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In a defiant testament to the fact that American Idol will never, ever, never be hip, the show opens on this monumental evening to the trumpeting strains of Rocky’s empowering anthem, “Gonna Fly Now,” and a spotlight comes up on that one boxing announcer guy, center stage, grandiloquently introducing the extended metaphor of a season-long boxing match between our final two. This is what we get when the finalists are two boys. “Sugarfoot” Cook and “Babyface” Archuleta run out in gloves and shiny robes and try to act like they’re not out of their minds with embarrassment. I will have mercy on them and skip the rest of the corny details. Let’s get ready to … *yaaaaawn* Sorry, I saw Jason in the audience. That kind of thing is contagious.

Shut Up and Sing!

Ryan is all hepped up on goofballs; he asks for all true Cook fans and Archie fans to show their colors, and the audience screams with wild abandon. The judges are there too, but ugh. Some knowing all about boxing guy, Clive and ALW get interviewed about the strengths of each David, and there’s lots of melodramatic narrative about how important this “match” is. I find this analogy really troubling because there is no doubt that if these two were really paired in a boxing match, Daddy Archuleta would freaking wail on Cook, and I don’t think that’s a good picture to draw. But, the show and the silly metaphor must go on. Ryan brings D-Squared out and asks them how they feel; Archie mumbles something about it being unbelievable, and Cook plays it cool. The judges say some stale crap about wanting to be there and having the will to win. This goes on forever. Archie feels that Cook is an awesome guy. Cook says no matter what, they’re both there to have fun tonight. Blah, blah, blah. Why are they still talking? And where the heck is Sylvester Stallone?

Look Alive

Fifteen minutes into the show, it’s finally time for singing. Cook lost last week’s coin toss, so he is going first. Clive picked the songs for the first round, and because he missed the boat with DAUGHTRY, he’s selected U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” for Cook, because you just don’t squander your second chances like that. More stupid boxing talk, Clive says he picked the song because it has “all the yearning of David’s generation.” I guess Clive would know, with all the young souls of this generation that he’s ingested.

Anyway, Cook. He’s out in a gray cargo jacket with just the right amount of product holding up the fauxhawk, and heaven help me if I don’t think he’s doing a terrific job with this performance. He’s letting the band handle the music, and so his singing is remarkably unlabored and refreshing. It helps that this song is awesome, and right directly in his best range, but David came out swinging at the top of the night. Oh no, the boxing has permeated my own brain! Lord, no! Randy thought it was hot. Paula says David Cook is what she’s looking for, and then she says, “Amen, Amen!” Because he took her to church? Paula, you so crazy. Simon says he thought David looked tense at the start of the show, but that the performance was “phenomenal.” David sticks out his tongue, because he is relieved.

Don’t Praise Me, Bro!

For young Archie, Clive has chosen Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” because he only remembers six songs in the entire world. We don’t get a video of him talking with Archie beforehand, so we’ll just have to imagine for ourselves what a 600 year old man would have to say to a 6 year old boy.

Archie’s sitting on the steps of the Nokia looking very poignant and sincere; he eventually stands to get down with all the emotional gospel moves and waves he loves so much. There is one particularly squeaky note near the end, but overall I think his performance is fabulous; his voice is thick and soaring, and very affecting. Is this me saying I’ve been moved by an Archuleta performance? No, it is not. But to tell the truth and shame the devil, I do believe Archie did an absolutely beautiful job, missed note and all. The judges gush like geysers, even Simon who unequivocally hands the first round to Archie. At this onslaught of goopy praise, David bows and looks to be on the brink of tears. Or exhaustion, one. He’s completely overwhelmed. Ryan tries to get him to speak and of course little David can’t handle it, so we’re off to commercials.

Cook’s Glass Jaw

Because last year’s (and probably this year’s) entries in that godforsaken song writing competition were altogether such a black hole of suck, this year the top two got the chance to choose for themselves from among the top 10 finalists. More clips: ALW is afraid for Cook’s voice because it was fading during rehearsals. He further says that both Davids must “believe in the language” of these songs if they are to triumph with them. I think they’d have done better to believe that the language of the songs would magically change into something approaching art before the music started. (Sorry, songwriters. Do a better job and I won’t be so mean next time.)

So yeah. David picked a song called “Dream Big.” ‘Cause if you don’t then what’s the use of dreaming? Right. I have no idea how this song was composed, so I don’t know if the peppy power pop spin on it is of David’s own creation. Whoever’s responsible for it, good going, because while this will never redeem itself with me as a great song, I can totally hear it playing at the end of some feel-good movie wherein the dorky guy has gotten himself new contacts, new clothes, and a date with the head cheerleader for prom, all through the power of dreaming. But, as he walks into the gym, he spots his long-suffering best girl friend, looking like a swan in her beautiful prom gear and instantly realizes that she is The One. Randy says the song sucked, but David “sang his face off.” Paula says he mesmerized everyone by taking a song they’d never heard, and singing it. Her expectations are even lower than Randy’s IQ. Simon says, effectively, “You lose! Good day, sir! I said good day!” David looks like he’d be really glad to have a Clark bar and a sit down. Or maybe that’s me. Ryan asks how he feels, and he says “good,” pretty unconvincingly.

