According to Nielsen Research, 42.94 million viewers tuned in Wednesday night to see 29-year-old, gray-haired Taylor Hicks of Birmingham, AL crowned the new American Idol, beating out 22-year-old Katharine McPhee of Los Angeles. Ryan Seacrest, host of the Fox talent contest, shouted out that more than 63 million votes were cast -- "more than any president in the history of our country has received." (President Bush received 49 million votes in the last election; 104 million were cast.) Clearly, however, since the vote for Hicks alone totaled far more than the number of people who watched the show, many people must have voted numerous times. Still, despite the fact that this year's contest lacked much of the weekly drama of previous shows, ratings were up significantly over last year. In Hicks's home territory of Alabama, recent Idol broadcasts have drawn bigger ratings than the Super Bowl. They have also produced a bonanza for local newscasts on Fox stations in the state whose ratings have reportedly risen 63 percent this season. Nationally, Wednesday night's finale averaged a 21.5 rating and a 32 share between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. according to Nielsen overnights. That compares with a 19.0/27 for the season finale of Idol last year. Among adults 18-49, the show grew to a 13.8/35 from last year's 12.5/31.