Judge walks out after Michelle wins 'Idol'

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The Independent Online

Michelle McManus, the 23-year-old Glasgwegian whose weight of around 15 stone has attracted much comment, triumphed in ITV's Pop Idol show last night to take the first prize of a six-album deal.

But her victory, greeted by the winner with tears of joy, has been marred by accusations of vote-rigging that have dogged the programme since the judges' favourite, Sam Nixon, 17, was eliminated more than a week ago.

One of the judges, record producer Pete Waterman, was also reported to have stormed out of the show, out of the view of TV cameras, when the result was announced.

In a tense three-hour special of the talent show, McManus performed three songs - including what will be her first single "All This Time", out on 5 January - to beat runner-up, Mark Rhodes, 22, from Wolverhampton.

The outcome was decided by a telephone ballot of viewers; 10.2 million votes were recorded during the final. There were nine million votes cast last year. The series will now be seen as a great success for ITV, which stands to make £100m from advertising, marketing and merchandising deals.

McManus suffered much criticism on the programme and in the media for her appearance. Simon Cowell, one of the judges, compared her to Meat Loaf and said: "please don't judge her on the outfit".

Waterman, had complained early yesterday that this year's contestants were "freaks and geeks". He was disappointed by this year's competition and "music had gone out the window with the voting". In the quarter finals a fortnight ago, Waterman said of Nixon: "One word - winner." He did not appear at the ITV2 programme that followed the show. Shortly before the winner was announced, he told people around him: "I just want to leave now because I don't want to detract from the final. This is not about me being negative, it's about the winner."

McManus, who previously worked as a travel agent, said last week: "It's taken a while to get people to accept me for who I am, not just the way I look. If people are going to take me on board then that's the full package." Certainly Elton John, who visited the contestants, could see beyond the criticisms of her image. He called her voice "great" and "fantastic".

For many viewers, this second series of Pop Idol, the show created by impresario Simon Fuller, has failed to live up to the first series, which produced Will Young as winner and Gareth Gates as runner-up. Young, who is gay, and Gates, who suffers from a severe stutter, have gone on to chart success. So has Darius Danesh who came third.

The judges have also been less than satisfied with the standard of finalists this year. When Rhodes auditioned for the competition, one judge, the DJ Dr Fox, said he lacked "star quality". At McManus's audition, Waterman said: "I've heard it all a thousand times before." But all four judges - Nicky Chapman, the former publicist for the Spice Girls completes the panel - clearly rated the cute-faced Nixon above all other contestants.

One judge said: "You will go through to the final, it's just a question of who is going with you." So it caused a major upset when viewers voted McManus and Rhodes, described by Cowell as an "ordinary-bloke idol", through.

Simon Cowell, who has made millions of pounds following his appearances as a judge on Pop Idol and by signing the winners to his record label, BMG, has since declared that this will be his last series in Britain. He does, however, have a contract for three more series in the US.

McManus's record deal, a contract with Simon Fuller's 19 Management and BMG, is worth £2m. But her surprise success is enough to send a chill through the hearts of spin doctors everywhere, including those in politics, who believe looks, talent and expert advice will always win through.