Simon Says

Next up in the battle of who could care less about these wack amateur songs is Archie. His deal is called “In This Moment.” It’s like if you took a sappy Hallmark commerical tune and wrapped it in a Michael W. Smith song before covering in a zesty cheese sauce and baking at 350 for 20 minutes. Archie tries to feel it; his arms and all the disembodied arms of the mosh pit can’t stay still because they want it so much, but really, nothing’s overcoming the banality of this song. Randy manages to fit “in the zone,” “sing the phonebook,” and “hot performance” into just the one critique, and I wish I had a phonebook to bludgeon him with. Then I would give it to David to sing from, because his voice really does rule. Paula congratulates him for another heartfelt performance. Bringing up the rear is Simon who comments on the egotism of the song’s theme, says Archie chose the better song of the two, and proclaims the second round his as well.

SWM: Rocks, Pets Dolphins and Isn’t Afraid to Cry

Contestant’s choice. ALW counseled him to bring some passion to the stage, and so David has chosen Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” to close his show for the night. He says he has never performed it before, and Clive urges him to be honest with it, which is probably why he’s on guitar. Because nothing says I’m genuinely a musician like acoustic strumming. Vocally, it’s not as impressive as his first song of the night, which is too bad. Performance wise, he’s doing what he always does, nodding along like a cool kid, closing his eyes, ducking his head strategically. The closing notes are beautiful. As he finishes, David breaks into tears, for which I am a total sucker, so I could almost skip the judges’ reactions because what do they matter in such an emotional moment? But that wouldn’t be fair to people who didn’t see the show. It would be fun, but not fair.

Randy applauds David for showing a sensitive side of himself. Paula believes that David is up there “standing in his truth.’ I believe Paula has been standing in a pharmacy today. Simon does something a little underhanded and calls David a really “nice” and “sincere” guy before smacking him with a bunch of criticism for not reprising Billie Jean or something more exciting and familiar. The conversation goes something like this:

Simon: Hey, David. Guess who sucks at life? It’s you! Surprise!

Cook: Yeah, well, you’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny. Oh wait, that’s not gracious and diplomatic. … I mean, you’re entitled to your opinion, my good sirrah. *bows deeply at the waist, spent with the sheer magnitude of artistry he has visited upon us*

As David collects himself, he responds that the season has been a progression for him, so he wouldn’t do a song he’s already done. Then he bows deeply at the waist. No, I’m kidding.

SLM: Sings, Pets Everything and Would Cry if His Eyes Weren’t So Full of Hope for the World

Archie has chosen to sing “Imagine” again, perhaps to remind us that Simon said he would win way back in February and now there’s nothing we can do. It’s practically the same show as in February too, so eh. He is in great voice; I can seriously feel the power of his voice through the TV, and the song is very earnest, and probably some part of him does cherish these idealized wishes and crazy dreams for peace on Earth and goodwill toward humanity, and that’s all satisfying stuff to feel, so really what’s not to sway along pleasantly to? Or maybe I’m just past caring. I might be a little burned out on this season. Oh well.

Randy calls him the best singer of Season Seven, baby! Yeah!! Lord, how I loathe him. For Paula, Archie was stunning. For Simon, this was one of the best final ever, which, yeah, and then he proclaims Archie the winner by knockout. Boxing, remember?

Performance recap, everyone was great in ways they tried really hard to be, and underwhelming in ways they just couldn’t help. David came out like a champ, made a wrong left turn at Albequerque, and then won the world over with tears and emotion. Archie rode the slow and steady train to universal approval and now no one thinks Cook has a chance. Not that it matters a whit what either of them did tonight anyway, because I’m sure Syesha’s going to win, somehow.

Now for our listening pleasure, Ruben’s here to sing that goodbye song we’ve been hearing all season. I’m glad to hear him sing wherever, so yay.

And another yay for the close of the season! The grand, bloated finale is yet to come, but meanwhile I’d like to give a shout out of huge thanks and praise to the whole Idol team – the fantastic iguanachocolate, our gracious interviewer and recapper Yardgnome, the oh-so-erudite Idol Guy Leo, and my wonderful, unmatched co-recapper AJane. I congratulate us all, and everyone reading for making it to the end, because it’s been a long, strange season. And don’t think it hasn’t been a little slice of heaven. In the words of my heroes, the Golden Girls, thank you for being a friend!