Last night, David Cook and David Archuleta faced off in one of the best American Idol finales ever. They each sang three songs, and the show hyped up the battle of the Davids like a boxing match.
FOX Broadcasting, 2008
In the first round, both contestants sang songs chosen by producer Clive Davis. David Cook had lost the coin toss, so he went first with the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." He started the song a little slower than the original and took some liberties with the pacing. As it picked up, it was clear that this was a good song for him, although it bothered me that he kept messing with the melody. He even used the separate stage out in the audience, and he really seemed like a rocker, even if he face betrayed nervousness. He wore a pretty typical outfit for him of a casual gray jacket and jeans.
Judge Randy Jackson said it was a great way to start the dual. He said that he liked the way he scooped up into the last note, and he called it hot. Nice judge Paula Abdul said that "You may not have found what you're looking for, but we have," meaning him. Tough judge Simon Cowell said that he could see that he looked tense and emotional but, taking that into consideration, he thought it was phenomenal.
For David Archuleta's first song, Clive Davis had chosen the Elton John tune, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." He sang it sitting on the stairs and took less ownership of the stage, but his vocals did the work for him. He added some runs and had good tone, as always. As he stood up for the chorus, he delivered more emotion than usual for him. He wore an olive drab suit jacket over a T-shirt, which was a little more of a grown-up look.
Randy called it one of the best performances of the whole season. He called it flawless and said it was molten hot. Paula said it gave her chills up and down her arms. She added that it was a beautiful, stunning performance. Simon said that last week he was OK, but tonight was arguably the best he'd done so far. He awarded the first round to Archie.
In the second round, the contestants got their choice from finalists in the song-writing competition. David Cook sang a song called "Dream Big," a rock anthem that didn't do much for me as a song. Still, in his black leather jacket and white patterned shirt, jamming on an electric song, he milked it for all it was worth, ending with a really solid last note.
Randy said the song was just OK but what made it work was his voice. He said he'd sung his face off. Paula called it a great way to take a song we didn't know and fall in love with it. Simon called the song a lightweight but said he'd made the most of what he had. He said he didn't feel like it was a winning moment, though, and gave it 6.5 out of 10.
With a slightly better choice, David Archuleta performed "In This Moment," a sappy ballad that was made for him, wearing a gray blazer with an anchor on the back. He sounded good, though, making this insipid song at least tolerable. The chorus reminded me a little of John Denver, which at least made it a little more interesting. If things go down the way I think they will, you best get used to this song, because you'll hear it on Top 40 radio all summer.
Randy said he wasn't crazy about the song but called it another hot performance. Paula said it was another heartfelt performance and that "you're on fire tonight." Simon said he loved the "egotistical lyrics" ("in this moment, no one can take it from me") and said that he'd definitely chosen the better round. He awarded round two to Archie.
For the final round, the two Davids got to choose any song. David Cook opted to perform a song he hadn't done before: Collective Soul's "The World I Know." Wearing a black shirt with his acoustic guitar and black jeans, he put his heart into it, but it still lacked the impact of some of his earlier performances. At the end of it, after he'd finished, he wiped away a few tears, no doubt overwhelmed by the night.
Randy complimented him for showing different sides, including his sensitive side. He said it was very nice. Paula praised him for delivering unbelievable songs with integrity and originality. Simon took the opportunity to say that he's one of the nicest and most sincere contestants they've ever had. But he said the song was the wrong choice for him, and he should have chosen "Billie Jean" or "Hello."
Capping off the night, David Archuleta wisely chose to recap a previous standout performance, of John Lennon's "Imagine." This time, he was accompanied by a guitar so that he could focus on the vocals (rather than struggling to keep up, playing piano). He wore a white jacket over a blue T-shirt, as signature a look for him as leather is for David Cook. The song is a great fit for him, and his well-crafted vocals took it to new heights, even better than the first time.
Randy said he was really happy that it's the two Davids onstage and proclaimed "The best singer of season seven is right there." Paula said that he'd left her speechless. She called his performance stunning. Simon said that this show is about finding a start and that he's one of the great finds. He observed that Archie had come out to win and that what they'd witnessed is a knock-out.
Both of the Davids did a great job this evening, and if either of them were up against a lesser competitor, the choice would be easy. I think Archie edges out David Cook, though, who should have recapped one of his stronger performances, rather than attempting something new. The judges were right that Archie was there to win, and he left it all on the stage.
For the first time since I've watched this show, though, I think they are both equally deserving of a win.
The choice should always be this difficult.