Tuesday, May 20, 2008

American Idol Finale
And Then There Were Two

When David Cook is prounced the Season 7 American Idol Wednesday night, the first people he needs to thank are Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul (in that order). The three stooges judges threw him under a bus Tuesday night and guaranteed him the win. The next people Cook needs to thank are his rabidly loyal fans (us included) who dialed hundreds of times to win him the crown after the three stooges judges declared him roadkill. "Hell, no, he won't go," we protested and dialed until our fingers were bloody. And nothing will be more satisfying than wiping that smug grin off of Daddy Jeff Archuleta's face tonight. There will be no joy in Mudville Murray, Utah, mighty scrawny David Archuleta has struck out.

Not that either performer was bad -- or exceedingly great for that matter. It was a fairly balanced competition talent-wise. But it was also like comparing apples with oranges. Archuleta has the more melodically beautiful almost always perfectly pitched voice, but is emotionally vacant and vapid when it comes to lyrics, and, for the most part, lacks creativity. He is a ballad singer from the David Foster (or Clay Aiken) school of music. David Cook, has a raspier rocker quality to his voice (though, as he proved with "Music of the Night," he can handle a ballad with panache). His pitch isn't always perfect, but his crafting of a tune -- from rearranging the melody to his phrasing and emotional grasp of the lyrics -- can make a grown man cry. And America wept last night, along with Cook as he valiantly tried to hold back tears upon finishing his third number.

Perhaps the tears said it all in how the two Davids differ. Archuleta cried in response to the praise from the judges, especially each time Cowell proclaimed him the winner of a round or the contest. It was as if Daddy was telling him he had been a good boy. Cook teared up before receiving any adulation. We couldn't read his mind, but imagine it was over the emotion from the touching lyrics of the aptly titled "The World I Know," from the competition finally ending, from all the sad events he has had to endure with his brother's brain cancer and yesterday's announcement of his friend and co-contestant Luke Menard's Hodgkin lymphoma, another form of cancer.

The pro-
ducers chose a boxing match scenario for the finale, set to the theme from
"Rocky." They even had Michael "Let's get ready to rumble" Buffer open the show, announcing and introducing the contestants -- at 180 pounds, David "Sugarfoot" Cook and at 100 pounds soaking wet, David "Baby Face" Archuleta -- in robes with boxing gloves on. The theme continued throughout the evening, with commentary from boxing analyst Jim Lampley and coaching from Clive "Skeletor" Davis and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The most humorous part of the opening? When Buffer intoned: "Two men, with one name and one desire -- to be crowned champion. Their prize, a heavyweight title reserved only for superstars." Funny thing though, the video at that point shows Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood. Er, did we miss something? When did Chris Daughtry win "Idol"? They'd love us to all forget Taylor Hicks' win and believe that revisionist history.

Watch video of the opening boxing sequence of the finale:

Last week, Archuleta won the coin toss and selected to perform second. So, Cook began the competition. The first song for each was selected by Clive "The Cryptkeeper" Davis. He wasn't tossing any softballs and both contestants handled his selection deftly. Cook, looking grungier than usual tonight with slightly spiked and gelled hair, received U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and gave a strong performance. He started onstage and ended the performance on the catwalk, looked confident and professional. It wasn't his best of the season, but it was certainly finale-worthy. He had a great final note, but we were confused when the note continued and lingered after he had dropped the mike away from his face. (BTW, the same thing happened with Syesha's exit song last week). What up producers?

Randy said, "I think it was a great way to start off this duel of 2007 (Er, Randy, if Paula is seeing the future, critiquing songs that haven't been sung yet, you, Dude, are living in the past. It's 2008, man). Very nice song choice (er, he didn't pick it). I mean, I don't know if you did everything you could do with it, but I love the scoop of the note at the end. It was hot, baby. Hot!" Paula, making her first song title analogy of the night, said, "Well, you may not have found what you're looking for, but we have found David Cook. And we need to look no further. David Cook has arrived. Amen, amen. And you're in great voice tonight." Simon said, "I thought it was phenomenal."

