated finale happened in 2003, when Ruben Studdard won and 38 million viewers watched.
The show's viewership on Wednesday night jumped dramatically in the second hour when the winner was revealed, according to tvbythenumbers.com; 19.7 million watched the 8 p.m. - 9 p.m. timeslot, while 26.5 million tuned in for the 9 p.m. to 10:07 p.m. hour, including the show's overrun.
Despite the year-over-year decrease, "Idol" easily won the night; CBS's "Criminal Minds" in the 9 p.m. Hour was its closest competitor with 12.8 million viewers.
Tuesday night's performance finale of "Idol" attracted 19.6 million total viewers, according to The Nielsen Company, down 14.7% from the performance finale ratings last year. Last year's competition night between eventual champion Kris Allen and Adam Lambert averaged 23 million viewers.
Though still the top-rated show on TV through May 9, "Idol" viewership slipped to an average of 24.5 million per night, according to Nielsen, an approximate 20% decline from the show's highest average of 30.6 million viewers in 2006 -- the year that Taylor Hicks won. By comparison, Fox's overall prime-time viewership from 2006 through 2009 fell only 8.25%, according to Nielsen.
"Idol's" lower ratings also appear to have translated to less viewer participation. During the May 19 results show, Seacrest announced that the top three contestants had received a total of 47 million votes, down from 88 million at the same point last season. Seacrest did not announce the final vote total on Wednesday night.
More 'American Idol' on Billboard.com: