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Rocker David Cook named new 'American Idol'

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When David Cook was announced as the winner of "American Idol" Wednesday night at the Nokia theater, the most dramatic upset in the show's history was just another twist in a season that has tested the still-vibrant franchise.

The 25-year-old became the first performer in the rock music mold to win, amassing 56% of 96 million votes, to 44% for 17 year old prodigy David Archuleta, who sings in the pop balladeer style that had previously dominated "Idol."

Before the verdict was announced, Judge Simon Cowell thanked both for being perhaps the "nicest" contestants the show has seen, underscoring the fact that the Fox hit has achieved its success with a G-rated strategy that reaches across cultural divides of all types - ethnic, economic, generational, even musical.

With network television and the music industry both up against a fractured audience and new forms of media, Cook and runner-up Archuleta became standard bearers for today's broad-based popular culture. "Idol" remains the only show able to consistently deliver vast numbers of viewers, even eclipsing the Oscars.

However, after a season in which the series came under fire for various offstage controversies and suffered a mid-season sag in its ratings, television's titan stands at a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether this year's ratings dip is a one year phenomenon or the first step on the inevitable downward spiral all successful TV shows must eventually face.

For the moment, Fox network brass are sufficiently concerned that they have made public statements promising major, though as yet unspecified, changes when the show returns in January. With broad-based musical hits becoming harder and harder to generate, the Idol machine's ability to fulfill its original mission of creating "the next pop star" has also been called into question. Some, such as Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, have gone on to stardom, but several others have not mustered major careers.

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The show has always been subjected to the sharp news lens normally reserved for Presidential candidates or jail-bound starlets, and season seven saw Idol seemingly struggle at times to control its own storyline. In past years, the show has been remarkably successful at framing the terms of the debate, bringing its hiccups onto the screen and showing a willingness to poke fun at itself.

This year, with the internet-driven media ever more unleashed, the show has had to grapple with several sensitive storylines. There were reports that Archuleta's father was banned from backstage for interfering with the production, and eyebrows were raised when a seemingly off-kilter judge Paula Abdul rendered a verdict on a performance that had not occurred yet.

Still, the bigger audiences returned for what was billed as the strongest finals match-up in years. Archuleta, who himself was practically weaned on the show, having watched since he was 10 years old, had often seemed invincible, with technically flawless renditions of pop favorites.

But Cook, who at one point was told by Cowell that he was without charisma, surged with a string of rock reimaginations of such hits as "Billie Jean" that drew massive ovations from audiences.

The show seems in the finale to have rebounded from its mid-season ratings dip. "American Idol" premiered to an audience of 33.5 million total viewers, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research -- putting it ahead of the Oscars telecast to become the season's number two rated program, trailing only the Superbowl. But the ratings subsequently tumbled, falling as low as 21.8 million for one show - the lowest figure in three years.

Still, even that is a number most TV shows would kill for.

Season Seven's young contestants also reflected the new, multi-ethnic face of America: Three of the four finalists - Jason Castro, Syesha Mercado and Archuleta -- had at least partly Latino origins, yet the huge differences in their styles (laidback hippie crooning for Castro, cerebral jazz for Mercado and soulful ballads for Archuleta) also revealed the great diversity within this demographic.

In a time when ever edgier reality television shows dominate the network airwaves, "American Idol" almost seems like a pristine throwback to a gentler time. While other competition shows are routinely driven by the spectacle of contestants who are at each others' throats -- often quite literally -- with hair pulling and name calling being the norm, the two "Idol" finalists took the stage this week gushing with good will for each other. Cook even declared Tuesday that "the competition is over. It's all about having fun now."

The atmosphere of camaraderie amidst the weekly deathblows is certainly an intentional part of the "Idol" universe, with a crew that seems much more like a happily family relishing their work than the typical TV production staff. It may be this spirit of fun yet gentle competition that has helped "Idol" retain its status as the one show on television that still attracts entire families, across the generational divide.

However, as producers look ahead and consider the ratings sag of this year, part of their calculation must be: How much do viewers want fights and freak-shows instead of a face-off based on pure talent?

While this year's group was considered by many commentators to be the most talented overall in the show's history, the uniformity of talent deprived the show of the train-wreck interest summoned, for example, by last year's contestant Sanjaya Malakar. Viewers enjoyed the spectacle of his weekly public belly flops.

Nonetheless, with an end of the year ratings rebound and a handful of talents -- including the two finalists -- with seemingly very strong commercial potential, Idol obituaries may soon look extremely premature.

-Richard Rushfield

--Scott Collins contributed reporting for this story

Can't get enough of 'American Idol'? Join us for a chat at 11:30 a.m. PST.

