He'd auditioned for "American Idol" twice before, in Seasons 10 and 11, and failed to make it to the live shows. But this time around, the 23-year-old old-style rock-and-roll belter from Asheville, N.C., made it all the way to the very end of Season 13 and emerged carrying the "Idol" trophy, covered in confetti and intermittently singing the song that will be released as his winner's single, "As Long As You Love Me."
The voters did love him, it turned out -- more even than they did his BFF Irene, the 17-year-old pop singer from Farmington Hills, Mich., for whom they were willing to raise their glow sticks on command.
After a host of special guests and "Idol" regulars had performed -- Phillip Phillips, Jennifer Nettles,
"The winner of 'American Idol' Season 13 is …," he began.
No sooner had the host gotten out the name "Caleb Johnson" than Johnson and Irene enveloped each other in a long hug, and when he finally emerged to his new reality, the "wild child" singer was, for once, short of words.
"Congratulations, Mr. Johnson," Seacrest said. "You did it. You just won 'American Idol.'"
The screen behind him flashed "Caleb Wins."
"This is a guy that has worked so hard and wanted it so badly, and that's all paid off tonight," Seacrest said.
Johnson declared himself unable to talk, but managed to get out, "This is crazy. Thank you guys so much."
But when his cue to sing came, he seemed to give a tribute to Irene. "Y'all make some noise," he said into his mic -- and then got sucked into a group hug with the contestants he'd managed to beat. He lifted one of them in his arms, and was lifted by another.