NEW YORK -- New American Idol Taylor Hicks wasn't the only winner on Wednesday night.
Fox capped a stellar fifth season for the hit competition with an average of 36.4 million people tuning in to the finale -- spiking to almost 43 million the last half - hour -- according to
The ``Idol" TV audience was only about 2 million viewers shy of the Oscars, the most-watched television event of the year after the Super Bowl.
``The show obviously has become a national phenomenon, beyond a television hit," said Mike Darnell, head of alternative programming for Fox.
The huge audience watched the prematurely gray Alabaman win out over 22-year-old Katharine McPhee of Los Angeles. The audience shot up toward the end, when Prince performed and Hicks's victory was announced.
Only the 2003 finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken (who showed off his new hairstyle on Wednesday's show) pulled in more viewers, with 38.1 million. But the 2003 show was only one hour, compared with this year's two-hour event. Last year's finale was seen by 30.3 million.
In a sign that programs can succeed despite withering competition, ABC's two-hour ``Lost" season finale on Wednesday also did well, with 17.8 million viewers. Its first hour competed with the final hour of ``American Idol."