Mandi Bierly
May 27, 2010 AT 05:02 PM EDT

The season finale of American Idol averaged 23.2 million total viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen numbers. The audience for the live telecast, which crowned Lee DeWyze while also bidding a fond farewell to judge Simon Cowell, grew steadily over the two hours: At 8 p.m., 18.4 million were watching; at 8:30 p.m., 21.1 million; at 9 p.m., 24.3 million; and in the last half hour, 28.8 million. Still, even with Fox’s “time-zone adjusted” overnights from Nielsen — which raise the evening’s average to 24.2 million viewers — it’s the lowest-rated Idol finale since Kelly Clarkson took the first title in 2002.

More American Idol:

Finale recap: Nice guys finish first

Q&A with winner Lee DeWyze

Q&A with runner-up Crystal Bowersox

On the scene at the finale: What you didn’t see on TV

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