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Things I expect from a two-hours-plus American Idol season finale:

1. Blisters on my fingers from taking notes for two-hours-plus.
2. Plugs for new CDs from artists who haven’t had a hit in the last decade.
3. Plugs for new movies from actors trying to revive stalled careers.
4. Group-sings galore.
5. Filler. Filler. Filler.

Things I didn’t expect:

1. Being entertained enough to smile through the pain of my oozing fingertips.
2. A nostalgic warm feeling listening to past hits from artists who haven’t had a hit in the last decade.
3. A nostalgic warm feeling remembering when I used to think Mike Myers was funny.
4. Actually liking the group-sings.
5. Actually liking the filler.

Or, I’m just getting soft and mushy because I’m so damn glad the season is over. Whatever.

White noise

In case you didn’t think the boxing analogy from last night was lame enough, tonight’s show starts off with our dueling Davids, Cook and Archuleta, facing each other onstage in all-white outfits. Amazingly enough, there’s no time in our two-hours-and-then-some show tonight for a rehash of the previous night’s performances, so all the more reason to check out MotherSister’s outstanding and snarkilicous recap of the David vs. David sing-off.

Ryan is looking very junior-exec tonight in a 3-piece black suit, and as self-important as ever as he announces that the voting public logged a mind-numbing 97.5 million votes last night. I’m not easily impressed, but…wow. The new record number of votes bitch-slaps the old record by 23 million votes, and somewhat ominously, Ryan says that the vote percentage was split 56/44. That sounds close, though it’s actually a spread of 12 million votes. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades anyway, right?

Somehow, someone connected with FOX thought it would be a good idea to subject us to Mikalah Gordon again. Take heart, fans – another, more sane individual has limited her screen time to a total of about 102 seconds. Less fortunate are David Cook’s fans in Kansas City, where Mikalah is hosting the hometown party. Matt Rogers (and I really had to rack my brain to remember him) is less offensive and has therefore been assigned to David Archuleta’s hometown of Salt Lake City. We’re only going to check back with them one more time, but seeing as how this is the finale, I’m going to attempt to not to leave anything out just because it annoys me. I’ll try to keep it all under 132786 words or so, too.

This is where I usually bash the group-sing. Except it’s not really bash-worthy. Damn this exceptionally talented top 12! Everyone is decked out in white outfits, accompanied by many, many backup dancers similarly attired – and if I have any complaints about the number, it’s that I’m so blinded by all the white I have to look really hard to see who’s an Idol and who’s a dancer. The song is the Temptations’ “Get Ready”, and it’s so upbeat that even Jason Castro looks awake. Amazingly enough, it’s pretty good and I’m already entertained beyond my wildest expectations.

I can hear heaven

Bad things about all-boy finals – boxing analogies. Good things about all-boy finals – rock ’n’ roll duets. Cook and Archie next join forces on Chad Kroeger’s/Josey Scott’s “Hero” and they do such a smashing job of it, I’m not even moved to take the opportunity to slam Nickelback. David A.’s voice sounds ever so slightly strained, likely because the poor kid must be exhausted. David C. is in his element, though, and beams the whole way through the song. The contrast of their very-different vocal styles is surprisingly pleasant, and I’m trying to reconcile this performance with the fact that this is really just an extended-version results show. Do I dare say it – best top two, ever?

But heaven don’t hear me

Then, of course, FOX sees fit to remind us that yes, this really is just an extended-version results show, with an extended-version plug of some gawd-awful new movie called The Love Guru. The two Davids are subjected to a meeting with actor/comedian Mike Myers in the guise of “Guru Pitka”. Myers affects an Apu Nahasapeemapetilon-accent, dons some fake facial hair and orange robes, and is supposed to be some kind of prophet who plays air guitar to Deep Purple. It might have been funnier if Myers had dropped to his knees, salaamed in front of the Davids and shouted, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”. Instead, though, “Guru Pitka” makes a few cracks about Cook’s facial hair and the ‘90’s (which, coincidentally, was the last time he made a funny movie) and mocks Archie’s youth. Then he hits the live AI stage on a dolly covered with tassels and tapestry, makes some more dumb remarks directed at the judges, and tells us all to go see The Love Guru. Ryan hops on the dolly, and in the second-best unscripted part of the show, comes perilously close to rolling off the stage.

