American Idol – Finale – The Duel of the Davids


May 20th, 2008

Well, FOX would like us to believe that the battle between David Cook and David Archuleta is like a boxing match, which is really not the most apt metaphor for a variety of reasons. First off, in this day and age, most boxing matches are rarely as close as this battle, and no one really pays attention to boxing anymore either. Second off, I’m fairly certain that if Archuleta was that overwhelmed by praise by this point in the competition, he’d be in the ring for about twenty seconds before the bright lights had him “Omigosh”-ing Pavlov style.

Rather, I like to think of it as a duel – not only do I think it’s slightly catchier, but it is also a better representation of how these two competitors stack up. I haven’t cared enough about their battle to turn in for the last few rounds, what with their unshaking inevitability, but when it comes down to seeing how these two very different, but fairly equally popular, candidates shake up I am most intrigued.

And there’s plenty of spectacle: Tale of the Tape theming, Clive Davis, excessive amounts of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the wonderous opportunity to hear MORE THAN ONE of the hideous Idol songwriting contest entries. So instead of our contenders being able to define themselves as artists, they have to follow the guidance of an old man and sing an awful emotional/spiritual song.

So, needless to say, Archuleta benefits most from this arrangement.

Perhaps my above sarcasm was enough to note that my allegiance of sorts lies with David Cook, although admittedly part of this might be due to my intense dislike of David Archuleta’s innocence. Yes, I know it is not falsified innocence, and that he really is just a young boy in this competition, but how is it that he has not even slightly metered himself to the positive comments of the judges? I mean, I get that he might not get it at first, but since that point there has not been any sign that he is actually capable of an emotion beyond being utterly overwhelmed by existing.

It was in fine form here, in a really egregious fashion: Simon gave all three rounds to him, and each time he was just so unbelievably awe-struck by Simon selecting him. Earth to Archuleta: there’s only two people left, so you had a 50/50 shot, and the judges haven’t ever really said anything bad about you. It was painful to watch, and while admittedly it’s annoyed me enough in the past that I notice it more than others…it was still really awful.

And yet, I’m actually most annoyed by Randy Jackson, who hilariously walked right into Alan Sepinwall’s attack on his relevance by repeating TWO of his oft-used Archuleta pimp lines (“Molten Hot” and “You Could Sing the Phonebook). In fact, judges as a whole annoyed me: Paula for not doing much of anything of note (“You’re standing in your truth” was kinda great, though), and Simon for actually suggesting that David Cook should have picked a more self-righteous and spiritual song with his second round because it’s what the night’s about. His choice of the Top 10 songs wasn’t overly inspired, no, but it was less trite than Archuleta’s.

And ultimately, that’s my opinion of the night: as Archuleta gives us usual over-endearing performances of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Imagine,” along with that particular awful Idol song, David Cook gets to be a lot more genuine if not quite as comfortable with U2 and Collective Soul. I can say, as most people would, that I’m a fan of the four non-Idol songs chosen, but I also can say that as far as relevant recording goes neither of them are even on the map. Cook’s performances were straight as an arrow with their originals, and the only reason I really enjoyed him more was a combination of my frustration with Archuleta’s personality and the fact that that style of music is more what I would choose to listen to.

I also am with David Cook on this one: it might not be the best choice in some ways, but re-singing one of his other arrangements just doesn’t seem right in this setting. Archuleta singing “Imagine” again is about as trite as it gets, a clear message that his stage-father is still in his ear and that he still wants to win this competition. No one would claim either of them didn’t sing well, and Archuleta certainly got the better side of things based on his song choices. If this was a battle to see which of these singers could display the side of themselves which is most interesting to audiences (If clearly not to me), Archuleta’s smoothness and congeniality were in fine form, so he would be your winner.

And chances are that he will be – the problem for David Cook is that he didn’t show off his side where he rebuilds old songs as rock ballads, which is apparently the only thing that defines him in the eyes of Simon and the judges. In fact, considering that he was rather underwhelming in his first two songs (In his defence, how do you not make those songs suck, and how do you consider messing with a great U2 song?), there might even be conspiracy theories that the winning Idol song is so awful that Cook threw the competition in order to avoid winning. I’d say that his haunting final performance of “The World I Know” was certainly a symbol of his quality as a recording artist, but perhaps not in the way Simon wanted.

Simon tried to qualify as a knockout, but I’d say that it wasn’t nearly as definitive as he wants it to be. We still have two very different artists, and we still have a definite anti-Archuleta backlash coming from fans of Cook, Smithson, Mercado, Castro, etc. Are there enough people that aren’t teenage girls or grandmothers who watch the show for Cook to emerge as victor, or will Archuleta get his coronation?

Well, only time will tell.

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