Maddie Poppe Wins 'American Idol', Boyfriend Caleb Lee Hutchinson Is Runner-Up

With only a few minutes left before Ryan Seacrest was to announce the winner of the latest season of American Idol, the top two finalists stood on stage with the series’ host. Caleb Lee Hutchinson, 19, from Dallas, Georgia, and Maddie Poppe, 20, from Clarksville, Iowa, seemed like any other pair of top two finalists in the series’ 16-year history, until Hutchinson made the bombshell announcement that Poppe was his girlfriend. The couple clasped hands for the first time in pubic as Seacrest surprised them with a parting gift – a trip to Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii. Moments later, Seacrest opened the results envelope and revealed that Poppe was the winner of Idol’s inaugural season on ABC.

Just after the show ended, Billboard spoke with Poppe and Hutchinson about the outcome as well as their newly-revealed romance. “We met during Hollywood Week [in January],” Poppe explained. “I was out in the audience, and I remember seeing him thinking, ‘Ahh.’ I heard him sing and he was incredible. He was the standout of the day for me and I thought I had to get him in my group for the group round and I did. We were in group round together and they didn’t air it but we’re getting that footage. After that, we hung out every day. And we started dating about three months ago.”

Poppe and Hutchinson weren’t the only couple among this year’s top 10 finalists; Gabby Barrett and Cade Foehner were also romantically involved, but didn’t keep it a secret. “Cade and Gabby announced their thing and so we didn’t want to take away from their thunder,” says Poppe. “And we didn’t want people to think we weren’t concentrating on the show so we kept it low. I wanted to talk about it, because I want people to know that we’re together and I’m very proud of our relationship.”

“We both didn’t want to make our private lives public and have it interfere with the show,” Hutchinson confirms. “But it got to a point where we both thought, why not?” 

Poppe told Billboard she didn’t quite know yet what to think of her win. “I thought during the day that Gabby and Caleb had huge fan bases and I didn’t know if I could pull this off. I was reading comments online and so many people were saying, ‘Caleb, Gabby, Caleb, Gabby.’ I barely saw my name and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know that this going to happen for me.’ The fact that I’m here and I can say I won the show is incredible.”

Hutchinson told Billboard, “The night couldn’t have gone any better in my opinion. I mean, we walked off stage [before the announcement] and said we didn’t care who won. I couldn’t be more proud of her.” Hutchinson took to Twitter to express his feelings about Poppe: “”MY GIRLFRIEND WON AMERICAN IDOL!!! No one deserved it more than you babe. I am honored to know you and even more honored to call you mine. Don’t forget about me. I love you.”

Early in the season, Poppe told Billboard about her decision to audition for Idol. “I was in a rut last summer. I always thought opportunities would come my way and I would get really excited and I would get my hopes up and then things would fall through. I was getting ready to go back to school and I felt like, ‘Is this the end?’ I know I’m young but it was hard. Then my dad emailed me and said American Idol is holding auditions and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It came into my life at just the right time.”

Katy Perry, who had expressed her desire for Poppe to win, told Billboard after the show, “I honestly didn’t know [who would win]. And maybe that was why I was vocal about it, because I didn’t know if a girl next-door singer-songwriter had the chance. Because the country audience is really, really strong. I think Maddie has all kinds of appeal and I think it’s written in the stars and that’s what the stars said.”

Popular opinion before Monday night’s season final was that 18-year-old Barrett, who grew up singing country music in Pittsburgh, Penn., would walk away the winner. “We were all saying the same thing,” Lionel Richie revealed after the show. “But we got two for one tonight. We got a couple and we got a winner.”

“Gabby is a phenomenal singer with tons of range,” Luke Bryan added. “Then you had Maddie, the stylist, and Caleb, the original down-home country boy that people pull for too. It was a tossup.”

Poppe, whose first single is “Going Going Gone” on Hollywood Records, is the sixth female finalist to win American Idol, and the first since Candice Glover in season 12. The other women who have claimed victory: Kelly Clarkson (season 1), Fantasia (season 3), Carrie Underwood (season 4) and Jordin Sparks (season 6). The male winners include Ruben Studdard (season 2), Taylor Hicks (season 5), David Cook (season 7), Kris Allen (season 8), Lee DeWyze (season 9), Scotty McCreery (season 10), Phillip Phillips (season 11), Caleb Johnson (season 13), Nick Fradiani (season 14) and Trent Harmon (season 15).