Hallelujah and let the good times roll!

Enough of this silliness! On to different kinds of silliness! It’s Syesha’s turn in the spotlight, but wait, there’s a silver lining – Seal is joining her on “Waiting For You”. Yes, that Seal. Wowza! His mere presence is enough to make me feel kindly towards Syesha, so let me pull out the praise jar and select a few choice bits. “Molten hot!” Nope, too Randy. “I see a lemon-yellow aura around you.” Nope, way too Paula. Maybe I should just make up a few of my own. Firstly, Syesha looks fabulous in a shirred halter-neck gray dress. She’s keeping her vocals trained down to a very listenable level, and is confident enough onstage to not let Seal’s magnificent voice and massive charisma overshadow her too much. Overall, a job very well done, and finally Syesha becomes worthy of her third-place finish.

One of the best things seen this season was Jason Castro’s version of “Hallelujah”, and he’s up next reprising his most successful performance. Before you ask – yes, he remembered every single one of the lyrics. Geez, he’s not that much of a burnout. It’s always a beautiful thing to see when a singer connects solidly with a song, and Jason doesn’t disappoint, again turning in a lovely, sincere vocal performance.

A couple weeks back, I was thinking that Ford has lost interest in their sponsorship of the show. Now, I’m convinced. This week’s finale ad is merely a compilation of blooper moments from all the other commercials, set to “Let The Good Times Roll”. Jason is featured prominently, presumably because he’s the main cause of most of the re-takes. Afterwards, Ryan pulls the Davids onstage and after a bit of obligatory teasing, including asking David A. if he has a driver’s license, hands over two sets of keys to brand-spanking-new Ford Escape Hybrids. Hopefully Papa Archuleta is cool with his son having a nicer car than he probably has.

What, no “MacArthur Park”?

Remember Donna Summer? Well, I do, because I had a vinyl copy of “Bad Girls”, and I cringe to recall my innocent 12-year-old self merrily singing along to the title song. Not surprisingly, it’s not part of the DS medley performed by the top 6 girls. All are decked out in red, featuring Carly in dreadful black hose and Amanda Overmyer looking incredibly awkward. Donna Summer emerges after the second song with her new single, “Stamp Your Feet”. Donna is looking heavy and uncomfortable in a black pantsuit, and sounds breathless. She barely moves onstage, save for some unconvincing fist-shaking during the chorus. I feel a bit sorry for her, and she seems to realize her limitations as the Idolettes join her for “Last Dance” and she hands her mike to Syesha to take over the lead vocals. Syesha is startled but hey, she’s an actress. She gives the mike back for the end of the song, and Donna manages to pull out one last big note.

Ryan takes center stage to comment that some Idols left before their time. You mean like Carly and Michael Johns? Why, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly who he means. Carly – looking much slimmed-down in a short black sheath – and Michael, who looks just as deliciously handsome as ever, duet to “The Letter”. Really, they could have picked a better song, and Carly is a bit shouty at times, but the twosome are clearly enjoying themselves and deliver an energetic performance.

Rock steady

Jimmy Kimmel arrives to waste a minute or ten, taking shots at Sanjaya (seated in the audience, who is either hardened enough or dumb enough to laugh merrily at the joke about him being the parking attendant), making a karaoke crack which no one laughs at, likening a non-metrosexualized Ryan to Chris Sligh, and introducing a clip segment of Simon’s insults set to a musical score. Well, it was more amusing than Mike Myers, anyway. By a hair.

The top 6 guys, excluding the finalists, sing a Bryan Adams medley that hilariously begins with “Summer of ‘69”. Well, I suppose their parents might remember that summer. Or at least were born by then. As the music segues into “Heaven”, the Davids appear to take over vocal duties, then Bryan himself arrives to help the boys out. Bryan – who looks much like I imagine Ryan Seacrest will in 25 years or so – sings an unrecognizable song, but the smart money is on another “new single”. I actually met Bryan Adams several centuries ago, and since I know him to be a lovely man who is very kind to his silly young teen fans, don’t look for any snarky potshots at him here. Me & some other girls owe him one for not filing stalker charges against us. Anyway, all top six Idol boys and Bryan join in for “Somebody” and by now I’m so mired in happy nostalgia, the only thing that could excite me more is a performance by, oh, let’s say, ZZ Top.

