THE bookie’s favourite was beaten by the politics graduate with the joker’s grin - but Gareth Gates, the stuttering teenager with an angelic voice, may yet have the last laugh.
His puppyish good looks have attracted a solid fan base among the young female audience, which could ultimately see Gareth outselling the show’s winner, Will Young, when his debut single is released.
Gareth, who remained the favourite to win until his surprise defeat on Saturday night, has already been signed up by Simon Cowell, one of the show’s judges and director of BMG Records, who will now release records by both singers.
Simon Cowell yesterday admitted 17-year-old Gareth had been offered a contract with his company and that a debut single was already in preparation.
Referring to Gareth’s huge potential, Mr Cowell said: "If you think I will let some other record company sign this guy up - yeah right!
"The news about Gareth is that within one week, there will be an announcement as to what his first record will be and when it will be released. It won’t obviously compete with Will but it will be released afterwards and there will be some very, very exciting news attached to that."
Over the past ten weeks, Gareth and Will have emerged as the stars of the compelling ITV programme, Pop Idol hosted by Ant and Dec.
During the hectic media merry-go-round in the run-up to Saturday’s final, the pair seemed to have built up a real friendship and rapport and their hug after the result was announced appeared genuine.
After being part of TV’s largest-ever vote, with 8.7 million people participating, Will and Gareth are now combatants again. Now the battleground has shifted to the pop charts.
Both singers are expected to reach No1 in the first week of release because of the huge popularity they have built up over the series, which regularly attracted more than ten million viewers.
Then a new winner, the one with the most album and single sales will emerge.
Industry experts believe Will, 23, has a superior voice, but that Gareth epitomised the modern male pop singer. Others said he would be good boy-band fodder, but that he wasn’t a solo performer.
The former choir boy who burrowed his way into a million teenage girls’ hearts as he struggled to overcome his stutter, was 1/4 on to win with William Hill before the final. Will was a 3/1 long shot.
An individual from Birmingham lost 4,100, the largest bet on the programme, by betting on Gareth. The anonymous gambler who bet 2,000 on resilient Scots singer Darius Danesh to win, was fortunate in comparison.
Gareth had even gone as far as recording a number of radio interviews to be broadcast, in the event of his victory. They have since been scrapped.
Prior to Saturday’s show, his public supporters included Sir Cliff Richard, DJ and author Paul Gambaccini and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys who said last week: "I vote every week for Gareth, He’s the only one that looks like a pop star."
Among those cheering on the 23-year-old was David Mellor, the former Conservative minister for sport, who watched the programme at the Pheasant Inn in Berkshire, which is co-owned by Robin Young, Will’s father.
Mr Mellor, who toasted Mr Young jnr’s success with complimentary champagne and canaps, said: "I have been supporting Will throughout the heats and came here to give my support."
Mr Young said they had been celebrating until dawn with Will, his twin brother Rupert, and friends. "We didn’t get any sleep. We were celebrating at a wonderful event with Will’s and Rupert’s friends from his school days and university.
"The whole event was fantastic. Gareth was fantastic. I was sat there hoping that Will’s following would continue to support and they - and more - did. We kept telling ourselves that it didn’t matter who won, as they are both winners.
"The final was the best night of his life," he added.
Mr Young said he had no idea when he would next see his famous son: "We will try to carry on as normal, even with a pop idol in the family."
Last night, Will was understood to have left Britain to film the video for his debut single; a cover version of Westlife’s song, Evergreen.
Emma Jones, editor of music magazine Smash Hits, said Will had to prove he is more than just the successful winner of a TV competition. "The show will undoubtedly be an incredible launch pad for a sure-fire No1. But lessons can be learnt from the Hear’Say experience where public support and press reports began to grow sour as time went on," she said.