Commercial Pleasures

21 May 2008, David Cook wins American Idol

When I first moved to D.C. I had a roommate who was such a Redskins fan that I almost couldn’t be in the house when a game was on, so loudly did he scream at the television. I didn’t get it. There’s no excuse for getting that emotionally wrapped up in something so alien from one’s own life. Then I discovered Ninja Warrior on G4 (G4 | wikipedia). S. and I scream and wave our hands at the television with an increasing fanaticism as the contestant nears the finish line and the announcer goes ballistic with Japanese excitement.

Last night when they declared David Cook the winner of American Idol I lost it in a way that I never have before over television. From the time it of the final six (Carle, Brook, Castro, Syesha, Archuleta and Cook) it has been apparent to both S. and I that it was going to come down to a contest of the Davids and both of us have pretty much figured that Archuleta had the teenie-bops with their text-dexterous fingers all lined up and thus was going to win. Last week when Syesha was voted off I though Archuleta was going to win. Cook seems burned out and you could see the disappointment he had with himself after many of his performances. Meanwhile Archuleta’s been on the rise. “Stand by Me” couldn’t have been a better choice for him. Then on Tuesday night Archuleta’s rendition of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” was perfect. Meanwhile Mr. Cook’s songs were sufficiently mediocre that after his final performance (“The World I Know“) he too was so certain that he had lost that the moment he finished his song, before Randy Jackson had said his first “Yo,” Mr. Cook started to cry. The judges all gave him consolation complements.

And I had long since made my peace with Mr. Cook coming in second. He has a tendency toward incipient pop rock as it is and being saddled with the obligations of being the American Idol was only going to further hamper him. They were going to hoist a few television commercials and a really marketable, over-produced album on him, when what he needs is to get together with someone edgier, someone who realizes that the explosive, dramatic power ballads are Mr. Cook’s forte. Better that Mr. Archuleta ends up the America Idol. He’s already a one-man boy band.

And so last night when Ryan Seacrest started, “And the winner is … ,” I interjected “Archuleta.” “David”; Seacrest paused having revealed nothing with two finalists both named David. Again I finished his sentence. “Archuleta.” When Mr. Seacrest finally let out “Cook” I leapt off the sofa. “No fucking way!” I shouted in disbelief. After fore explicatives and expressions of disbelief I tuned around in a circle and stared at the television in disbelief. Out of 97.5 million votes, Mr. Cook won 54.75 million to Mr. Archuleta’s 42.75 million, or 56 percent of the vote, a 12 million vote margin of victory. I was sure that David Cook was going to lose, but he won and in the end it wasn’t even close.

And Mr. Cook thought he knew he had lost as well. He seemed resigned to his fate and already congratulatory toward Mr. Archuleta as Mr. Seacrest taunted them with the results. I think it was the shock as much as the adulation and excitement that caused Mr. Cook to become so emotional after the announcement.

This is part justice and part tragedy. Mr. Cook is 25 years old. He got a degree in graphics design, but before settling into the nine-to-fiver he told himself that he was going to give music a few more years to see if he could make it work. One of his friends and a band-mate had already given up on music and gone to real work. Mr. Cook was nearing the end of his experiment and already had his alternative waiting in the wings. He’s been given a new lease on his dream. On the other hand, his older brother, Adam, is dying o brain cancer. I heard, I think it was his mother, say that it’s like heaven and hell: for David to be doing so well while things are going so poorly for Adam. I can’t imagine the survivor’s guilt Mr, Cook must be feeling in front of his brother. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for Mr. Cook and his family.

How did it happen? Always the political blogger — can’t avoid analyzing election returns. A few episodes ago I saw a sign waving in the audience: “Cougars for Cook.” The average age of an American Idol viewer is significantly up — witness moi. I guess the cougars overruled the teenie-bops. The other factor was his trio of performances early in the season: Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” the Beatles’s “Eleanor Rigby” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” I think he never did anything so spectacular as “Billie Jean” and he tired as the season wound to its climax, but on those three he built a winning reputation.

I took a little walk this afternoon to go buy lunch and some coffee. I found my pace brisk and my thoughts buoyant. In the background of my mind, David Cook had won, and it has caused the slightest uplift in my mood all day long. It’s stupid I know, to be such a fan-boy. But I can’t help it: I really like David Cook.