David Cook goes El Loco

Jordin Sparks appears briefly to plug something called the “American Idol Experience” at – wait for it – Walt Disney World. It’s official. Disney now owns everything. I fully expect this season’s winner to shout, “I’m going to Disneyland!” after they’re crowned.

David Cook is up for his solo number, and he’s going to do “Sharp-Dressed Man” with ZZ Top. No, seriously. As completely weird as it sounds – and looks – Cookie goes to town jamming onstage with Billy & Dusty, even pulling out a few dance moves from their ‘80’s music videos (which totally rocked, by the way). Clearly, this is the best time David Cook’s had all season, and it’s the best time I’ve had all season, too. It’s some seriously good fun, not even ruined by the reappearance of Mikalah Gordon, who’s interviewing Cook’s former music teacher. The teacher proclaims Cook the winner, though at this point it’s pure optimism, and not because she’s been sipping from Paula’s visionary Coke cup.

Flower power and further proof of the Power of Disney

Just hearing the name “Graham Nash” is enough to make me want to sit in a field of daisies and macramé a plant hanger, and the hippie vibe only gets stronger as he & Brooke White strap on their acoustic guitars to sing “Teach Your Children”. Brooke is in a long blue gown and is even barefoot. Graham Nash, for the record, sounds wonderful and has aged unbelievably well. Brooke’s vocals, however, are a bit mousy, possibly because she appears awestruck at being allowed her own number with the ‘60’s legend.

Next up – as confirmed by my 9-year-old, because the girls in the audience were screaming too loudly for me to hear Ryan – are The Jonas Brothers, made famous by their teenybopper good looks and their association with tween goddess Miley Cyrus. I admit to not paying very good attention at this juncture, but I blame it on my ability to completely tune out anything that plays on the Disney channel. It could have been The Cheetah Girls for all I know. Though maybe they’ll be performing at the season 8 finale.

When good filler goes bad

Ryan drags some old lady, purse clutched firmly under her arm, from the audience up on stage to watch a series of bad audition clips. I suppose that’s to make up for the fact that this year we weren’t subjected to an entire show dedicated to them. Oh, wait, that’s because we now have American Idol Rewind. Not content with that, however, FOX has seen fit to dredge up Renaldo Lapuz, he of the feathered hat and silver cape (and spectacularly failed audition) for a “special” performance all his own, complete with several high school marching bands and cheerleading teams. I know I’ve said it before but it can’t be said enough – it’s simply not possible to make stuff like this up. Somebody on the production team has been spending way too much time in Jason Castro’s hotel room, if you know what I mean.

Oh, look - only 49057 more minutes to go. Get up and take a stretch if you have to. Hurry back, though, because young David A. is up next and performing with One Republic, on “Apologize”. Perhaps it’s just the blissful realization that this is the last show of the season, but to me Archie is really shining tonight – and singing material written in this century. Maybe that’s what I like so much about him today. Given the right songs, the kid can hold his own in contemporary music…it seems he doesn’t have to be mired in dusty old pop standards after all. Matt Rogers holds an awkward interview in SLC with David’s grandpas – Grandpa Archuleta beams about it being an opportunity for the whole family (guess that stage-parent thing gets handed down throughout the generations) while his maternal granddaddy smiles happily and that’s about it, since he apparently only speaks Spanish and Matt is uni-lingual. An interpreter is called in but only manages some helpless shrugging in the din of the hometown party. I don’t speak Spanish either, but I think he said something to the effect of, “Can I borrow your Escape Hybrid when you get back home?”

Pips and pop-tarts

As winner of last season’s AI (“winner” meaning “the one that sucked the least out of the suckiest season on record”), Jordin Sparks gets her moment on stage to perform her latest single, “One Step At A Time”. Unfortunately, she’s wearing a monstrously unflattering gold dress that looks like something Dorothy would have worn if she’d been tornado’d into a Jetsons episode instead of Oz. Also unfortunately, the song is bland dance-pop, indistinguishable from anything Nelly Furtado or Rhianna might do. Jordin, however, is in great voice, noticeably improved from last year. Once 19E gets their hooks out of her, she might have a nice career ahead. One that doesn’t include Disney ads.

