All you really needed to see of Wednesday's ''American Idol'' finale was the last 10 minutes, but that didn't stop the show from averaging 31.4 million viewers over its two hours, according to Nielsen overnight estimates. That's down slightly from the 33.7 million who watched last year's Ruben Studdard coronation, but it's still enough to make Fantasia Barrino's victory one of the most watched entertainment shows of the year. (February's Grammys, in contrast, drew just 26.4 million.)
Also, many more votes were recorded this year, thanks in part to Fox's addition of extra phone lines and and an expansion of the voting window from two to four hours. Some 65 million votes were counted Tuesday night, compared to 24 million for Studdard and Clay Aiken's final showdown last year, but the margin was similarly thin. According to Fox, Fantasia fans outvoted Diana DeGarmo devotees by just 1.3 million calls.
Overall, the Nielsen ratings for ''Idol'' were up 15 percent this year, allowing it to pass ''CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'' as the season's most-watched series. Maybe William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger need to sing more, or have their crime-solving skills rated by talent scouts.