Pop Culture

Archuleta judges’ choice after final performance

From the moment Michael Buffer began the show with his trademarked “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble,” it was apparent that “Idol” was going to milk its battle of heavyweights for all it was worth. David Cook and David Archuleta came out in boxing robes, the theme from “Rocky” blared, and the show got down to the business, in its own hokey way, of selecting its champion.

For the first time in the show’s history, neither finalist had ever been revealed as a bottom-two finisher. Because the order of finish last week was kept secret, it was anybody’s guess which of the two entered as the favorite.

It wasn’t hard to see who ended the night in that position — at least, if the verdicts of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell carry the day.

Simon called the night a knockout, scoring all three rounds for Archuleta. The other judges also indicated that Archuleta was the better performer. If this were actually decided like a boxing match, there would be no reason to stay up to watch the end of the Wednesday results show.

But that’s not the case, and therefore what’s been one of the most evenly matched final pairings in “Idol” history will continue to leave fans guessing up until the moment Ryan Seacrest reveals the winner.

True to themselves
Each of the Davids sang three songs. One was selected by Clive Davis, one was picked from a group of 10 songs submitted to the “Idol” songwriting contest, and one was totally their choice. Both Cook and Archuleta picked songs that accentuated how they reached the finals, with Cook going away from convention and Archuleta sticking with what had worked for him in the past.

Davis assigned David Cook U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  For his second performance, Cook chose “Dream Big” by Emily Shackelton, and he closed the show with Collective Soul’s “The World I Know.”

The first song got him the most praise, and not surprisingly it was Paula who was the most effusive. “You may not have found what you’re looking for, but we have found David Cook,” she said. “David Cook has arrived.”

The latter two choices were both risky picks, and Simon in particular wasn’t happy with either.

“Dream Big” sounds like the theme from a 1980s sports movie, and is far from being the saccharine-sweet ballad that the “Idol” winner usually releases on their first album. “The World I Know” was done well, but was something he had yet to sing in the competition, which goes against precedent. Previous finalists have tended to repeat songs that have earned them praise in the past.

“I thought that was a beautiful song, but it was completely and utterly the wrong choice for you on the night,” Simon said after “The World I Know.” “You should have sung ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Hello,’” he added, referencing songs that Cook had gotten raves for early in the competition.

But being conventional was never Cook’s style. He’s succeeded all season long by taking risks, and said afterward that he viewed the competition as a progression and didn’t want to repeat himself.

‘You could sing the phone book’Archuleta chose a more conventional path. After starting off strong with Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” he selected “In This Moment,” by Ryan Gillmor from the list of original “Idol” songs. Unlike Cook’s selection, Archuleta chose a song that was the usual sappy “I’m so happy to be here!!!!!” treacle, and as the lyrics said, it was a moment no one could take away from him.

“Right now, you could sing the phone book and it would be good. You’re in the zone,” Randy said.

He finished by going back to the beginning of the season, singing “Imagine.” That won him universal praise back in March, and it did the trick again on Tuesday in the finale.

“Dude, you are so good tonight. You are exactly what the show is about,” Randy said. “The best singer of Season 7 is right there.”

“It’s the culmination, David, and you’ve left me speechless like I was when you first sang the song,” Paula Abdul gushed.

And Simon pronounced their verdict. “At the end of the day, the show is about finding a star. In my opinion, David, you came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout,” he said.

Fortunately for Cook fans, this isn’t like boxing. If the fans don’t like what the judges think, they can overrule them. The “Idol” superdelegates made it clear at the end of the night that in their minds Archuleta was their winner, but don’t be surprised if the voters ultimately declare their independence and give the title to Cook anyway.

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