American Idol Week Thirteen: The Long-Awaited Battle of the Davids

American Idol Week Thirteen: The Long-Awaited Battle of the Davids

The end is near

"For me, this whole thing has been a progression," said David Cook last night, immediately after singing Collective Soul's "The World I Know," the third of his three songs last night. Which begs the question: Why am I rooting for the guy whose progression is ending with a damn Collective Soul song? Simon Cowell had told Cook he should've reprised one of the 80s pop songs he'd transformed into goopy buzz-bin leftovers, but Cook was evidently more interested in singing a song that really meant something to him. That's nice and all, but it'd be a whole lot nicer if the song that really meant something to him wasn't a character-free yarl-nugget that haunted alt-rock radio during its late-90s death-slide. In retrospect, I've mostly been pulling for Cook by default and because he's the contestant with whom I'd rather drink a beer. He's a smart, erudite, self-aware dude who's evidently spent some time in the everyday adult universe rather than a cringing, stammering child whose commandeering stage-dad has kept him on the reality-show circuit for half his life, but that says absolutely nothing about Cook's ability to make an album that I'd actually pay money to hear. David Cook will definitely release a major-label album sometime in the next year, and it might even sell, but it almost certainly won't be anything I'll want to hear. David Archuleta might represent everything that's wrong with this season of American Idol but there's at least some chance he'll turn into a more Jesused-up version of George Michael, which would be OK. I won't be paying to hear either of them, ever, but Archuleta has a marginally better chance of making a song that I won't hate when saturates radio. That won't make Archuleta's near-inevitable coronation tonight any less objectionable, but it might be a bit easier to take after that one shining insight.

I don't want to keep slamming this point into the ground too much, but this year has seen just about the shittiest, shadiest season of American Idol that I could possibly ever imagine. The judges have been in the tank for Archuleta the entire time, the cast has been loaded-down with major-label refugees and reality-show leftovers, and anyone who threatened to become interesting was singled out for elimination right quick. I can't blame so many viewers for turning away from the show this year; I would've done the same thing if I wasn't getting paid to write about it. It's not like anyone watching had any doubt about the final two contestants we'd see last night, but the show's goofy-ass boxing-match concept, Michael Buffer standing in for Seacrest during the intro and some boxing coach showing up repeatedly to spout cliches, would've never happened if Syesha Mercado had somehow miraculously made it past last week (though she really wouldn't have looked any less ridiculous in gloves and robe than Archuleta looked last night). This was all planned, and that's a gross mutation of the show's mission, which was crass enough at the outset. The show's producers had the brilliant idea to use the viewing audience to find a singer who those producers could then sell back to the viewers, a neat little feedback loop. But when those producers manipulate that audience into voting for a predetermined contestant, that loop becomes something resembling an arrow, and the show loses its whole reason for being.

All that said, David Archuleta was really good last night, even someone did dress him like a baby Russian gangster. He managed to scale back the melisma a bit on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," a total MOR anthem. He also reprised "Imagine," the song that guaranteed his win way back at the beginning of the season, and he made it just as emptily pretty as he had back then. Cook, meanwhile, did just fine with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "The World I Know," good songs both (I cant front), but neither had quite the rafter-swinging pull of the two Archuleta selections. That's weird, since Cook sure looked like a winner at the beginning of the show, poised and confident, while Archuleta looked like he wanted badly to crawl under his bed and cry. But Archuleta's spent basically his entire life in child-star boot-camp, and he knows how to bring it when he has to. When Simon Cowell repeatedly trumpeted Archuleta's superiority during last night's episode, he didn't even seem to be jerking us around, even if the other two judges did seem to be reading from a script. When Archuleta wins tonight, I won't be happy, but I'll understand.

I haven't mentioned either of the two songwriters'-contest winners, which Cook and Archuleta had to sing last night, mostly because they both sounded like end-credits music for C-grade 80s sports movies. American Idol really, really needs to get rid of that contest before next season. The show could stand to get rid of a few other things, too.

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