It would be easy to end this discussion quickly by saying David Cook will win because he's better. But instead, I'll use the balance of my time and say that Cook will win "American Idol" because Chris Daughtry didn't.
"Idol" is still the top-rated show in the country despite the haters' attempts to knock it off its perch, but there's no question that Daughtry's elimination started the show tilting in the wrong direction. Had he been the winner in season five, the Idol list of champions would have gone Clarkson-Studdard-Fantasia-Underwood-Daughtry, otherwise known as four successes in five seasons. Instead we got Taylor Hicks followed by Jordin Sparks, which hasn't exactly helped the show build a reputation as a star-producing factory.
Good news, "Idol" fans! You may have screwed things up two years ago by picking the fun guy over the actual star in waiting, but you have a chance to rectify that this week.
And you will.
Because let's be honest here — the country has suffered from buyer's remorse ever since it decided to evict Daughtry early. His career has taken off, as "Idol" fans atone for their previous sins by downloading his singles and buying his albums. He even opened for Bon Jovi on tour, which is way cooler than anything this group of finalists can dream of.
Cook doesn't have that same vibe, but he's close. He's never karaoke, yet he's able to work everything from Dolly Parton to Neil Diamond to Roberta Flack into his comfort zone. And he's proven to be far more adaptable at being both unique and conforming, showing that he knows how each song was meant to be sung and then putting his own spin on things.
That's the trickiest skill that "Idol" judges ask the finalists to master, and most fail miserably. Cook gives everyone enough old-school notes to convince the judges that he's taking it seriously, but throws in enough wrinkles to make the tunes contemporary. The producers couldn't have drawn up a more musically-appropriate finalist if they'd rigged one up in a machine shop.
Simply put, Cook's sound is better equipped to sell music. It's got enough of a hip vibe to appear on contemporary rock stations without sounding too ridiculous, but it's friendly enough to appear on work-safe Lite Rock 101 as well.
Turn on the radio Go ahead. I'll wait. Do the singers you hear sound more like Cook, with this slightly-edgy-and-yet-entirely-unthreatening style? Or do they sound like Archuleta's ... whatever.
Cook also has the right personality to appeal to voters. True, he lacks the "Oh my golly! This is neato-torpedo!" charm of Archuleta, but he's no threat to mainstream sensibilities either. If he has any skeletons in his closet, they are well hidden. So are any tattoos.
He's calm and polite, and comes across like someone who cares very much about winning without being a threat to break down in hysterical sobs if he loses. With his laid-back, sardonic and cynical interview style, he could be a rock star already.
Not only do the show's fans want David Cook to win, the judges and the producers likely do as well.
At this point the show doesn't need a young winner who's long on potential. "Idol" needs someone who succeeds immediately, so the show's producers can quit answering those nagging questions about where all the viewers have gone and get back to discussing the show as a training ground for future stars.The judges and producers can't control who the people vote for. But they can nudge the needle, either by offering withering criticism or failing to make a big deal of a favorite's gaffes.
They've wanted Archuleta in the finals all season, When he missed a lyric earlier this year, his mistake was turned into a "Ha ha, you big dope, try not to do it again" teaching lesson, as opposed to the slams that occurred when Brooke White and Jason Castro had similar screwups.Cook didn't start the season with that kind of rope, and even got into a bit of a snipe-fest with Simon early. But he quickly learned to hold his tongue, and Simon was converted into a fan. Now, at worst, Cook is the judges' co-favorite, and judging by the comments in recent weeks he's probably their preferred "Idol" champ.
Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood — what do these "Idol" greats have in common? Even when they were lowly contestants forced to listen to the banter from the judges, they all sounded like people already on the radio. Put Cook in the studio, give him some good songs to work with and voila, a hit.
That's what the show wants. And that will tip the balance and make Cook the seventh "American Idol."
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.