THEY FOUGHT to the end of season seven of "American Idol." So how fitting is it that the two Davids - Cook and Archuleta - are now competing for your hard-earned bucks with CDs released mere days apart on the same label?

Runner-up David Archuleta - the ultrapolished and sincere 17-year-old crooner from Utah (and before that, Miami) - is now yours to enjoy on an album he likes to call, um, "David Archuleta" (19 Records/Jive/Zomba, B). Won't be hard for even his youngest fans to remember that title.

Cook, the Tulsa, Okla.-based, 25-year-old rocker and "AI" champion, joins the fray today with the release of his first solo album, likewise, um, self-titled (19 Recordings/RCA, B).

Ask both guys how they feel about the David vs. David "rivalry" pumped up by the press, and they just laugh. Ain't gonna get these two fronting like gangsta rappers, calling each other out for a brawl (and lots of publicity).

"It's fun that that whole rivalry thing got created," Cook reflected in a recent interview. "If you put me in the same sentence with David Archuleta, I'll be fine."

From his side, Archie, er, Archuleta points out that "not even on the show were we competitive very much. We're kind of in our different categories in the music world, but I'm just hoping for the best."

Different? Well, yes and no. Archuleta is an old-fashioned pop crooner with a creamy, dreamy, young at heart romantic sound. The offspring of a jazz trumpeter dad (turned overbearing manager) and singing mom, Archuleta discovered his own voice trilling along with the cast albums of "Les Miserables" and "Evita." Then he cut his teeth professionally on "Star Search" (winning the junior category in 2003), before growing old enough to take the "AI" train.

Cook came up through the rock 'n' roll bar band ranks, he likes to share. That's how he got so much smoke in his tone and so much howl in his delivery. Hey, you've gotta really belt 'em out if you want to grab those clubsters' attention.

Now this winner is hoping to get noticed by rock radio, following in the footsteps of another "AI" notable, Chris Daughtry. But Daughtry had the good fortune to come in fourth on the show in season 5, making him an "outsider" and thus more palatable for diehard rockers to embrace.

To overcome that resistance, Cook worked on his album with some key figures in the bad boys music club - producer Bob Cavallo and songwriters like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik and Cook's own idol Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace.

Almost all the songs on the David Cook album seem propelled by rocket fuel. Even when he's in ballad mode, it's an assertive trip scorched with hot power chords. Now taken individually, each tune sounds like something you'd want to crank up on the radio. (I'd start with the punchy, mid-tempo "Come Back to Me" and "I Did It For You"). But taken en masse, the rush starts to wear off toward the end of the hourlong session.

While also boasting a bit of contemporary edge (dig all the hard "handclap" percussion), Archuleta's music is kinder and gentler, targeted to younger (or young at heart) and mostly female listeners of the poppish "Hot AC" (that's adult contemporary) radio format. There's a bit more entertainment consciousness in the packaging here, more of a variety show approach that veers from the waltz time "A Little Too Not Over You" and folksy acoustic guitar-strummed "You Can" to the dramatic, synthesizer-driven "Desperate" and pop-rocking "Crush."

My initial impression of this whole affair was "yuck, too sweet." But on repeated listening I was struck anew by just what an wonderfully refined instrument this singer has. Yeah, he could sing the phone book, if truth be known. And somebody really should write him a Broadway show of his own.

Where the two Davids do meet is on "sincerity" street. Cook's producer Cavallo - who did most of the basic track recording while the singer was off on tour with "AI" - hints of that pandering when saying he tried to "strike the right balance between something 100 percent true to David as an artist and at the same time satisfying his 'Idol' audience." The latter is a crowd which clearly likes its emotional corn fresh popped and buttery.

So while Cook's music is bombastic, the lyrics are yearning and learning, romantically confessional and heroic from the "restore my soul and set me free" notions of "Declaration" to the show-capping (and "AI"-winning) "The Time of My Life." And if you didn't get enough stars in your eyes with that last one, there's also the post-victory reflection "Life on the Moon" boasting lines like "Though the life that I knew is through, I'm gonna need you more than ever."

Archuleta looked relieved the night Cook was declared the winner, and seems happy in the (slightly) underdog role he's now assumed. He's forever falling in (and never really out of love) in the sonic splendor of it all. And even though he's up there on the big stage in "Touch My Hand," having the time of his life, he knows the whole thing's gonna blow up faster than you can say "Taylor Hicks" if he doesn't make real contact with

Y-O-U.*