David Cook's American Idol upset!

Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
May 22 2008 12:24 PM

American Upset!

How David Cook won American Idol.

David Cook. Click image to expand.
American Idol winner David Cook

Well, the confetti's been cleared and the last ballad belted, and Seacrest is out (not like that) for the final time this season. I was certainly not expecting David Cook to win the Idol title, but, like Simon Cowell, I think I would have been OK with either possible outcome. At first I thought the producers must have felt the same—the two contenders spent much of the finale dressed in various near-identical ensembles, and they even starred in twin Risky Business-themed ads for Guitar Hero. In hindsight, though, I should have recognized those commercials as signs of Cook's impending victory, inundated as the broadcast was with the rock-hero vibe. David A. was thrust out of his comfort zone into a duo cover Nickelback's "Hero," clearly meant as a Cook vehicle. And even Mike Myers made a Guitar Hero crack during his too-long spot promoting the (tremendously politically incorrect) summer film Love Guru. Add Simon's earnest apology to David C., and it's clear the upset was being set up from the start.

The celebrity appearances, including Myers', fell a little flat for me, although I loved Jimmy Kimmel's clever video setting Simon's catch-phrases-of-doom to "Pop Goes the Weasel." That's an original song if I ever heard one. I'd much rather have heard David Cook sing that than the inevitably insipid winner's song, "Time of My Life," which had, like, six times as much stuff about Dreams and Believing and Moments as the songs we heard yesterday. (There were, additionally, rainbows and horizons and I don't know what. I tuned out after the first verse.)

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The guest musicians were more fun, some bright moments in a very mellow two hours; my favorite bits included Seal in a sweet soul set with Syesha, David C. rocking out in scary synch with ZZ Top, and Graham Nash in a retro, acoustic "Teach Your Children" with Brooke White. Donna Summer spelled the word stamp repeatedly with great gusto, and I loved the blinged-out disco mic that she kindly lent to Syesha during a technical mishap. Bryan Adams was … Bryan Adams, One Republic "Apologize"-d in startlingly perfect harmony with David A., and I didn't actually know who the Jonas Brothers were until I Googled them just now. The big George Michael number was "Praying for Time," that angsty warning about the state of the world—something that superconscious David Archuleta might have sung during "Idol Gives Back" but that was kind of a buzz kill coming just before the climax of the season finale.

Another old-school star dropped by in the much anticipated (by me, anyway) rotoscoping showcase. Of course it did not in any way top, or even live up to, the standards set by last year's Dion-Presley "duet impossible." Instead, it turned out to be a shtick-y charity tie-in that saw Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. replacing a 1973 Gladys Knight's Pips in "Midnight Train to Georgia." Come on. There's no point in digitally resurrecting someone who is still alive. And she's been on the show in person loads of times—did the producers just not want to shell out for a live appearance? Even more perplexing: The more I compare the Idol clip with the original, the more I'm convinced Robert Downey Jr. would have made a damn fine Pip. The man's got moves!

Speaking of moves, it was a treat to see the So You Think You Can Dance-ers again, backing up the Idols and dancing their hearts out to psych viewers up for the SYTYCD premiere tonight. I'm so psyched for the SYTYCD premiere tonight! And we had the campy brilliance of all the Top 12 alums, strutting the stage together again. I'd forgotten about David Hernandez, and had to look up his name (it's tough to be the first one voted out), but I was unexpectedly thrilled to hear Michael Johns and Carly Smithson in "The Letter." And Chikezie, how I've missed you! There were other familiar faces, too: Mikalah Gordon and Matt Rogers from all the way back in Seasons 4 and 3 (respectively) served as campaign correspondents reporting from the Davids' hometowns. Have you seen Matt on Really Big Things? Another post-Idol success story! Then Carrie Underwood and her endless legs sang about the dangers of Marrying While Intoxicated, and Jordin Sparks wore a distractingly lamé dress for her June single "One Step at a Time." I actually have no idea what her song was about, that dress was so blindingly … gold.

Still, it's good to know there's life after Idol. That's a hope I cling to myself, every May when it comes time to move on to other TV shows or, you know, reintegrate myself into society. But January will be here again before we know it, bringing with it a new season designed specially to stem Idol's declining viewership. (Don't panic, it's hardly time to man the lifeboats just yet; the show is still No. 1.) For now, you can stave off your Idol withdrawal by catching a tour concert, or mailing all your letters with Fantasia stamps, or filling out American Idol Mad Libs. As for me, I'm going to Disney World!

Katherine Meizel is the author of Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol and a visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin Conservatory.

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