Lythgoe rejects the notion that Idol favored a double-David. Syesha "made a poor choice herself with Fever. Until that point, (the judges) had been very strong in Syesha's favor. Fever tipped the balance."
And, he adds, Cowell ridiculed Fogelberg's Longer, the producers' song choice for Archuleta, as suitable for a 90-year-old.
Who stays and who goes "has nothing to do with the judges at that point," he says. "It's about who people are going to vote for."
As in previous seasons, both finalists will release albums.
Cook wants "a pop-based rock" record, citing such influences as Switchfoot and Jimmy Eat World. Archuleta will seek music "that's in the soul," along with pop that fits someone his age.
A tricky question awaits: Can either David be a Goliath on the pop chart?
Male winners have fared far worse than multiplatinum champs Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Y-chromosome Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks were booted from their labels, and even runner-up Clay Aiken, an initial blockbuster, has seen diminishing returns on Idol fame. Daughtry, who ranked fourth in Season 5, is the only male to achieve major success.
To recapture its reputation for minting stars, "Idol absolutely needs Cook to win," Slezak says. "They need a radio and recording star, not another Taylor-type flop."
The 'Clay trajectory'
Archuleta's career after Idol probably will take the Josh Groban route, though vocally he can't catch the pop-classical tenor, Slezak says. "And nobody on radio will play that. He may follow the Clay trajectory of Idol fans buying the first album, then sales peter out by the third album, and he makes a nice living singing at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies."
Gamboa says the less-dedicated viewers who could push Archuleta over the top aren't people who buy records. "His win means the show serves more as a form of entertainment and not as a means of creating new music stars."
Judges may have handicapped Archuleta by glossing over his deficits, Slezak says. "He's one of the most technically gifted vocalists, but not one of the best singers. There's a huge disconnect between the notes coming out of his mouth and words. He doesn't seem to enjoy being up there. He looks like he might collapse or throw up."
Wednesday's David-or-David coronation leaves "Idol" less than three months away from the Season 8 audition cycle. Despite a recent public focus on audience satisfaction surveys, don't expect wholesale changes next year.
Singers again will be allowed to play instruments. Those with previous recording deals, though faulted for having an unfair advantage, enhanced the show and will be back, Lythgoe says. So will host Ryan Seacrest and the judges. "I love the chemistry," he says.
"We will continue to concentrate on how to improve ourselves," Lythgoe promises. But "we are still a very sprightly 7-year-old."