 
Comments () | Archives (143)

That was by far the best American Idol Finale ever. At times this year I thought the show was not produced very well (especially Neil Diamond night - OUCH!), but the finale was absolutely fantastic!!! I really liked the mix of performers they had - and the Gladys Knight bit was hilarious.

Cook and Archuleta are both amazing singers. I would buy albums by both, I would pay money to see and hear either of them in concert.

What I don't understand is why Archuleta has been the target of so many nasty, personal, and insulting comments. He's been unfailingly polite, gracious, and decent week in and week out. He has sung his heart out. But he gets tons of ad hominem trash dumped on him by Cook supporters. I've seen very few if any personal insults directed at Cook.

I guess Archuleta's supporters as a group have more class than Cook's supporters.

It seems once again that AI is not a talent or singing competition. I t is a popularity contest. Davis Cook was okay but not very consistant. David Arculeta proved week after week that he is the more talented. But it is a producers show........... They should have voting like dancing with the stars then the person with the most talent has a better chance of winning. However David A is still truly a winner. Someone will sign him and he will go places.

Congratulations David Cook...Thank goodness you did not get discouraged with a one way comments of the judges. I voted for you and ask many to do so also just because I find David A. as an actor than a singer. Also, the judges were not fair in making their comments. I prayed last night that everyone will think the same way as I did...So, way to go David.

I love Archuleta from the very start, but I must agree, Cook deserves the crown!

People will be discussing this victory for many years to come. I will be telling my grandkids where I was when I heard Cook beat Archuletta. This was the best year of Star Search since 2006.

Yeah! The real artist won! David Cook is awesome. Thankfully won't have to see cow tongue anymore!

The results are sealed, my but...rumors flying round that the producers don't reveal the count cause they rig them and then Simon apologizes to Cook cause he knew he won. Blogs are saying Cook will be as popular as Daughtry...heck, let him. If I hear that stupid song of his one more time, I'll scream. Rumor has it they cant wait to sign Archie here in Music City (but not for country music). I have one piece of advice for David A., drop your dad as your manager as soon as you turn 18. He's holding you back. Im looking forward to his first of many projects in music and whatever.

It's amazing how wrong the LA Times is wrong about everything.
What a bunch of losers they are.
David Cook was clearly the better performer.
David Archuleta who is very good, look like he was a Dear caught in traffic lights sometimes.
His voice is amazing but he is as stiff as a corpse. Just like the Los Angeles Times

David Cook is definetely the one who is going to be more successful. Archuleta would most probably get a heart attack if he sells a lot of records. Cook was confident and that carried him on to win the competition. THE BEST PERSON WON!!! Archuleta, you stepped up on the last show, sadly you are not a risk taker and Cook is. Cook GREAT JOB. America has proudly voted for the right idol with a 12 million knockout victory. Way to go DAVID COOK!!!

Hey 56% of Americans and may be more agree with me!

I cant believe that david cook won. he shouldnt have DA should have won. DA was the best one out of the both of them

I think this was fix that's why Simon apologized to David C.

david cook rocks

I cant believe David Cook won. David A should have won. David A was the better singer

I am so happy for David Cook! David A.'s voice is good, but his songs and stage presence is boring. David C. deserved the win, he is the "whole" package. WTG Cook!
Wished they would have shown David A.'s Dad in the audience when the result was announced. Wonder how he took it?

David Cook ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I knew you were gonna win all along. You are awesome. Will definitely buy your music. Congratulations DC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's funny how quickly everyone forgets every other week leading up to tonight...David Cook blew the competition away with originality and song choices that DA couldn't compete with. Consistently DC was better than DA and if you listen to their studio recordings you will hear why...DA is a cookie cutter pop cheese ball. David Cook is the real deal.

The better man won and the viewers got it right.

Get over it!!!!!. America voted. People who are angry about the outcome are probably the ones that did not vote. Lesson to you all for the presidential elections. Your votes count. Lonta!!!

No doubt the judges were unjustifiably harsh on Cook to "rally votes" as was mentioned in a previous post. Cook may be talented (not as talented as they make him out to be, a lot of his "originality" has already been spun by not so main stream bands)... he's just weird. I could never get past his personality (or lack of). Not to mention, little David may be the best vocalist the show has ever had. I am so disappointed...losing interest in the show. Can't wait for So You Think You Can Dance, though!

Completely rigged. There is no doubt that DA was the top vote getter the whole season. Shows like AI should be force to be forthcoming with results for each episode. There is just no way that DC overtook DA by 12 million votes. I never watched it before this season and I never will again.

 
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