In a season of scant surprises,

American Idol

saved a corker for its final night as David Cook was crowned the winner of the hit singing contest's seventh go-round last night.

It was widely assumed that Cook, a 25-year-old bartender from a town outside Kansas City, Mo., had hurt his chances with a relatively lackluster trio of performances Tuesday night.



analysts and the show's judges seemed to favor David Archuleta, the crooning Utah teen, who had a particularly stirring night Tuesday.

But Cook's fan base must have held firm despite the late shift in momentum. Host Ryan Seacrest announced the margin of victory as 12 million votes with a record 97.5 million cast.

All season, the rocker with the stylishly disheveled hair had provided


with a rare note of originality, beginning with his radical reworking of Lionel Richie's "Hello."

He wept as the results were announced.

Like many prime-time shows, the Fox mega-hit, TV's No. 1 show by a wide margin, experienced a ratings slide this year. Perhaps the decline was inevitable after seven seasons. Or perhaps it was a consequence of the geriatric music the contestants were forced to perform all year.

The massively padded two-hour results show combined the usual mix of low-wattage celebrity in the crowd at the Nokia Theater (Lori Loughlin, Holly Robinson Peete, Camryn Manheim) and awkward spectacle: a reunion of the show's Top 12 contestants all dressed in white singing Motown. How cruise ship! The six girls all dressed in red singing Donna Summer. How disco dolly!

At least the two finalists got their own fantasy-camp moments: Cook joined ZZ Top for a curiously listless cover of "Sharp Dressed Man" and Archuleta joined One Republic for its hit "Apologize." In the course of the broadcast, each David also got to reenact Tom Cruise's pantless breakthrough scene in

Risky Business

in separate ads for the video game Guitar Hero.

Among the strange elements that dominated the evening was a long, virtually laugh-free plug for Mike Myers' forthcoming comedy

The Love Guru

. It was followed almost immediately by a more traditional commercial for the film.

One segment seemed more game show than reality show as Seacrest handed the two Davids keys to new vehicles from the show's sponsor, Ford.

Tell them what they've won, Johnny!

Despite appearances by the Jonas Brothers and glamorous former


winner Carrie Underwood, the seasonal climax was an uncharacteristically dull, motley mess. The highlight was flamboyant Dallas auditioner Renaldo Lapuz singing his anthem, "We're Brothers Forever," with the help of the USC marching band. Where is David Hasselhoff when you need him?

The show functioned largely as a coming attraction for the


summer tour. There were showcases for many of the finalists, including third-place finisher Syesha Mercado dueting with Seal; slacker dude Jason Castro singing "Hallelujah"; Carly Smithson and Michael John jazzercising their way through the Boxtops' "The Letter"; and Brooke White harmonizing with Graham Nash on a sleepy-time version of "Teach Your Children Well."

Perhaps more than in any previous season, the order of finish appeared to be irrelevant. Both Archuleta and Cook seem assured of receiving enormous career boosts. All that was determined last night after two hours of bland filler was that Cook gets the top bunk on the


tour bus.