About time for some funny, and tonight it’s brought courtesy of the miracle of technology along with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. (Yeah, I had to rub my eyes and blink a few times too before I realized it was indeed Robert Downey.) The joke is that it’s previously-unseen footage of auditions for Gladys Knight’s Pips, with an old video of Gladys in the foreground singing “Midnight Train To Georgia” and the three afore-mentioned funnymen busting out some Pippish dance moves in the back, complete with wide-lapeled suits and bow ties. RD Jr. is the straight man on the far right, while Ben Stiller gamely tries to keep up with Jack Black’s wild mugging. Oh, and Jack somehow becomes pantless at some point. Perhaps in anticipation of Carrie Underwood’s performance.

Eat your heart out, Shania

Yes, up next is Living Proof That American Idol Can Actually Make A Career, Carrie Underwood. If you haven’t been keeping up with Carrie’s success, this number will make you realize that the sweet little ingenue who won season 4 is no longer. Our Carrie is now a full-fledged country diva, flouncing out onstage in skirt so short that it’s likely illegal in 42 states, and singing a song called “Last Name”. The lyrical content of which assures me that it’s a Carrie CD that I will not be buying for my kids. However, she looks stunning and sounds absolutely splendid, and should be a reminder to Clive “Mr. Golden Ears” Davis that the voting public knows how to pick ‘em, too.

Our top 12 is back again, this time with a George Michael tribute. The girls, now all in black, begin with “Faith”. The guys, in Blues Brothers black suits, follow up with “Father Figure”, then everyone joins in for a rousing version of “Freedom”. Paula, clearly having lost her mind sometime during Renaldo’s performance, is jumping up and down like a deranged cheerleader, and that’s before George himself saunters onstage. He sings a new song unaccompanied by the Idols, and you have to hand it to him – he hasn’t lost the ability to milk every ounce of emotion out of every lyric. Frankly, though, George doesn’t look well – he has the aura of a Warhol-era burnout, and his face is mostly hidden behind a pair of brown-tinted oversized aviator specs. However, it’s a vocal performance that generates a standing ovation from all three judges. George throws out a quick plug for his upcoming tour, and a glance at his watch reminds Ryan that it might actually be time for…results. When was the last time a results show was so much fun that we lost track of time? Besides never.

American Idol Rock Star

The Davids, in matching jackets, stand next to Ryan center stage to await their fate. First, though, there’s some words of love from Randy and Paula. Then, in an AI first – Simon apologizes. To a contestant. The recipient of Cowell’s largesse is David Cook, who Simon is truly sorry for disrespecting the previous evening. David C. looks astonished, but wisely keeps his mouth closed and simply bobs his head in acknowledgement. Sadly, you’d think we could enjoy Simon humbling himself, but it’s all rather uncomfortable and ill-timed.

Ryan looks a little put out that his pronouncement of the winner has been slightly derailed, but gets back on track and announces that by a margin of 12 million votes, David Cook is the new American Idol. My jaw actually hit the floor. Upon hearing the result, David C. embraces David A., and before I celebrate Cook’s coronation - let me go on record saying that David Archuleta was graciousness personified in stepping back and allowing his friend the spotlight. David C.’s mom and brother rush onstage, and David attempts to wipe the tears from his eyes while saying that he’s at a loss for words, and thanks the fans. The coronation song is some pap entitled “Time Of My Life”, but it’s a little more palatable than usual coming from the voice of David Cook. In the best unscripted moment of the season, David’s brother, now back in the audience, waves excitedly at the camera and can just barely be heard to say, “That’s my brother!”.

Thank you, David Cook, for a spectacular and unforgettable season. It was a pleasure and a treat to be able to recap your win. Best wishes to David Archuleta, who is without a doubt the finest singer to ever claim second place in the competition. Thanks to everyone who has waded through my recaps and even found some nice things to say about them. And special thanks and kudos to the FORT Idol team – interviewer extraordinaire Yardgnome, the witty and insightful Idol Guy Leo, recapper and funnygirl iguanachocolate, and my partner in snark, the incomparably brilliant MotherSister. You guys all rock my world. You too, David Cook. By 12 million votes and then some.

The lineup to buy David Cook’s CD starts here.