Watch video of David Cook singing U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For":

Davis annointed Archuleta with Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." John is such a skilled and prolific singer, that most of us don't realize how difficult his songs are until other people try to perform them. Could Archuleta pull it off, especially when Clay Aiken scored so famously with the same number during Season 2? He could and he did. He started a bit uncertainly and with a small amount of pitchiness, but settled in and soared through the rest of the number. We agreed with Simon that it might have been his best performance of the season.

Randy said, "This is one of the best performances of this whole season and you picked the right time to peak, baby. That was flawless (well, no) and unbelievably molten hot. Hot, crazy vocals. Crazy vocals, crazy." Paula said, "My heart's still pounding, David. I've got chills up and down arms (As Archuleta starts to cry, Randy is still yelling "Crazy" in the background). The sun is never gonna go down on you, because you bring out so much sunshine in everyone throughout the whole world in your singing. And David, that was a beautiful, beautiful, stunning performance. I'm so excited, tonight is unbelievable (Randy in the background "It's hot, hot."). Simon, trying to shush them with, "OK, OK, OK, very easy to get overexciting tonight," added, "David, I'm going to be honest with you. I thought last week you were OK. I thought tonight's performance was arguably the best you've done so far. Taking everything into account, Round 1 goes to Archuleta."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me":

We say: Round 1 went to Archuleta.

The producers smartly buried the songwriter's competition song into the middle of the Tuesday's contest. Any other spot and they would have lost their audience. Of course, the songs were sucky, but the contestants were allowed to select from the 10 songs which received the highest number of votes (those should have been easy to count, did any get more than 10?). Cook chose "Dream Big," something he could rock out. We weren't with the program -- and really couldn't make out the words over the band -- until he hit the chorus, which we thought had a fine hook and made the song commercially viable. Did we love it? Would we buy it? No. Would we listen to it again. Absolutely.

Randy said, "The song was just OK for me, but what made it really work is your voice. You were singing your face off. Whoa! He could hit those notes.What? Nice, nice." Paula said, "A song in your heart, a guitar in your hands, and we millions who sit here mesmerized by you. This is a great way to take a song we don't know and falls in love with it. Congratulations." Simon said, "Using the boxing analogy, it was a bit of a lightweight, I thought. I thought the end was OK. You made the most of what you had. I mean, bearing in mind this is supposed to be a winning song, it didn't feel like a winning moment for me. ... That was a 6½ out of 10."

Watch video of David Cook singing "Dream Big":

No surprise, Archuleta went for a syrupy ballad, the kind we expect -- and hate -- year after year. We were so bored with "In This Moment" we had trouble paying attention through the entire song. And Archuleta didn't seem to connect with the lyrics at all. It was a sickeningly sweet snooze. No surprise, the judges loved him and covered him with praise (has Randy ever said a negative word to Archuleta?)

Randy said, "Once again, I wasn't crazy about the song, but here's the deal, man. Right now, you are so in the zone, dawg, that you could sing the phone book and it would be good. So that was another hot performance." Er, Randy, this sounds familiar. Oh, that's right. It's the same thing you say every time Archuleta performs. Sheesh! Can't you even be bothered to come up with a new tongue bath for the finale? Paula said, "It's just another heartfelt performance. It doesn't matter what song you're singing. It's like you're on fire tonight. It's pure magic. And you know what? That is why you're in this spot that you're in in the finals, my dear. So congratulations." Simon said, "You definitely, definitely chose the better song there. Much more in keeping with the night. Round 2 goes to David Archuleta." David cries and we begin to understand that it's Cowell we should blame for the disgusting coronation songs. This is what he thinks is good music? Oh. But of course. He's also responsible for Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love," another piece of crap. Amazing that Mr. Teletubbie has become a zillionaire from bad taste.

Watch video of David Archuleta singing "In This Moment":

We say: Round 2 went to Cook.

