Rocker David Cook won the coveted title of “American Idol” on Wednesday, dealing an unexpected but decisive defeat to a silken-voiced teenager, also named David, on the most popular U.S. television show.
Cook, 25, who was tending bar and playing in a band before he auditioned for the singing competition, stood back to applaud rival David Archuleta, 17, and then bent over crying after host Ryan Seacrest said he had won by 12 million votes.
“This is amazing. Thank you,” said the Blue Springs, Missouri, native, who in addition to being crowned this year’s “Idol” will receive a recording contract.
In its seventh season, “American Idol” has grown from a cheesy summer talent show into a pop culture phenomenon that draws millions of viewers to News Corp’s Fox network at least twice a week.
It has produced mega-stars from both winners and losers, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry.
This season, however, average audiences on the show have slipped from just over 30 million viewers last year to roughly 28 million this year, the second straight year of declines.
Nevertheless, the dueling Davids garnered a record 97.5 million votes between them, smashing the previous record by 23 million. The contest was decided by a telephone and text-messaging vote in which Cook received 56 percent to Archuleta’s 44 percent.
Throughout this year’s months-long competition, Cook wowed both the show’s viewers and judges with updated, rock versions of pop classics like Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
On Tuesday night’s show, however, the judges said the babyfaced Archuleta had outperformed Cook with his pitch-perfect renditions of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
Acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell criticized Cook for choosing a song he had never performed before during his last chance to woo voters and called the evening “a knockout” by Archuleta. Cook sang Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” instead of reprising one of his best-loved performances of the season, as Archuleta did with “Imagine.”
But just before Seacrest announced the results on Wednesday, Cowell — in an unusual move for him — apologized for his comments from the previous evening.
“I went back home to watch it, it wasn’t quite so clear cut as we called it,” Cowell said, adding to Cook: “I will take this opportunity to apologize because I think I was verging on disrespectful with you. I don’t think you deserved that.”
Backstage, Cook said he didn’t think Cowell’s comments warranted an apology, though he was happy to receive it.
“An apology from Simon is a pretty rare gem,” he said, adding that he had not expected to win the “Idol” title.
Also backstage, a giddy Archuleta was effusive in his praise of Cook.
“He’s like my big brother,” Archuleta said. “I have looked up to him since the beginning of this. I just feel so honored to be standing next to Cook.”
About 100,000 people auditioned for this year’s “American Idol,” which puts contestants through auditions and performances that showcase musical genres from musical theater to country to pop.
“Idol” has also become a coveted forum for established artists to be seen. Wednesday night’s star-studded show at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles included performances by George Michael, Donna Summer, Seal, Underwood and Bryan Adams.
The “Davids” duel is the first time two male contestants have competed for the “Idol” title since Ruben Studdard defeated Clay Aiken in the show’s second season in 2003.
However, a showdown between the two was widely anticipated as neither ever landed among the show’s bottom three vote-getters on the weekly broadcasts in which contestants are whittled down before one is sent home.
Under Cowell’s deal with Fox, he has the rights to sign the winning singer and runner-up from each “Idol” contest to a recording contract with his label, Sony BMG, a partnership between Sony Corp and Bertelsmann.