Laine Hardy was declared the 2019 winner of American Idol on Sunday night (May 19), capping off a season of intense competition.

"I'm so thankful," gasped the popular Louisiana native, when awarded with the title over Alejandro Aranda.

Hardy, an 18-year-old talent whose earthy southern vocals belied his fresh-faced presentation early on in the competition, brought all of his strengths to the final season show. His performance of Mark Broussard's "Home" spurred judge Katy Perry to remark "If you apply yourself like you have applied yourself, and don't get lazy, you're going to be one of the biggest stars on the planet." Meanwhile, judge Lionel Richie admiringly called the rendition "nasty," in the best way possible.

Hardy also charmed with a Hank Williams cover of "Jambalaya," which further sealed his lock on the country-fan audience.

Hardy, Madison VanDenburg and Aranda were the final three contestants left going into the finale, which for the first time in the history of the show featured the finalists competing live for the final vote and then crowning the new champion on the same night due to live coast-to-coast voting.

The star-studded American Idol 2019 season finale also included a special appearance from last year's champion, Maddie Poppe, who released a new album recently.

Watch: Who Is Laine Hardy? 

Idol judge Luke Bryan also performed during the finale, singing his new single, "Knockin' Boots," and also performing with Laci Kaye Booth. Additional country performers included Carrie Underwood, Kane Brown (with Alyssa Raghu), Dan + Shay (with Madison Vandenburg) and Jon Pardi, who sang with Laine Hardy.

ABC announced on May 14 that American Idol will return for another new season in the fall, but the panel of judges has yet to be confirmed, though the network is in negotiations with Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. At a recent press roundtable in Nashville, Bryan told reporters that he feels confident all three will be returning to the show for another season.

“Love that a third season is on the way," he states. "All things feel positive that me and Lionel and Katy will be back. We’re doing the business of the business."

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