ITV finds a winning formula as Joe's X Factor victory pulls in 20m viewers
X Factor winner Joe McElderry
The ITV singing competition also attracted more than 10 million viewers votes, which earned the victorious 18-year-old McElderry a life-changing 1 million record deal and in all likelihood the Christmas No1 slot.
The impressive viewing figures push the glitzy show into the realm of what was known as the "golden age" of television entertainment in the 1970s and 80s
At its peak in 1980, The Two Ronnies attracted 18.6 million viewers in the UK which put them neck-and-neck with Morecambe and Wise, whose most popular show that year attracted 18.7 million.
While all TV audiences have steadily fallen since the 1980s, The X Factor has appeared to buck the trend and herald the return of "family entertainment television" – as well as a soar in profits for ITV.
BBC's Strictly Come Dancing also seems to tapping into the "family show" appeal with last weeks result show drawing in 7.3 million viewers.
However, last night it was McElderry, from South Shields, who was the star of the show after stunning voters with his version of The Climb, which is being released as a single. He won almost two-thirds (61.3 per cent) of the votes in the final, compared with just over a third (38.7 per cent) for Murs.
Last night the teenager said: "I couldn't believe it, I nearly collapsed on stage, it's amazing.
"I feel like I'm floating, just floating around, and I just feel like jelly. There was a bit of pressure but I just thought, I made it to the final, so I thought I would just go for it and give it my best shot."
Judge and mentor Cheryl Cole told him: "I feel over the moon, I'm absolutely delighted. The right person won. I'm so proud of you. The North-east are going to be going mad."
McElderry's single, The Climb, will be available for download from midnight and will be in shops on Wednesday.
Simon Cowell told McElderry he was "gutted for Olly" but "thrilled for you because you're brilliant".
It was Cole's second victory in a row, after mentoring Alexandra Burke in last year's competition.
Bookmakers said McElderry was now the red-hot favourite to secure Christmas number one, with Ladbrokes cutting his odds of earning the top spot to 1/8.
In a sign of the show's ability to draw in the world's top stars, Sir Paul McCartney appeared on the final show singing Drive My Car with McElderry, Murs and this year's other ten X Factor finalists.
Asked for his views on the final pair, Sir Paul said: "I think they're both good, you know, one of them's going to win."
This weekend's coverage alone, which last night saw Dagenham diva Stacey Solomon voted out, could generate 18m for troubled broadcaster ITV1.
It has also emerged that Cowell is eyeing Robbie Williams, who has made several appearances on the show this year, as a potential extra judge for 2010.