Exclusive: Lee DeWyze Talks Ellen DeGeneres' 'Idol' Departure
Lee Dewyze performs on "American Idol" Fox

Let's face it: "American Idol" season nine has always been Lee DeWyze's or Crystal Bowersox's to lose. Simon Cowell's been a fan of both since Hollywood Week, which feels like months ag--oh, right. They each came in with a solid command of their voices (and guitars/harmonica), made acutely self-aware song choices, and honed their stage presence as the weeks went by.

Photos: Lee DeWyze's "Idol" Journey

Just as important -- they've stayed humble, they have adorably proud parents, and they've cried onstage.

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So, now that we've reached this inevitable finale face-off, it's time for the season to begin! Only, not really. Because Lee's had this thing in the bag for a few weeks now, and here's why.

Two words: character arc.

"American Idol" is a TV show, and wittingly or not, Lee has played his part beautifully. He earned the oxymoronic title of shy rocker during top 24 week, displaying a yearning, unmistakably modern-rock rasp and a barrel full of nerves.

Video: Lee sings Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars"

Hard to believe, then, that five weeks later he'd handily own R&B/soul night -- a night that Simon told Lee "might have changed your life."

Video: Lee sings the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose's "The Letter"

But it wasn't until Frank Sinatra week when his shrewd showman's take on "That's Life" compelled Kara DioGuardi to drop the W word in his favor. "Do you think you can win this thing?" she asked, and suddenly, we had a real fight to the finish.

Video: Lee sings Frank Sinatra's "That's Life"

Since doing Ol' Blue Eyes proud, Lee has been nearly unstoppable -- and he's peaked at exactly the right time. (Only his "Kiss from a Rose" cover was a misstep, and it was quickly overshadowed by his "Falling Slowly" duet with Crystal.) Meanwhile Crystal, dubbed the frontrunner from early on (and deservedly so), has lagged just enough to make people wonder whether she really "wants this."

Video: Lee & Crystal sing Swell Season's "Falling Slowly"

Last week sealed the deal, as Lee made his own brilliant, Southern-appealing song choice in Lynrd Skynrd's "Simple Man," and then Simon basically anointed him with "Hallelujah" (hey, it works every time). His hometown package, in which he cried no less than four times and showed an uncanny ability to connect with his fans, further clinched it.

Video: Lee sings Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

If all this weren't enough, Lee has history behind him, too. "American Idol" hasn't seen a female winner since Jordin Sparks in 2007, and sad as it may be, that streak will continue this year. Sorry, Crystal! Lee is our next "American Idol," and he's earned it.