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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)

OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE DAVID A DIDNT WIN! HES WAY BETTER THAN COOK BY FAR. HE HAS A PURE, MESMERIZING VOICE. PEOPLE CRY WHEN THEY HEAR HIM SING. WHO CRIED FOR DAVID C? NO ONE!! I LOVE DAVID. THE VOTES WERE RIGGED BECAUSE THE JUDGES WANTED COOK TO WIN (EXCEPT RANDY, WHO WANTED DAVID A). SERIOUSLY ITS SO UNFAIR. AMERICAN IDOL SUCKS. ITS NOT ABOUT WHO HAS THE BEST VOICE, ITS ABOUT WHO IS THE COOLEST, BEST LOOKING, AND MOST POPULAR. IM SOO MAD ARCHULETA DIDNT WIN! HE DESERVED IT. HES SO SWEET AND KIND AND HAS AN AMAZING VOICE AND REAL TALENT. COOK IS JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER "ROCKERS", LIKE DAUGHTRY. HE WON'T BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS DAVID A. I LOVE YOU ARCHULETA!!! YOULL ALWAYS BE MY IDOL.

While both are very talented, i didn't think David Cook would win. If we base it on last night's performances, David Archuleta should have won this one. He deserved it more. NO matter what people say, David A. is just the better singer. Good luck to both!

Cook deserved to win! Archie may have been able to 'sing the phonebook', but he neither would nor could be his own songwriter. Sure, he would have done a great job singing words thrown in front of him but that does not constitute a well-rounded artist!

Good job Cook!! You rock!

CONGRATS David Cook. You've got what it takes to be a great singer, artist and songwriter. DC is one of the most authentic singers I've ever seen. Great job!

Archuleta is the better singer. He has far better vocal control and range.

And while both are able to play instruments, why was Archuleta deprived of his piano, while Cook nearly always had guitar in hand?

It is too bad that Simon is more worried about what money he will make then who really should have won. I heard that American Idol was not fairly judged in the finale, I now have seen it for myself. Don't worry about producing another season I do not plan to watch it. Both David's are very talented and will do well after this, but stop acting like age is a reason for David A not to have won. It is the reason he will sell more albums. Just wait and see.
Good luck David A.

Ok, all of you children who are crying and clogging up the comment area with your tears because the better David won, time to turn off the lights and go to bed. You were suppose to be in bead an hour ago, weren't you? You will feel better in the morning, kids.

Cook won because those of us who have jobs and don't get our money handed to us by our parents in the form of an allowance will buy Cook's records. I would NEVER PAY to hear D.A. sing a thing, ever!

The boy hasn't learned how to sing while keeping his eyes open yet! Come on! That is just annoying as hell!

congrats to dc u rockz

I've been a huge fan of David Cook ever since I heard his very first audition. That said, I think Archuleta is a great kid with a beautiful voice. There were times earlier on that I voted for both of them, simply because I didn't want to see either of them leave.... but eventually Cook got my ultimate vote. Of the two Davids, Cook can handle the pressures of success after winning. Archuleta, on the other hand, always seemed nervous and at a loss for words after his performances. Both are amazing singers, but Cook is the only one I'd buy a CD from or go to see in concert. Not to mention Archuleta would've probably had a heart attack if he had won.

What I loved most about the both of them was the incredible amount of respect they had for each other. It wasn't like a contest to see who could throw the most compliments, either. They were both incredibly sincere. When they announced David Cook the winner, he continued to applaude for Archie, even though he was trying to back off and give Cook the spotlight. It was a beautiful moment. :)

So yeah... I was a David Cook fan from the beginning, and I still am. Can't wait till he releases his first album!

very happy. it makes up for chris daughtry being sent home before

The most successful people in the world have heard the most "NO"s. Think about it!

The rite David WON !!! Cook could sing anything and sound great, David Archuleta has to grow up but I will say the kid can sing too.

Yay for DC!! DA was too boring and sounded the same on every song. DC was unique and versatile. He will have a great career!!

I think this was the most talented group of singers on AI in awhile. I loved both Davids and I don't think it matters who won. They both have bright futures ahead of them.

AT LEATS THIS YEAR THEY GOT IT RITE. LAST YEAR DAUGHTRY LOST AND HE MADE IT BIG. I WAS DISAPOINTED. AT LEAST THIS YEAR THE BETTER PERSON WON, THE ONE WHO COULD SING ANYTHING. DAVID A IS TOO IMATURE, HE WILL MAKE IT AND HE NEED TO GROW UP.

Congrats to the winner, the better performer all season, THE 2008 American Idol as voted by America... David Cook. Definitely the choice of all competitors and a great investment for future entertainment opportunities. Everyone should understand that variety and originality will triumph and outlast predictable lame boring sound. Archuleta does have the likes of Marc Anthony and can find success possibly in the gay and/or hispanic groups.

i'm happy that cook wins... if i could have been in the US, i would have voted for him a million times...his my fave ever since top 24 and was really hooked when he sung "hello"... anywayz i let my cousin vote, she adores cook and mind you, she's 14 :)

congrats to both david's

Congrats David C!!!!
I just knew u are going to win coz u are really the best amongst them all!

i can't believe THAT DAVID COOK won, HE DON'T DESERVE IT..................................
HE CAN'T SING. HE IS ALWAYS SCREAMING.
DAVID COOK, YOU SUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just as I can't understand who voted for George Bush (now that's a fine mess you've got us into!), I can't understand how DA could lose. Absolutely the best singer! Nothing against DC at all, but come on! Good luck to both, however.

 
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