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Archuleta could ride teen wave to ‘Idol’ title

Don't assume the crown is David Cook's to lose -- Archie still has a shot. By Marc Hirsh.
/ Source: contributor

Saying that David Archuleta is going to win "American Idol" this season is nothing new. In fact, it's so worn out that it almost seems quaint, like how you used to believe that there was a magical creature who operated a cash-for-baby-teeth exchange program. Were we ever so young and naïve?

We were, and then that wide-eyed innocence got beaten out of us. There was no Tooth Fairy, only mom and dad sneaking into our rooms to collect and save our baby teeth (which: still weird, actually), and Archuleta's presumptive grasp on the "Idol" throne was sidelined in favor of the unexpected hysteria surrounding David Cook.

Or was it? Going into this week's all-David finale, Archie may not be as much of an underdog as it seems. If Ryan Seacrest is to be believed, the Davids and Syesha Mercado were all within a million votes of one another as recently as two weeks ago. That indicates that despite conventional wisdom, this season hasn't been a runaway for any one contestant. The fanbases appear to be holding strong.

So it would be wrong to assume that it's all over but the shouting. Archie could still win this. He's everything that "Idol" dreams about when it trolls the country for singing talent. That doesn't include his father, of course; it's unlikely that the show crossed its fingers for a legal guardian so heavily involved in his son's decisions that they'd eventually have to ban him from all backstage activities.

But what "Idol" does love is someone who's young, good-looking and talented, and Little David's all that in spades. Much like last year's winner Jordin Sparks, whatever he may lack in interpretive skill, the kid hits the notes more squarely than many competitors a decade older.

In fact, this is a great pop moment to be a teen sensation. "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana" have been vacuuming up the cash, with satellite Disney acts like the Jonas Brothers scavenging for leftovers and doing just fine. The chorus of high-pitched screams that follows Archie like Pigpen's dust cloud shows that he's tapping into the same demographic.

Of course, none of those acts tend to favor the sort of aggressively middle-of-the-road adult-contemporary ballads that Little David has made his stock in trade on "Idol." But there are two things to consider before dismissing him.

Defied the doctors, can defy the criticsThe first is his malleability. Without any specific artistic point of view to override (as is the case with Cook), Archie can be easily reshaped into any package that the folks at 19 Entertainment want. Last week's attempt to be more modern and less preachy by singing Chris Brown's "With You" may have been awkward, but that seemed to be a combination of first-time discomfort, lack of confidence and lyrics that included "shawty" and "boo." With a little practice, he could be transformed into a young, if earnest, pop star.

Which leads to the other thing to bear in mind: Josh Groban. The "High School Musical 2" soundtrack, unlike its predecessor the year before, was only the second best-selling album of 2007, behind Groban's "Noël." Triangulate those three mega-sellers and you've got Archie standing right in the middle saying, "Gosh!"

Then there's the matter of the coronation song. Who's going to do better on the type of treacly, inspirational schlock ballad that "Idol" favors: the rocker boy or the 17-year-old who sings almost nothing but treacly, inspirational schlock ballads? That's even more of an issue if, as was reported to be the case with runner-up Blake Lewis last year, the contestants are forbidden to rearrange the song to suit their own styles. Cook may have shown with "Music Of The Night" that he can sing straight, but abandoning the tricks that got him to the finale just when he needs them most would put him at a marked disadvantage.

Perhaps most damning for Cook, however, are the rumblings that he'd be better off not winning. If he won, goes the argument, he would be locked into a tight contract with little control over his own music, and would forever be tainted by the "American Idol" title itself, a crushing blow to his wicked awesome rock star cred.

That sort of thing happens every year. But what makes it more interesting this time around is that, despite the above, it's long been assumed that the title is Cook's to lose.

And what that means is that it's not the sour grapes of fans who think their guy is about to get railroaded. They honestly think Cook is going to win. And they honestly think it could be the worst thing that could happen to their guy. And that might cause some strange things to occur, vote-wise.

So don't give that felt crown to Jughead just yet. Archie defied the doctors who told him he's never sing again, and the reports of his impending defeat have likewise been greatly exaggerated. If he can triumph over actual adversity, then winning "Idol" when he's got all the right things going for him should be a snap.

Just don't tell him about the Tooth Fairy.

Marc Hirsh is a writer in Somerville, Mass.