American Idol winner Caleb Johnson will be runner-up Jena Irene's prom date

Randy Jackson (left) and show host Ryan Seacrest congratulate winner Caleb Johnson on stage during the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Randy Jackson (left) and show host Ryan Seacrest congratulate winner Caleb Johnson on stage during the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Finalist Jena Irene congratulates winner Caleb Johnson, as host Ryan Seacrest looks on, after Johnson was named the winner in the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Finalist Jena Irene congratulates winner Caleb Johnson, as host Ryan Seacrest looks on, after Johnson was named the winner in the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Caleb Johnson reacts after being named winner by host Ryan Seacrest during the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTo: REUTERS
Caleb Johnson reacts after being named winner by host Ryan Seacrest during the American Idol XIII 2014 Finale in Los Angeles, California on May 21, 2014. -- PHOTo: REUTERS
Host Ryan Seacrest (right) announces Caleb Johnson as the winner onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
Host Ryan Seacrest (right) announces Caleb Johnson as the winner onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
(From left) American Idol finalists Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene wait for the results from host Ryan Seacrest onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
(From left) American Idol finalists Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene wait for the results from host Ryan Seacrest onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
Host Ryan Seacrest (right) announces Caleb Johnson as the winner onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
Host Ryan Seacrest (right) announces Caleb Johnson as the winner onstage during Fox's American Idol XIII Finale at Nokia Theatre LA Live on May 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. -- PHOTO: AFP

Third time's the charm for rocker Caleb Johnson in the American Idol contest.

After failing to make the cut for the Top 24 twice, in 2011 and 2012, the 23-year-old was declared the winner of the 13th season of the reality TV singing competition on Wednesday at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

He beat out 17-year-old female pop singer Jena Irene, the first Wild Card contestant to make it to the grand final since season two runner-up Clay Aiken.

Completely overwhelmed after the results were announced live, he could barely perform his new single, As Long As You Love Me, on stage as his fellow castmates enveloped him in hugs.

"I told myself to give it one more shot this year and just go all out with guns blazing. The crazy thing is that I took the title home, and it's so incredible and insane," he says in a telephone conference with the international press yesterday.

Although his victory margin over Irene was not available at press time, host Ryan Seacrest said American television programme E! News after their performances that it was a close fight between the two: "It felt like they were neck to neck. I think it's really tight and could go either way."

Out of the grand final's three rounds, Johnson and Irene were declared to have won one round each by judges Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, although it is public votes that decide the winner.

Johnson's victory should be even sweeter, given that he battled bronchitis the week before and had not completely recovered in time for the finale.

On being the first hard rock singer to win American Idol, Johnson, who hails Asheville, North Carolina, says he is "thrilled to death" but was initially apprehensive about how viewers would take to his true-blue hard rock style.

"I was unsure because Idol is a pop-based show involving pop music. But it was really cool at how well received my songs were by the judges, audiences and other contestants."

Having cited American rock band Kiss as one of his biggst musical influences, he was understandably ecstatic to share the stage with them on two songs, Love Gun and Shout It Out Loud, during the season finale.

"I grew up listening and loving their music so much. Performing with them is something I'll never forget till the day I die."

Indeed, while he enjoyed performing non-rock songs such as Adele's Skyfall and Aretha Franklin's Chain Of Fools during the show, he asserts that he is first and foremost a rock singer.

His debut album, scheduled for release on Aug 12, "is going to be a really heavy, convicted and powerful rock and roll record with a lot of depth and soul".

Although Irene did not win the contest, she will be enjoying a pretty cool consolation prize - she will be taking the newly minted American Idol as her date to her high school prom.

After getting to know each other on the show, the pair quickly became the best of friends over the course of the season.

Johnson says: "She's not only a phenomenal singer and performer, she also has this huge heart. For some reason, we have this weird amazing connection and we do have a lot of fun together."

Irene says she is grateful to be able to perform alongside Johnson on the show and that he deserves his win entirely.

"You don't get to experience something like this with everyone in the world so it's definitely a blessing that I got to share the stage with him," she says, adding that having him with her helped alleviate the stress she felt during the competition.

The teenager from Michigan, who had to continue attending school while competing in Idol, clearly has her priorities straightened out.

She says: "Maintaining a good GPA is something my parents want for me, and I've grown to think that as well. School always comes first."

For a girl who will be graduating from North Farmington High School only next month (June), she sounds mature about tasting success at an early age.

"It doesn't really matter how old you are in this business if you can take it and be professional. I've matured a lot over the season, and American Idol has shaped me to be a more well-rounded person."