Kristian Dowling/PictureGroup
Michael Slezak
May 27, 2010 AT 04:00 PM EDT

Eleven weeks ago, Crystal Bowersox took to the American Idol stage and sang seven little words that are reverberating in my brain after her not-totally-unsurprising loss to Lee DeWyze during tonight’s season 9 finale: ”You can’t always get what you want.”

And it’s true. At the end of 43 episodes, with Simon Cowell’s body now joining his mind, heart, and soul on a rocketship called The X Factor, it’s hard to say that season 9 came down the chimney and left everything under the tree that we’d put on our list. The producers kept giving us pairs of drab socks and ill-fitting sweaters in the form of tired themes like Inspirational Ballads and Songs of the Cinema. The Top 12 struggled mightily to serve the kind of upper-case ”Moments” that Melinda Doolittle and Elliott Yamin and Bo Bice cooked up with casual regularity in seasons past. And frankly, we didn’t exactly hang the stockings by the chimney with care ourselves. How else to explain those early-season votes that kept Lilly Scott and Katelyn Epperly and Alex Lambert from making it to the season 9 finals? (Cue Ryan Seacrest’s chiding remarks about the need to call or text for one’s favorites!)

But of course, the Rolling Stones track that Crystal was covering back in Top 12 Week ends on a more optimistic note, and whether you found yourself rooting for the dreadlocked Ohio earth goddess or the humble Chicago rocker dude, it’s worth completing the thought: ”But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Lee and Crystal certainly did. Both contestants scored a customized Ford Fiesta — don’t go all Oprah’s Favorite Things crazy at once! — and their deals for major-label debut albums are already a foregone conclusion. Without the Idol machine, our chances of discovering original works by these talented upstarts would’ve probably been limited to one-in-a-lucky-YouTube-search or a random coffeehouse encounter.

So, yeah, I could feed my outrage by remembering that Lee’s Tuesday-night performance finale was not the work of someone who’s ready to carry on the tradition of vocal spotlessness forged by Kelly Clarkson all the way through to Kris Allen. But what would be the point? America has spoken — and it spoke on behalf of a guy who, when he wasn’t hindered by strict themes, chose Hinder and Owl City and U2 and Snow Patrol and Seal, who got lauded by the judges as ”commercial” and ”current,” and who is certainly better than the abysmal ”Beautiful Day” that ended his run of mostly solid performances over the last 14 weeks. He’s a guy who botched a few notes along the way, but who sounds like Pavarotti when you line him up against Travis Garland or Ke$ha or a half-dozen of the other woeful chart-toppers who graced the Idol stage this season.

NEXT: Fighting for the spotlight

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