LOS ANGELES Maybe Simon Cowell was trying to galvanize David Cook's fans when he declared David Archuleta the knockout winner in the final matchup of "American Idol."
But even true believers doubted that Cook could prevail over sweet-faced, big-voiced teenager David Archuleta when the talent contest wraps Wednesday night.
"I hope to be surprised by the results, but I don't think I will be," said 20-year-old Mariana Uribe after attending Tuesday's show.
Lourdes Uribe, her 23-year-old sister and fellow Cook fan, said the rocker didn't go "as mainstream as he could have" with Collective Soul's "The World I Know" as his final performance.
Archuleta, by contrast, showed his silky talent off to perfection on crowd-pleasers including John Lennon's "Imagine," which he reprised from earlier in the season.
Cook said he has no regrets and wouldn't have approached the night any other way.
"If I had to choose between playing a song that not a whole lot of people know that I could get behind, or the opposite, I'll choose the lesser-known every time," Cook told The Associated Press backstage.
In round one, Cook and Archuleta received great reviews Cook for his version of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and Archuleta for Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." But Cowell declared Archuleta the winner, a theme that would be repeated.
Cook strapped on his white Gibson Les Paul and picked up the pace for round two, sturdily rocking his way through "Dream Big," which he chose from among finalists in the show's songwriting competition. But Archuleta countered well, soaring through his choice, the inspirational ballad "In This Moment."
The songwriting winner will be revealed Wednesday, when the "Idol" champ performs it.
Archuleta, 17, of Murray, Utah, said he wasn't expecting to be singing that tune despite the judges' overwhelming praise.
"I just feel like I accomplished what I needed to do. If Cook wins, that's so great for him he's such an amazing performer and he's proved he also deserves the title of 'American Idol," Archuleta said.
But the judges weren't so restrained. Randy Jackson exclaimed to Archuleta, "Dude, you are so good tonight. You are exactly what this show is about." And Cowell told the teenager: "You came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout."
"American Idol" reveled in the mano-a-mano contest after a string of boy vs. girl finales. Michael Buffer ("Let's get ready to rumble!") introduced the singers, who came bounding out in boxing robes and gloves, and sportscaster Jim Lampley dispensed words of wisdom in the form of boxing analogies throughout the show.
But while there's no crying in boxing, there were moist eyes on "Idol."
Archuleta was routinely tearful as the judges heaped compliments on him, and even Cook got red- and misty-eyed after concluding his final performance. The two exchanged only compliments, not punches, afterward.
"Archie is an amazing, amazing kid and an amazing, amazing performer and I knew I had to come out with my A-game," said Cook, 25, of Blue Springs, Mo. "I feel like I had fun."
Being the show's early front-runner wasn't necessarily the best position, Archuleta told the AP.
"I felt I had a disadvantage getting so much attention in the beginning. But winning isn't the big concern. It's always doing your best. ... That's what's important," he said.
Being second may not hurt either singer. Several runners-up without the pressure of being the winner have enjoyed more commercial success than some "Idol" champs.
Perhaps the best example: Chris Daughtry, who placed fourth in season five, then went on to record a platinum-selling album. Winner Taylor Hicks' post-"Idol" album sold respectably, but he was later dropped from his record label.