"American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest called it "the closest competition we've seen," and while that remains up for debate, it certainly drew an audience willing to text and phone in their support.
With approximately 97.5 million votes cast, this season's tally shattered the show's previous record by more than 23 million. Seacrest revealed early on — before the first commercial break, astonishingly — that the season-seven finale tally was split 56 to 44 percent.
But which of the Davids would it be, at the end of this Super Bowl-esque cap to the first male-on-male showdown since season two? David "Sugarfoot" Cook, the 25-year-old "Daughtry Dos" with the Peppermint Patty comb-over, or David Archuleta, the talented, annoyingly humble 17-year-old with the cherubic face? Either way, they were both walking away with a Ford Escape Hybrid, the keys to which were handed to them about halfway through the show, following a blooper reel highlighting all of the commercial flubs committed by the top 12.
The two Davids stood with Seacrest at the center of the stage, with their arms around each other, as Edward Boddington, chairman of Telescope, the show's independent vote management company, came out with the envelope. Cook seemed nervous, and Archuleta looked relaxed. Winning, Seacrest said, by "12 million votes is ... David ... Cook."
Archuleta seemed at once stunned and bummed — as did his father, who was in the audience. Cook — who went to the "Idol" auditions with no intent on going before the judges, only to support his brother — hugged his rival, and then buckled, putting his hands over his knees as the tears welled. He broke down, holding his face in his hands, as the sparks and confetti started to fly.
As if he knew the results beforehand, judge Simon Cowell apologized for being harsh on Cook the previous evening, having watched the show again at home. (On the red carpet earlier in the night, Cowell admitted to MTV News that he'd been hasty on Tuesday.) "It wasn't quite so clear-cut as we called it," he said. "In fact, David, I will take this opportunity to apologize, because I was verging on disrespectful with you, and I don't think you deserve that." He said he didn't care who won, that he thought they'd both done "terrific."
By the end of Tuesday's epic battle between the rocker and the crooner, it seemed like the title was Archuleta's for the taking, and Cowell even said as much. Cook even seemed to concede the competition just hours earlier.
The judges had criticized Cook's decision to tackle Collective Soul's "The World I Know" instead of breaking out Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" or Lionel Richie's "Hello," two songs he'd performed early in the competition, to rave reviews. It wasn't the safest choice, and could have been the difference between winning and losing. On the other hand, Archuleta did John Lennon's "Imagine," which he'd performed early in the competition.
As Wednesday's show opened, the two Davids were stationed center stage at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, beneath a blinding spotlight, facing each other and decked all in white. The camera circled them — Cook stared at Archuleta, his face stern, perhaps at peace with the idea of finishing second, while his competitor stared back calmly. The crowd — which included "High School Musical" star Ashley Tisdale — roared for the finalists, who seemed oddly unruffled, despite the enormity of the night.
Seacrest threw it to season-four finalist Mikalah Gordon in Kansas City, Missouri (near Cook's hometown of Blue Springs), and season three's Matt Rogers (who called the teen "America's most famous high school student") in Archuleta's stomping grounds, Salt Lake City, Utah. Then the Davids teamed up for a cover of "Hero" from the first "Spider-Man" movie — Archuleta the Chad Kroeger to Cook's Josie Scott. Next came the top 12, dressed all in white, tackling the Temptations' "Get Ready."
All night, Cook was in the spotlight, singing songs that fit his style, and it was clear the man was having fun, perhaps mindful of the fact that it might be over after a few commercial breaks. He joined ZZ Top — their beards, in all their glorious wonder, making Zakk Wylde envious somewhere — for "Sharp-Dressed Man," and Cook couldn't have looked giddier.
Archuleta, too, got to perform with an artist more in his bailiwick, as he joined OneRepublic for their hit "Apologize."
Recently rejected finalist Jason Castro was invited out to reprise is breakthrough performance of Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," while Seal sang his "Waiting for You" with third-place finisher Syesha Mercado. This summer's "American Idol" tour was previewed, with performances from the top-six girls (who delivered a Donna Summer medley) and the top-six guys (doing the same for Bryan Adams). Michael Johns and Carly Smithson also hooked up for a soulful and powerful duet: the Box Tops' "The Letter."
Just before the results came down, the top 12 sang George Michael's "Faith," "Father Figure" (in which former stripper David Hernandez whispered the word "naked") and "Faith." Then, Michael himself materialized, and had fearlessly jubilant judge Paula Abdul in tears as he crooned his heart-wrenching song "Praying for Time."
Both of the Davids appeared in separate "Guitar Hero" commercials during two of the breaks. In the spots, Cook and Archuleta roll around in nothing but their skivvies and button-down shirts, in a spoof of Tom Cruise's "Risky Business."
Other highlights of Wednesday's finale include Jimmy Kimmel's encore roast of Cowell, Brooke White's duet with Graham Nash on "Teach Your Children," an unnecessary performance from contestant Renaldo Lapuz of his tortuously repetitious tune "You Are My Brother" and a shameless — albeit hilarious — promotion of Mike Myers' upcoming film "The Love Guru."
Portraying the title character Pitka, Myers met with the two remaining "Idol" hopefuls and offered some sound advice to Cook: "Shave. The last time I saw stubble like that, I was at a 'Melrose Place' party listening to Alice in Chains on my Discman." For Archuleta? "You're so young, and yet, soon, you will have huge success," Myers said. "Also soon, you'll have hair in weird and wonderful places."
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