The third song was con-
testant's choice. Cook chose Collec-
tive Soul's "The World I Know." Now, if you are a true Cook fan, this was a daring and praiseworthy choice. It was haunting and beautiful. We loved the tenderness and emotion he displayed, right down to the welling over eyes when he finished. If you just tuned in to watch a "finale performance" then you might have preferred, as Simon Cowell pointed out, an encore of "Hello" or "Billy Jean," or a new song that was more accessible. For those reasons alone, Cook should win. He didn't feel the need to pander to the greater audience with a more "popular" song choice. He instead remained true to himself and to those of us who will actually be buying his first CD. This is the music we want him to make, and that we'll happily buy. For those of you who would never buy a CD from an Idol contestant when the competition's become a distant memory, you probably remained unmoved. And so it goes.

Randy said, "You're showing people tonight a lot of different sides of David Cook. That was very nice sensitive side of David Cook and I love Collec-
tive Soul and I've been saying this for weeks now, I think this is definitely the kind of record that you could make and get by with. Very nice job, dude. Very nice." Paula said, "I look at you up on that stage and you're standing in your truth and you're delivering unbelivable songs with integrity and originality and I truly applaud you David Cook, I do (stands up and applauds). Simon said, "I just want to say publicly, that you are actually one of the nicest most sincere contestants we've had. It was a beautiful song, but I'm going to be honest with you. It was completely and utterly the wrong song choice for you on the night. Because what you should've done was, you should have sung 'Billie Jean' or 'Hello.' But you understand what I'm saying." When Ryan Seacrest asked Cook how he felt about Cowell's remarks, he smartly answered, "You know, for me this whole thing has been a progression, and so the way that I was looking at it was, 'why do something I've already done?' No, but, for the record, I completely understand what you're saying, so ... (at this point Simon gave him a wink)." And at this point we had to wonder if Simon's bashing of Cook all night had been a calculated move to get the troops out in force to vote for him. The reverse of his praise for Carly Smithson being her "kiss of death." We'll never know.

Watch video of David Cook singing Collective Soul's "The World I Know":

Not being nearly as brave, Archuleta did what Simon suggested Cook should have done, and sang "Imagine," considered by most everyone to be his strongest performance of the season. There is something about watching a performance for the first time and being caught unaware of how wonderful it is going to be. It never quite comes off as well the second time around. Of course, we didn't like it the first time around, and liked it even less the second time for the same reason: Archuleta does not connect emotionally to what John Lennon was writing. This is not a singer's song. It's a songwriter's song. Listen to how John Lennon sings it. He wants you to listen to the words, not the melody. It's not supposed to soar and have a dozen runs in it (more than the first time). It's supposed to hit you in the stomach and mean something to you. It did to Lennon. It's almost sacrilegious to pretty it up. And so it goes.

The judges, as expected, went nuts for it, for all the wrong reasons. Randy said, "Dude, you are so good tonight, you are exactly what this show is about. Finding the best singer that we can find. And the best singer, Season 7 IS RIGHT THERE!!!!!" Paula said, "You've left me speechless as I was when I first heard you sing this song. You were stunning tonight. You were stunning." Simon said, "At the end of the day, this show is about finding a star, and tonight I think we've witnessed one of the great finals. But in my opinion, David, you came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout."

Watch video of David Archuleta singing John Lennon's "Imagine":

We say: Round 3 is a tie.

So what a shock it will be for all when David Cook is crowned tonight. According to DialIdol.com, there is NO POSSIBLE WAY Cook can lose. DialIdol.com has never been wrong in the six years it has been predicting the finale winner and Cook is 11.5% ahead of Archuleta, a huge lead by DialIdol standards. Even considering every possible margin of error, Cook is King. And we say, long live the king.

Ruben Studdard closed the show with an uninspired and forgettable rendition of "Celebrate Me Home."

Confirmed and unconfirmed spoilers for tonight's finale include:
David Cook and Mariah Carey will duet on "Always Be My Baby."
David Archuleta and Neil Diamond will duet on "America."
Seal, Donna Summer, ZZ Top, the Jonas Brothers, Kanye West and George Michael are also performing.

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