David Cook, center, hugs fellow contestant, David Archuleta, center left, after he was announced the winner of "American Idol" as Kristy Lee Cook, left, Carly Smithson, second left, Michael Johns, and David Hernandez, right look on during the finale at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian) ** NO SALES **
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The grown-up rocker triumphed over the smooth-voiced kid as David Cook claimed the "American Idol" title Wednesday, and it wasn't as much of a surprise as it seemed.
While the judges all but crowned 17-year-old David Archuleta the night before, the voters decided otherwise - and in a huge and unexpected way. Host Ryan Seacrest said before the results that that the margin was 12 million votes, and it turns out they broke in the favor of the 25-year-old from Blue Springs, Mo.
Cook was overcome with emotion, bending toward the stage after his name was announced. When he stood up, his eyes were filled with tears, the second time in as many nights that the scruffy, grainy-voiced belter had broken down.
"This is amazing," he said. "This is all your fault," he added, addressing his brother, Andrew. The story goes that Cook was only tagging along with his sibling to the "Idol" auditions to lend support, and wound up getting on the show.
To close out the show's sevent season, Cook immediately took the microphone and began to sing "Time of my Life," a midtempo rocker by Nashville singer/songwriter Regie Hamm, winner of the annual "Idol" songwriting competition.
Cook refused to bow to the conventional during his three-song set Tuesday, with Collective Soul's "The World I Know" as his pick for a closing performance. He also sang U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the power ballad "Dream Big," his choice from the songwriting competition's non-winning finalists.
"If I had to choose between playing a song that not a whole lot of people know that I could get behind, or the opposite, I'll choose the lesser-known every time," Cook told The Associated Press backstage Tuesday.
Judge Simon Cowell declared at the time that the song choices had sunk him, and told Archuleta that he'd scored a "knockout" in the boxing-themed performance finale.
But just before the winner was announced, Cowell uncharacteristically backtracked. He offered Cook an apology and said that the competition "wasn't quite so clear cut as we called it" - even letting on that, for the first time, he felt either finalist would have been a worthy winner.
While "Idol" ratings were down all season, the final contest turned that tide, with with viewership for Tuesday's show up 3 percent over last year's performance finale, the network said Wednesday. That provoked a frenzy with a record 97.5 million audience votes cast by phone and text. Last year's total vote count was 74 million.
Early in the show, host Ryan Seacrest played it coy, announcing that the split between the two contestants was 56 percent for one David, 44 percent for the other. Of course he left in question who got the lion's share; that detail wouldn't come until the closing moments of season seven.
While Archuleta was showered with praise by the judges all season, online bookies and observers kept the faith with Cook. One Web site, which tracks busy signals on the separate phone lines dedicated to each contestant, projected him the winner correctly Wednesday morning.
By strict "Idol" standards, being rebellious turned out to be worth the gamble for Cook, whose hip and scruffy style and ability to work the camera with a soulful gaze also proved to have overwhelming appeal.
Archuleta, of Murray, Utah, was the prodigy who consistently dazzled the show's judges and thrilled screaming young fans. He would have been the youngest-"Idol" ever if he'd won, beating last year's winner Jordin Sparks by mere days.
The teenager seemed to find the attention the show brought him overwhelming, often appearing to be speechless in the face of praise, but he was consistently professional onstage, with dulcet tones and poise that belied his shyness and tender age. He also became the focus of controversy when his father, Jeff, was reportedly getting too heavily involved in his son's rehearsals and asked by the show's producers to back off.
Archuleta made the most of his smooth voice Tuesday with Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," the inspirational ballad "In This Moment" and a reprise from earlier in the season of John Lennon's "Imagine."
Judge Randy Jackson exclaimed to Archuleta, "Dude, you are so good tonight. You are exactly what this show is about." And Cowell told the teenager: "You came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout."
"I felt I had a disadvantage getting so much attention in the beginning. But winning isn't the big concern. It's always doing your best. ... That's what's important," he told The Associated Press backstage Tuesday.
During the show, viewers got songs from runners-up including Syesha Mercado, who dueted with Seal on his song "Waiting for You," and a solo on "Hallelujah" by dreadlocked Jason Castro.
Other "Idol" contestant and name-brand pairings: Cook with ZZ Top, Archuleta with OneRepublic, Bryan Adams with the top six male singers and Brooke White with Graham Nash.
"Brooke looks so much better than Crosby," Nash quipped backstage, referring to bandmate David Crosby.
The Jonas Brothers got the stage to themselves for a performance.
"American Idol" also celebrated the awfulness that is part of the show, usually confined to the early auditions, with a performance by failed contestant Reynaldo Lapuz that threw in University of Southern California cheerleaders and marching band members.
In Utah, Archuleta fans gathered to watch the finale took the loss like a collective kick. Mouths dropped, eyes widened and several teenage girls hugged and cried at a live viewing party at EnergySolutions arena in Salt Lake City.
"Did you feel that?" said Skippy Jessop, 30, his homemade sign now headed for the trash bin. "It felt like a punch in the gut. We all just stood there with our mouths hanging open."
But fans say this won't be the last note from Utah's newest favorite son.
"He's still a winner for sure," said Cecily Estrada, 19, who attended Murray High School with Archuleta. "He's gonna be big no matter what."
He's already scored one big endorsement: Toward the end of the live, two-hour broadcast, Archuleta was featured in a "Guitar Hero" commercial in which he reprised Tom Cruise's lip-sync routine from the movie "Risky Business." Instead of an air guitar, Archuleta played the small, plastic replica instrument from the popular video game.
But on Wednesday, it was the real guitarist who struck the biggest power chord.
AP entertainment writer Derrik J. Lang in Los Angeles and AP writer Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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