Abi Carter is the newest 'American Idol' winner: Look back at her best moments this season

Newly crowned 2024 winner Abi Carter was an "American Idol" frontrunner since her Season 22 audition, where Luke Bryan declared she "may be the winner."

But that didn't mean the 21-year-old musician from Indio, California, was coasting over the course of the season, which ended with Sunday night's finale.

Though Carter earned one of three coveted platinum tickets from Lionel RichieKaty Perry and Luke Bryan and became known for her emotional performances of sweeping ballads, she also came out on the "Idol" stage with several alternative and rock hits to show she wasn't a one-trick pony.

When she wasn't wowing viewers with her vocals singing Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?" (her audition song) and "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid," she was storming the stage in dramatic fashion with songs like Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" and Evanescence's "Bring Me to Life."

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"I probably had a lot of the voters who liked me for the slow, nice things but then there's a massive part of the voters that don't like the slow stuff," Carter told media outlets, including USA TODAY, an hour after her "Idol" win. "So I think it was really cool — that gave me the opportunity to show versatility I didn't even know I had."

In celebration of Carter being crowned "American Idol's" 22nd winner, here's a look back on her season.

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Abi Carter says she wouldn't 'be here without Billie Eilish'

During the May 19 finale, in a full-circle moment, Carter received a surprise personal message from Eilish.

"Hi Abi, it's Billie. I wanted to say congratulations on making the Top 3 on 'American Idol.' This is such a big deal, and I'm so happy for you. It's so amazing to see you in the finale after you sang my song 'What Was I Made For?' in your audition," the Grammy winner said as Carter, shocked, sank to the floor on stage.

Eilish added, "I love you so much. I wish you nothing but the best. I am here to support you forever, and I love ya."

Carter told members of the press after filming, "I've literally been a fan of Billie Eilish since her first single, 'Ocean Eyes,' came out. That, I'm pretty sure, changed me musically (and) who I am as a person. I just don’t think I'd be here without Billie Eilish."

Of Eilish's video, she said, "Maybe that was a kick and helped me. It's changed my life. She's changed my life.”

Luke Bryan predicted Abi Carter as the winner after her audition with 'What Was I Made For?'

As the final televised audition, Carter finished Episode 2 with a bang.

"I hope I can do it justice for you," she told Perry, who'd expressed her love for Eilish's song.

As the 21-year-old sang and played the piano, the judges exchanged approving glances. With her closing notes, the room erupted in applause, with the judges giving a standing ovation as Carter cried.

"Thank you for being an example of singing from your heart. What were you made for? You were made for this, 100%," Perry said before embracing the singer.

"That may be the winner of 'American Idol,'" Luke declared, adding, "I've never heard the crew clap."

After Carter's family rushed into the room to congratulate her, Perry exclaimed, "She's the best thing we’ve ever heard!"

Richie concurred: "That’s the best we've ever heard on this show," he said. "I'm not kidding."

Katy Perry hugged Abi Carter after her Season 22 audition.
Katy Perry hugged Abi Carter after her Season 22 audition.

Carter looked back at the life-changing audition in March while speaking with the Palm Springs Desert Sun, part of the USA TODAY Network.

"It was nerve-racking, of course. I'm pretty sure I blacked out during the performance," she said. "But to see all three of the judges stand up, and for Katy to come up to me and give me a big hug, for Luke Bryan to say that he thought I was going to be the next winner of 'American Idol,' and Lionel Richie to agree with him and say they didn't even have to vote, that just meant the absolute world to me.

"I thought I was dreaming."

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Abi Carter was an early favorite for the judges

Abi Carter performs Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" in Episode 16, which featured songs that make you want to dance.
Abi Carter performs Fall Out Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" in Episode 16, which featured songs that make you want to dance.

In an 18-episode season, Carter rarely fumbled.

A week after she squeaked into the Top 24 despite performing Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" with bronchitis, Carter made a valiant comeback with her performance of "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" by Hillsong United in Episode 8.

"I don't know if I’m allowed to say it, but you're my favorite," Perry said as Carter was brought to tears. "I just think you are so gifted."

Fast forward a few weeks, and Carter was continuing to kill it in the live shows. After she sang Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in Episode 12, Perry deployed one of her favorite adjectives for her fellow Southern Californian: "angelic."

"From day one, it's always been you," Perry said. "Tonight, it's always been you. You sing with such an angelic frequency, and I think a lot of things are going to happen in the future when you sing."

As the competition narrowed down to the Top 5, Perry was as shocked as the rest of the viewers by Carter's fiery performance of "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark."

"Why were you saving that for almost the last show? You can do that?" Perry said, then added, "That performance made me scared for my job."

Who is Abi Carter? The 'Idol' winner's background

Carter, the second oldest of seven children, was homeschooled for most of her life, she told the Desert Sun in March. She attended high school for part of a school year but decided to stay home and help her single mom manage their family when her parents got divorced.

"My mom had to start going back to school to get a degree to support all of us," she said. "I, subsequently, kind of had to leave public high school and go back into homeschooling so that I could get a job to be able to buy a car and take my siblings to and from school and extracurricular activities because my mom was then occupied with her schooling."

With the inspiration of her mom, who enjoyed singing, Carter was a lifelong chanteuse. When she was 7 or 8 years old, she started piano classes. And when her family could no longer afford the lessons, the teacher "continued to do it for free because she believed so much in me," Carter recalled.

She went on to perform all across the Southern California's Coachella Valley in street fairs and on small stages in local venues. For college, she attended California State University San Bernardino and earned a degree in psychology.

Contributing: Ema Sasic, USA TODAY Network

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abi Carter is 'American Idol' 2024 winner: See her best moments