Erika Jo Heriges, an 18-year-old high school senior from Lebanon, Tennessee, was crowned the winner of USA Network's Nashville Star 3 during Tuesday night's live broadcast of the third edition of the country music competition reality show.

"Can you believe that just last weekend I was at my prom? And now here I am with a record deal and an album to record in the next month," Erika Jo gushed after winning. "I'll barely be done in time for finals and graduation!"

In addition to receiving a recording contract with Universal South Records (her debut album is scheduled to be released on June 14), Erika Jo also received a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado truck and an appearance on NBC's Today show as part of her winning prize package. According to the show, over ten million votes were cast during Nashville Star's third season.

Erika Jo became Nashville Star's first female winner, and by far its youngest. Nashville Star's first two seasons had been won by Buddy Jewell, a then 42-year-old Arkansas native who had been working as a demo singer after being rejected by every major Nashville record label, and Brad Cotter, a then 33-year-old singer/songwriter Auburn, AL native who had also spent years trying to land a Nashville major label record deal.

"This is as much a shock to me as it is to anybody else," she told The Tennessean after the show. "I don't know what I'm feeling exactly. I can't put it into words." "Let's go to the studio now and make records!"

With 21-year-old host LeAnn Rimes returning from a two week illness absence to personally announce the 18-year-old's victory, Nashville Star's producers appear to have successfully completed their somewhat controversial goal of revamping the show to be "young and fun" and "reflect what's happening on today's country music scene." Or at least in crowning a winner not unlike the Nashville Star hostess that, according to USA Network executive Libby Hansen, "embodies the vitality of country music."

Like Rimes, the slim, petite and blonde Erika Jo also began performing at a young age. Beginning at age 5, she toured across the southern and midwestern portion of the United States with her father's five-piece country band. And like the former Star Search contestant, Erika Jo also performed on television at a young age, appearing on shows such as the former TNN's The Crook and Chase Show and Prime Time Country and PAX TV's Destination Stardom as well as competing in 1999's True Value Country Showdown.

Jody Evans, a 28-year-old police officer from Donaldson, AR, finished third in the competition. Jason Meadows, a 33-year-old from Calera, OK finished second, with Rimes assuring him that he should be proud of his performance. "I ain't ashamed of a durned thing," he replied.