Joe McElderry said it was the best experience of his life as he won the 'X Factor' and a life-changing record contract last night.
The 18-year-old student from South Shields is now odds on to win the Christmas number one with his debut single 'The Climb' after beating rival Olly Murs in the hit ITV1 show with almost two thirds of the 10 million votes.
His victory topped one of the most lucrative weekends in British broadcasting, with an extended results show creating prime advertising spots in front of an expected audience of 20 million.
Speaking to ITV2’s 'Xtra Factor' after the show, McElderry said: “I couldn’t believe it, I nearly collapsed on stage, it’s amazing.
“I feel like I’m floating, just floating around, and I just feel like jelly.
“There was a bit of pressure but I just thought, I made it to the final, so I thought I would just go for it and give it my best shot.
“I’ve had the best experience of my life.”
As the results were announced, he hugged his mentor, fellow Geordie Cheryl Cole, and said: “I can’t even speak, thank you so much everyone.”
Cole told him: “I feel over the moon, I’m absolutely delighted. The right person won. I’m so proud of you. The North East are going to be going mad.”
It was Cole’s second success in a row, after mentoring Alexandra Burke to victory in last year’s competition.
McElderry’s performance of 'The Climb' in the final left Cole wiping tears from her eyes.
“Whatever happens, Joe, you’ve been an absolute – not only a pleasure to listen to, a pleasure to work with,” she said, with her voice breaking.
Cole said it took her back to when she started in her career.
McElderry, the youngest of this year’s final three, said it was an emotional song which “means everything about what’s gone on in the past couple of months”.
For his first song of the evening, McElderry chose 'Small Town Girl' as his favourite and earned a standing ovation from all four judges.
Simon Cowell predicted McElderry could have a hit record with his version and later told the young singer he was “gutted for Olly” but “thrilled for you because you’re brilliant”.
Fellow judge Louis Walsh told him: “You’ve got everything: small boy, big voice, and a great, great future.”
Dannii Minogue added McElderry was “definitely the best voice on the stage”.
Murs’ final performances were also widely praised by the judges and Cowell has described the 25-year-old former energy adviser from Essex that he was the “best risk I’ve ever taken in my life”.
Last night, Cowell told him: “This is why we make the show, it’s to give people like you a break.”
The final 12 wannabes all returned to open the show with their version of 'Never Forget', which involved McElderry and Murs – two good friends – walking on to the stage with their arms around each other’s shoulders in matching white suits.
Last year’s winner Alexandra Burke, who performed with 2008 runners-up JLS, also described 'The X Factor' as the “best experience of your life” and said she had had a fantastic year.
It also emerged that Cowell is eyeing Robbie Williams, who has made several appearances on the show this year, as a potential extra judge for 2010.
He told The People: “Robbie would make a good judge. He is fun, he has got good instincts, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is a fun guy to be around.”
In a further sign of the show’s ability to draw in the world’s top stars, Paul McCartney appeared on the final show singing' Drive My Car' with McElderry, Murs and this year’s other 10 'X Factor' finalists.
This weekend’s coverage alone, which saw Dagenham diva Stacey Solomon booted out on Saturday, could generate £18m (€20m) for troubled broadcaster ITV1, according to some reports.
McElderry’s single, 'The Climb', is available for download today and will be in shops on Wednesday, host Dermot O’Leary said.