NEW YORK (Reuters) - "American Idol"'s dueling Davids faced off on Tuesday as the two remaining finalists each performed three songs in their bid to take the crown in the talent show's seventh season.
Despite rocker David Cook's surge in recent weeks, the judges were uncharacteristically united in proclaiming early fan favorite teen David Archuleta had outperformed his rival.
"You came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout," said prickly judge Simon Cowell.
Judge Randy Jackson concurred, proclaiming "the best singer of season 7 is right there," following Archuleta's rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," a song that earlier in the competition had brought him some of his best feedback.
Cook, 25, and Archuleta, 17, each performed three times in the live telecast before some 7,000 people at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre.
One song was chosen for each by Sony BMG executive Clive Davis, who assigned U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to Cook, and the Elton John ballad "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" to Archuleta.
Cowell, who had earlier predicted Cook would triumph, firmly stated "Round 1 goes to David Archuleta."
The next set was chosen from the "American Idol" songwriting contest's top 20 submissions, with Cook doing "Dream Big" by Emily Shackelton, while Archuleta went for Ryan Gillmor's "In This Moment."
Cowell said Archuleta had definitely made the better choice, calling Cook's "a bit of a lightweight."
In the third selection, the singers were free to sing anything they wanted.
Cook, the black-clad Kansas City-area bartender, opted for "The World I Know" by Collective Soul, which Cowell pronounced "completely and utterly the wrong song choice for you."
Cook's response was that the experience for him had been "a progression," so "why do something I've already done" -- which was precisely what Archuleta did with "Imagine." He wowed the judges, who all but termed it a clean sweep for the baby-faced crooner from Utah.
Fans had four hours after the broadcast to vote for their favorite, with the winner to be announced at the end of Wednesday's live finale.
"American Idol" pits singers against one another in a months-long competition that awards a recording contract to the winner. Past winners including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have gone on to music stardom.
Several of the losers have gone on to stardom as well. Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh in 2004, went on to win an Oscar for her performance in movie musical "Dreamgirls."
This is the second straight season of declining ratings for the show, which airs on News Corp's Fox network.
#57 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - Australia
#65 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - Canada
#28 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - New Zealand
#72 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music
#95 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - South Korea
#93 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - Hong Kong
#85 - Most Viewed (Today) - Music - Taiwan