By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 27, 2010 at 07:51 AM EDT

Image Credit: Frank Micelotta/FoxAs American Idol‘s season 9 finalist Lee DeWyze worked his way along the photo press line backstage at the Nokia Theater last night, he kept thanking the photographers for all of their support. The 24-year-old former paint salesman appeared to be rather overwhelmed by his great good fortune, but that didn’t stop him from talking a mile a minute about how he came to realize he could win, why he chose U2’s “Beautiful Day” as his Idol coronation song, and how he deals with those pesky nerves.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, congratulations on winning!

LEE DEWYZE: Thank you, thank you very much.

It looked like you were almost going to walk off stage after you learned the results.

I didn’t know what to do when I won, man. It was a surreal experience. What do you do when you win American Idol? I don’t know — I’ve never done it before, you know? Gah — it’s just, it’s like — it’s like something I can’t even explain to you right now. It’s amazing.

When this season did you start really thinking, “I could actually win this thing”?

When I stopped questioning myself. It’s really hard. When you go through life, when you go through different things, you take risks, you question yourself. I think everybody does at some point in their life question themselves. Like any decision anyone else has made, you know, I made a decision to do something, and I did the best that I could at it. And that’s all anybody can do when they do anything. It got me here. There have been bumps in the road, you know. It’s just a matter of getting over those things and becoming a better person, a better performer, for all of it.

“Beautiful Day” — how did you come to sing that song as your potential first single?

It’s an epic song, man. There were options out there, and that’s the one I went with. I’m glad I did. You know, Rickey Minor and the band, those guys are amazing. And my vocal coaches, [Debra] Byrd and Matt [Rohde], the other vocal coaches, Dorian [Holley] and Michael [Orland] — they’re all amazing, and they all just want the best for us. I’m just glad that I went with that song. It’s a great song. I’m glad I sang it.

Simon said on Tuesday night that you looked nervous. Did you feel that way?

I think anybody in the position that me and Crystal were in would have a sense of nerves. You would. I think what’s important when you get nervous is not make it a negative nervous, make it a positive nervous. You try to turn things in a positive way, and I’ve had a lot of people around me that’ve helped me do that, you know, on the [show] staff. I’ve turned to a lot of people for advice on that level, because this is something I’ve never been through before. I feel now, you know, that a weight’s been lifted off of my shoulders, and now I can start making some music, and touring, and doing everything I’ve wanted to do. That’s what this is all about.

Be sure to check back on next week for Michael Slezak’s Idolatry exit interview with Lee DeWyze.

Click here for Crystal Bowersox’s post-finale Q&A: “I wouldn’t have tried out if I didn’t think I had a shot at winning.”