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(Reuters) - Soul singer Candice Glover vied with country crooner Kree Harrison on Wednesday in an all-female finale of "American Idol" to become the first woman to win the TV singing competition since 2007.
In a finale that judge Randy Jackson described as "so close," Glover, the 23-year-old former travel agent from St. Helena, South Carolina, brought the judges and the audience to their feet after belting out Tom Jones' "I Who Have Nothing."
"You are such a powerhouse singer," judge Keith Urban said. "The song is like a planet exploding."
But Harrison also earned high praise and a standing ovation with her moving rendition of "Up to the Mountain," Patty Griffin's song in honour of Martin Luther King.
"That right there is a winning performance," Jackson told the 22-year-old vocalist from Woodville, Texas. "It is your best performance of the night. Very nice."
With powerhouse performances from both singers, judge Mariah Carey said it will be a difficult choice for fans to pick the winner of the Fox TV show who will be announced at the end of a two-hour star-studded finale on Thursday.
"This talent is so magnificent," she said.
The two singers secured their places in the two-part finale after Angie Miller, an 18-year-old pop singer from Massachusetts, received the fewest votes last week.
Although Jackson said he didn't think either of the opening songs were right and found them a bit sleepy, he gave the first round to Glover who made Adele's "Chasing Pavements" her own, over Harrison's rendition of the ballad "Angel."
But Urban thought the winner of round two was Harrison, who wowed the audience of 7,000 in Los Angeles with her moving performance of "All Cried Out" by Alison Moyet in a split decision with judge Nicki Minaj, who gave top points to Glover who sang "I Am Beautiful."
But fans will ultimately decide the winner of the 12th season by voting by phone, text and online after Wednesday's show.
"American Idol" was once the most watched television show with 30 million viewers during its heyday six or seven years ago. But audience numbers have slumped in recent months, prompting media reports of an overhaul of the highly paid judging panel.
Jackson, who has been on the judging panel since the show started in 2002, announced last week that he would be leaving the show. The entertainment website TheWrap.com said Carey, who reportedly earns a $17 million salary, and Minaj and Urban would also not return.
Fox, a unit of News Corp, had no comment on the media reports.
Glover had the edge going into the Wednesday's show, which was broadcast live, based on the number of mentions about her across the Internet, news media, Twitter and other social media, which was consistently higher than Harrison's.
Social and news media analytics company General Sentiment, which analyzes tens of millions of sources of online content daily, predicts Glover will take the title based on its findings.
The winner will receive a record deal and be the first female winner since Jordin Sparks in 2007.
Earlier "Idols" include Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood, another Grammy winner and the first country western singer to capture the crown.
Jennifer Hudson didn't take home the top prize but she did go on to win a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in the film "Dreamgirls," as well as a Golden Globe and Grammy.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker