'American Idol' Crowns 2021 Champion

Another American Idol season finale meant another night of celebration, collaboration and coronation as the Sunday, May 23 episode celebrated season 19; featured collaborations with established artists like Chaka Khan, Lindsey Buckingham and Luke Combs and crowned forklift operator Chayce Beckham from Apple Valley, Calif. as the 19th "American Idol".

After the show ended with Beckham performing his debut single, “23,” the new winner told Billboard how his journey on Idol has changed him. “I used to react to everything,” said the 24-year-old who had talked frankly about his newly sober life during the season. “I used to freak out whenever anything would go wrong because I had to be in control.

"This shows me that is not the way to process my life and you’ve got to roll with the punches. Life has given me lemons many times along this road and I smiled right back and made lemonade. I’m very grateful for the things I’ve gone through because that shaped me for this experience and this journey made me a better man.”

Beckham is the 12th male winner of American Idol, following in the footsteps of 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), Trent Harmon (season 15) and Laine Hardy (season 17).

There have been seven female winners to date, starting with Kelly Clarkson (season 1) and followed by Fantasia (season 3), Carrie Underwood (season 4), Jordin Sparks (season 6), Candice Glover (season 12), Maddie Poppe (season 16) and Just Sam (season 18). This is the only the sixth season that the top two finalists have both been male contestants, after season 2 (Studdard and Clay Aiken), season 7 (Cook and David Archuleta), season 8 (Allen and Adam Lambert), season 14 (Fradiani and Clark Beckham) and season 17 (Hardy and Alejandro Aranda).

After the show, Billboard also spoke to judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan about how their fourth season on the series differed from their first three. “I would say it was kooky,” Perry offered. “It wasn’t so much like last season where half of it was on Zoom. It was kooky but it got cool. We had the opportunity to have incredible mentors like Coldplay and Finneas. I love all the contestants but Chayce is a true singer-songwriter. He wrote his song and it’s on the charts and so it makes us feel good that Idol is heading in a more authentic place every season.”

“I totally agree,” Richie chimed in. “If I had to use one word, credibility. There are a lot of singing shows and a lot of dancing shows and talent shows. When you get Coldplay to launch their new record on your platform, artists are coming to the table because they respect what we’re delivering. They don’t feel like it’s a gimmick. It’s a destination for seasoned talent to hang out with the new kids.”

Speaking with runner-up Willie Spence and third-place Grace Kinstler after the show, Billboard asked what was going through their minds at the moment of their elimination.

“I wasn’t even really thinking,” Spence confessed. “At that point I was standing there with my eyes closed wondering whose name Ryan was going to call. I was living in the moment – anxious.” Kinstler added, “I felt relief. I wasn’t worried because I was in the top three. So many people auditioned for this and here I am, standing with two of the most talented people I’ve ever met, so I was at peace with whatever way it went.”

The three-hour season finale was filled with returning contestants and performances that paired them with established stars. There was also one major surprise, as season 18 “comeback” winner Arthur Gunn made a very last-minute decision not to perform with Sheryl Crow. Scrambling to find a replacement, Idol producers spotted eliminated top 24 contestant Graham DeFranco in the audience and asked him to be a last-minute duet partner with Crow on “If It Makes You Happy” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” Fortunately, DeFranco was game and the show went on.

American Idol has been renewed for a fifth season on ABC, returning in early 2022. It will be the show’s 20th season overall. The latest season of American Idol is available to watch on Hulu.