Melissa Lawson, a big-voiced, 31-year-old mother of five boys from Arlington, Texas, was named the season six winner of "Nashville Star," an NBC country music competition series.
Shawn Mayer, a 21-year-old volunteer firefighter from tiny May City in northwest Iowa reached the final three on the show from a field of 45,000 performers who auditioned.
Judges reduced the field from 12 to 11 at the end of the June 9 season premiere. Then, each Monday night, contestants were assigned toll-free phone numbers and were spared if enough fans called to keep them out of the bottom position.
Judge John Rich will produce an album for the winner. In a conference call Friday, Rich said he was confident country music fans would send him a talented musician to work with.
"The country audience wants to hear what they want to hear," he told reporters. "They're not going to vote somebody in there because they dislike what the judges are saying and they're going to prove a point - not at the end of the day. Some people might have taken that angle but look who we have in the final three: Melissa Lawson, Gabe Garcia, Shawn Mayer - all three people that could get record deals anyway. You know, there's no fluff in the final three. These are all real deal artists."
Lawson also will give a live performance from the Olympics in Beijing on August 12.
Mayer received the lowest number of votes from almost 5 million cast, according to the show. She was eliminated about 20 minutes into the telecast, leaving Garcia and Lawson for the title.
Mayer continued to smile and didn't appear to be upset when host Billy Ray Cyrus announced her elimination.
"I would have done nothing differently - absolutely nothing," she said. "I'm so happy to be here and you know what? Miranda Lambert got third place so maybe that's a sign."
Former "Nashville Star" contestant Lambert's platinum-selling 2005 album "KEROSENE" debuted at No. 1 on the country charts and went on to earn Lambert nominations for the CMA's Horizon Award and the ACM's Top New Female Vocalist Award.
Rich urged Mayer to try to showcase herself in Nashville within 20 days of the show's end - while the finalists are still fresh in fans' minds. After all, he said, hundreds of thousands of people had one out of their way to vote for her.
It is possible she could land a record deals yet this year, and that Rich could work with her.
Mayer also could be bringing her rivals back to Spencer. NBC scrolled Nashville Star Concert Tour dates at the bottom of the screen during the telecast. The list of stops included a Nov. 22 concert date in Spencer.