'American Idol' Finale: The Davids Enter the Ring
Simon Cowell scores the night a knockout for David Archuleta, but will voters agree?
Singer: DAVID COOK
Song: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
My Take: That boxing-themed clip package was excruciating. The only thing that could have salvaged it is analysis from Bert Randolph Sugar. Jim Lampley isn't good enough, though I guess the show's producers must figure Lampley is huge with the target demo. In some ever-so-spontaneous pre-show banter, David "The Leader" Cook says that as far as he's concerned, this isn't about competition, it's about having fun. Will that lack of intensity carry over into his performance? Since David Archuleta won the coin toss, Cookie is up first, singing Clive Davis' pick, an intimidating U2 track. If you do this song straight-forward, you're just doing a Bono impression. If you change it, you're desecrating a contemporary classic. David has gone the basic route and the song suits him well. It's comfortable throughout and he's on-pitch and powerful from start to finish. He mumbles a little and warbles as he makes his move out to the rise in front of the audience, but this won't cause Bono any concern. And we all know that Bono, like David Archuleta, has all of the world's problems on his mind.
Randy, Paula and Simon (gotta keep it real for the finale, y'all): Randy says that they're boyz and that this was a great way to start out. Paula says that she's found what she's looking for. Amen, amen. Simon acknowledges David's early nerves, crowing that the eventual performance was "phenomenal."
Singer: DAVID ARCHULETA
Song: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
My Take: Bono's tough, but Little David's challenge is also monumental since he's got to conquer both Elton John and Clay Aiken. The Claymates will be glad to hear me say that as solid as Archuleta is, he lacks the revelatory quality that Clay brought to this one. I'm a cold-hearted man, but Clay stirred something in me. Archuleta doesn't make me feel anything. But don't get me wrong, he absolutely sounds great. Yes, he's made every stinking song this season into a soaring ballad, but his voice better fills the arena tonight. Clive's two picks were really spot on and neither singer let him down, but did either Finalist do better than you'd have predicted? Both of them did exactly what I'd have imagined they'd have done.
Randy, Paula and Simon: Randy, though, says that this was one of the best performances of the season, unbelievably molten hot. Paula announces that the sun will never go down on David. Simon cautions about getting over-excited and then pronounces tonight's performance arguably the best David's done so far. Simon gives Round One to Archuleta.
Singer: DAVID OF THE COOK VARIETY
Song: "Dream Big"
My Take: At least Cook found a second-rate rock anthem for his coronation song, rather than being stuck with just a second-rate schmaltz anthem. David sells some emotions very well, but "inspirational" isn't necessarily one of them, but he pushes this tripe hard. I mean, if The Karate Kid was worth of Joe Esposito's "You're the Best," "Dream Big" sounds like the sort of song that would have been heard in a fourth or fifth generation Karate Kid knock-off. David makes the most of what he's given, but we all knew that if this season was going to be won or lost on the coronation song, Archuleta's unbeatable.
Randy, Paula and Simon: The song was just OK for Randy, but David was still singing his face off. Paula's mesmerized by him. Simon thinks it was a bit lightweight, saying this didn't feel like a winning moment to him, scoring him a 6.5/10.
Singer: DAVID OF THE ARCHULETA VARIETY
Song: "In This Moment"
My Take: Is Andrew Lloyd Webber back because he's being groomed to replace somebody next year? Randy, perhaps? Please? "In This Moment" is even more over-written than your typical Idol coronation song, which is a problem for Li'l' Archie, who mumbles his way through the first verse, overwhelmed by the music. Archuleta barely opens his eyes and he's occasionally doubled over, as if in pain. But he isn't in pain. And he hasn't gone blind. He's just doing that thing where the emotional weight of the song is squishing his sinus cavities and twisting his pancreas. The judges won't even notice the one or two sharp notes that burst from his nose as the song approaches its climax.
Randy, Paula and Simon: Randy tells Archuleta that he's in the zone and that he could sing the phone book. My head just exploded. If the producers don't can Randy after this season, FOX should fire them and then relieve Randy of the duties he obviously cares so very little for. Yes, Randy. You think Archuleta's a molten-hot phone book singer. Check. Paula says something nice. Simon prefers David's choice and he scores Round Two for Archuleta.
Singer: BIG DAVID
Song: "The World I Know"
My Take: So Simon has the night scored 2-0 for Archuleta. If this were a boxing match, Cook's cutman would be working ferociously to close the gash over his left eye and his trainer would be telling him that he can't win on points, that he's gotta go for the knockout. And let's be real, even Butterbean goes four rounds. The Contestants' Choice song is always about selecting your best performance from the season, going out with the surest thing you've got. For that reason, Cook's pick is either ridiculously audacious or ridiculously silly. And since he's picked a freakin' Collective Soul song, my instinct is to go with the latter. Is he buying into that "It's better if he doesn't win" hype? It totally feels like it. Cook's interpretation is even more mellow than the Collective Soul original. There's nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all. It's pretty and emotional and Cook sells it. But if Cook really wants to win, he does "Billie Jean" or "Hello," because this last song choice was about reminding your fanbase of you at your most awesome, not just giving a good performance.
Randy, Paula and Simon: Cook is in tears at the end, as Randy tells him that one of the cool things about him is the sensitive side. Paula sees David standing in his truth and gives him a standing ovation. Simon calls David one of the nicest and most sincere contestants they've had and tells him it was the wrong song choice, echoing my preferences. I applaud Cook's feeling that the show is about a progression and he didn't want to repeat himself, but that's not true. The show is about making people vote for you.
Singer: LITTLE DAVID
My Take: So David Cook cares about showing his evolution as an artist? That all cute and noble. David Archuleta cares about winning. Period. That's why Archuleta comes out and gives the exact same performance of "Imagine" that he gave back in February. If you're looking for proof that after three months of the American Idol experience, David Archuleta has become a better singer or a more polished performer, you're out of luck. If, however, you've felt that Li'l' Archie's victory was inevitable and predetermined since the first second of the Top 24, I think you're right.
Randy, Paula and Simon: Randy says Archuleta's exactly what the show is about and that he's the best singer of Season Seven. Paula's speechless. Simon says we've witnessed a knockout.
THE VERDICT: David Cook didn't phone it in tonight. He gave three good performances. But when he said at the beginning that he didn't want to compete, he just wanted to have fun making music, it was telling. He didn't try to lose, but I feel like he was willing to let David Archuleta win.
What's your hunch? Agree? Disagree? Who do you expect to win tomorrow?