Inside ‘American Idol’ Finale: David Cook Was The Fan Favorite … Until The David Archuleta Show Began

Plus: Chris Daughtry mention raises eyebrows; crowd skips out on Ruben Studdard performance.

LOS ANGELES — Now this is a big stage.

After checking out the 10-row studio that housed the other “American Idol” top-12 shows, being part of the Nokia Theatre’s 7,100-person audience was a serious change of pace. The vocal crowd instantly judged every move made at the “Idol” finale ’s new home — and it was a David Cook-leaning bunch.

When the warm-up comic polled the fans before the show to see which David they were backing, Cook got the loudest response by far, while David Archuleta garnered the most high-pitched squeals (go figure). Plus, our unofficial survey of Nokia’s “Idol”-swag vendors found that the “Vote Cook” T-shirt was the booths’ best-seller, topping generic show merchandise and the Archuleta tee.

But as anyone who watched at home can confirm, that all changed when the prolonged boxing metaphor — er, show — kicked off. The same audience that had been in Cook’s corner preshow (pugilistic puns are unavoidable for us too!) apparently didn’t want the sun to go down on Little David just yet. Archuleta had the Nokia JumboTrons partly to thank for the sudden support, since every squinty-eyed close-up was broadcast for even the smitten teen girls in the last row of the balcony to enjoy. (Another JumboTron observation: Cook’s faux-hawk made him look a lot like ’90s heartthrob Shane West, no?)

The Archuleta fans in the house also backed their boy with some seriously creative posters. Unlike the trite Cook offerings — “David Is Cookin’ Tonight” was spotted on more than one sign — the ArchAngels came up with “David-A Is a Hot-A,” “Nobody’s Betta Than David Archuleta” and “Our David Is Fun-Sized” (no joke).

(Read “American Idol” expert Jim Cantiello’s live blog of the show in the MTV Newsroom.)

You know what else is fun-sized? These bonus tidbits from a fan’s-eye-view:

» The top 12 were back in the house, filing into their seats just minutes before the show’s start to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

» A buzz could be heard throughout the auditorium when Ryan mentioned over the first video package that the prize title was reserved for a select few, as photos popped up of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and … Chris Daughtry? Wait, that dude didn’t even make it to the main event! Apparently the “Idol” producers wanted to remind us that a male finalist can succeed — just not a male winner .

» While it was tough to spot all the celebs and keep an eye on the finalists’ families in the ginormous Nokia Theatre, one man was unmistakable: “Idol” Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe. In an auditorium of dark suits and evening gowns, his red-and-gray “Where’s Waldo?”-esque rugby shirt was impossible to miss.

» The antsy judges actually stuck to their podium during breaks for this show. Were they minding their manners for the finale, or did the fan-packed (and much lengthier) route to the exit make them stay put?

» As soon as Simon Cowell called the night a “knockout,” hundreds of audience members rushed for the exits. If they had waited just a few seconds, Ruben Studdard could have celebrated them home. Sorry, Velvet Teddy Bear.

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