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'American Idol' rings in season finale

"AMERICAN Idol" kicked off its season finale yesterday as flamboyant musical theater actor Adam Lambert and laid-back acoustic guitar player Kris Allen vied for the TV singing competition's coveted title and recording contract.

Lambert, 27, and Allen, 23, garnered just under 100 million votes from "Idol" viewers, host Ryan Seacrest said as America's most-watched show prepared to crown a new winner.

The winner of "American Idol's" eighth season will be revealed at the end of the live broadcast, which is expected to include performances by Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper and Black Eyed Peas.

"All the hardest stuff is yesterday and all the pressure and all that, but it's just about having a great time," singer David Archuleta said of his experience in last year's finale when he finished second.

Lambert and Allen wowed audiences throughout the season by putting their own spin on popular tunes -- Lambert with off-the-charts vocals and daring costumes, and Allen with acoustic arrangements and his all-American good looks.

The two men are competing for the "Idol" crown after a months-long competition that started with a pool of 100,000 contestants. They delivered their final vote-worthy performances of the season on Tuesday night before the phone lines were opened for voting.

Although Lambert went into Tuesday's three-song set as the apparent front-runner and was all but anointed the winner by judge Simon Cowell at the end of the night, the race on Wednesday appeared to be neck and neck.

Web site, which tracks "Idol" voting trends by measuring the number of calls to voting lines that result in busy signals, said the result was too close to call.

On the red carpet outside Los Angeles' Nokia Theater, former "Idol" contestants agreed the race was difficult to call.

"Will Adam's superhuman vocals beat out Kris' charm and originality?" said Jason Castro, who finished fourth on "Idol" last year. "I think they both are great and they're both complete opposites."


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