James Durbin

If you go strictly by the reaction of the studio audience Wednesday night, James Durbin is the next winner of American Idol. Instead of marching drummers and flaming pianos, the hard-rocking Durbin, 22, filled the auditorium with the sweetness of his voice, starting a cappella, and doing a stunning rendition of the Carole King classic, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" 

Jennifer Lopez called the performance, "magical." Randy Jackson hugged him and raved, "You proved tonight that you're not just a great rock singer, but a great singer."

But it was the studio audience who gave Durbin the most powerful critique: They didn't want to stop clapping. "What James has that the others don't have — except maybe Casey [Abrams] — is a strong sense of himself," says a show insider who works with the contestants every week at the recording studios. "He'll come in there and know just what he wants to sing and how he wants to sing it. He isn't like Lauren [Alaina], who will change her mind three or four times in a day. James connects to a song and doesn't let go."

After the show, Durbin reflected on his choice, explaining what happened after he looked at his list of choices in the Carole King songbook. "I was looking at the list, and basically, I saw that one," says Durbin. "And I went, 'Wait, I think I know that song.'  So I looked it up, and listened to it, and thought, 'Ohmygod.'  I just felt that immediate connection, like I do with every single one of my other songs. I had this vision for it, and it's exactly what happened. I just felt it, and I ran with it."

Said Jackson, "This guy just might win the whole thing."

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