“American Idol” set up their season finale like a boxing match between two prized fighters, but according to the judges, the winner was David Archuleta. And according to Simon Cowell, it was a knock out.
David Cook had been heavily hyped by the British judge, who seemed to hint in recent interviews – including one with Access Hollywood — that the 25-year-old former bartender was going to take the title, but while the final vote count is still remains out in the hands of the fans, the judges chose Archuleta as their winner.
Singing U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Cook came on strong in the first round, a round of song choices picked by legendary record executive Clive Davis of SonyBMG.
“I think it was a great way to start off this duel of 2007,” judge Randy Jackson said of Cook’s performance. “Very nice song choice… I don’t know if you did everything you could do with it, but I love the scoop up with the note at the end. It was hot baby.”
“You may not have found what you’re looking for but we have found David Cook, and we need to look no further,” Paula added. “David Cook has arrived. Amen, amen, and you’re in great voice tonight – Paula
Simon also gave the rocker’s performance high praise.
“I could see at the top of this show, you looked very tense, very emotional and I can understand why, so to put all of that together, I thought it was phenomenal,” he said.
Clive chose the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” for Archuleta, whose rendition floored the panel.
“It doesn’t matter what happens, right now you gotta know one thing, this is one of the best performances of this whole season,” Randy enthused. “You picked the right time to peak baby. That was flawless and unbelievably molten hot. Crazy vocals, crazy!”
“I gotta tell you, my heart’s still pounding,” Paula added. “I got chills up and down my arms.”
As Archuleta appeared overwhelmed and almost in tears, Simon gave him even more good news.
“David I’m gonna be honest with you. Last week, I thought, you were OK, I thought tonight’s performance, was the best you’ve done so far,” he declared. “Taking everything into account. Round 1 goes to Archuleta.”
For Round 2, the Davids chose original songs, submitted to “American Idol” by aspiring songwriters.
Cook chose “Dream Big” by Emily Shackelton, a rocking ballad, which didn’t wow the panel.
“I thought the end was OK. You made the most of what you had, bearing in mind this is supposed to be like a winning song, it didn’t feel like a winning moment for me,” Simon said as the audience began booing. “Just an opinion. Look the good news is we’ve got a third song. That was a 6 and a half out of 10.”
Archuleta’s song choice — “In This Moment,” by Ryan Gilmore — an emotive ballad, received a better reaction.
“You definitely, definitely chose the better song there,” Simon said. “Much more in keeping with the night. Round 2 goes to David Archuleta.”
Round 3 saw the Davids choosing their own song and Cook picked “The World I Know” by Collective Soul.
He was left in tears after giving what the judges called his best performance of the night, and he left Paula on her feet.
“I look up at you up on that stage and you’re standing in your truth and you’re delivering unbelievable songs with integrity and originality and I truly applaud you David Cook,” Paula said as she stood up for her second standing ovation of the performance.
Simon, however, told Cook it was the wrong song choice.
“David look, I just want to say publicly that you are actually one of the nicest, most sincere contestants we’ve had. I thought that was a beautiful songs, but I’m gonna be honest with you, it was completely and utterly the wrong song choice for you on the night because what you should have done, you should have done ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Hello,’” Simon said.
Cook was given a chance to respond to the bad news by Ryan and he said he understood what Simon meant.
“Well, you know, for me this whole thing has been a progression and the way I was looking at it was why do something I’ve already done?” Cook said. “For the record, I completely understand what you’re saying.”
Archuleta, however, did sing a song he’d already tackled previously in the season, re-performing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“David Archuleta, I’m really happy and proud that it’s the two David’s standing on stage, because we thought all season would come down to this,” Randy began. “Dude, you are so good tonight, you are exactly what this show is about, finding the best singer we can find and the best singer is right here.”
And Simon offered similar praise.
“We’ve taken a little bit of shtick this year with the competition, but 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,” Simon said. “But here’s the difference, in my opinion, David, you came out here tonight to win and what we have witnessed is a knock out.”