Introduced by famous ring announcer Michael Buffer, Idol‘s final two contenders, “Little” David Archuleta and “Big” David Cook, duked it out in front of more than 7,000 fans at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles for the coveted title of the next American Idol.
And after both contestants sang three songs, it was quite evident — to Simon Cowell (who had favored Cook earlier) at least — that what had been witnessed was “a knockout.”
“Based on judge’s comments, Archie did better. I’ve got to give him credit — the kid came with it tonight,” Cook, 25, told PEOPLE after the show. “But that doesn’t diminish the fact that I felt like I did well. I did what I could with the songs and I had a good time and that’s what I came out here to do. So, if I take second I have no problem doing it.”
Cook and Archuleta were all smiles backstage as they hammed it up together with VIPs and fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
“I just feel like I did the best I could and I really, really gave it all I could,” Archuleta, 17, told PEOPLE. “I was a little weird and out of it after my performances, but just I wanted to make sure I gave it all I had. And I feel really good!”
While the night, with its boxing theme, was all about having fun, each contestant had emotional moments on stage during the live broadcast.
David Cook, whose brother Adam has brain cancer, was unable to hold back his tears after his final performance of the Collective Soul‘s “The World I Know.”
“I was singing for me,” he explained. “I’ve worked really hard for a long time to get to this point. And to hit the last notes as a contestant on American Idol … to have that hit me was just heavy. And to be in that atmosphere with all those … I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
Meanwhile, Archuleta, whose father Jeff was recently banned from backstage and accused of being a “stage dad,” told PEOPLE he didn’t let that distract him. “I haven’t really been paying attention to the press,” he said. “It’s weird because he’s a great guy — he is. My whole family has been there, supporting me the whole time.”
Apart from wanting to be the next American Idol, both contestants seemed to be less about winning and more about having fun. “Tonight was about having a good time for me and enjoying the moment,” explained Cook, who closed the show by carrying Archuleta in his arms to the delight of their fans.
“Whether America decides me as a winner or not, it’s not really the most important thing. I’m excited to see what happens afterward.” –Jed Dreben F. Micelotta/Getty