David Archuleta, David Cook, American Idol: Season 7

Michael Becker / FOX

We're going to have a real humdinger next week.

With 56 million votes giving Simon Cowell the pairing he hoped for, Syesha Mercado was eliminated Wednesday, meaning David Archuleta and David Cook are left to sing it out on the seventh-season finale of American Idol.

"There's too many words...I don't know what to say," Mercado said before launching into her final song, an encore of last night's Alicia Keys cover, "If I Ain't Got You." "I just want to say thank you."

So, with that out of the way...

While Randy Jackson has thrown an inordinate amount of "da bombs" at Archuleta, both Cowell and Paula Abdul have expressed their belief in Cook's ability to take the title.

"I feel like I'm looking at the next American Idol," Abdul said while gushing over the husky-voiced singer at one point earlier in the season, while Cowell has said, seemingly despite himself, "you know, you actually could win this entire competition."

If it remains a singing contest, however.

Though music critics seem to appreciate more what Cook has to offer the industry, other people with TV sets have had Archuleta pegged to win it all since day one, be it because they love him or because he's marketable.

But whether calm-and-collected 25-year-old alt-rock or bashful-and-awestruck 17-year-old Disney-pop ultimately wins the day, at least the playing field was leveled a bit tonight, with all three finalists having to sit through a seemingly endless procession of video montages and commercial breaks before learning his or her fate.

And although Archuleta, as per usual, was summoned to center stage first, the 11th-grader then got a taste of what it feels like to sweat out those last few minutes of the show.

Then again, perhaps the youngster didn't need that kind of stress.

"Gosh! I just can't believe how many people came out for this...Sorry, I didn't mean to cry or anything. Gosh!" the incredibly flustered teen, tears streaming down his face, told the hometown crowd during his trip last week to Murray, Utah.

"It was a little embarrassing," Archuleta said tonight about the producers' clip choice.

Not that he was alone, however.

"I didn't expect to cry so much," Mercado sobbed as her limo drove her away from an appearance in Sarasota, Fla. "I didn't expect this...I feel so happy. This is my dream, I'm living it."

Cook, who once upon a time was only in Omaha, Neb., to root for his little brother but got cornered into auditioning for Idol, handled the possibly career-making news with his usual aplomb, flashing that appreciative yet not-entirely-shocked smile.

Not that he didn't sniff a few tears back, too, after doing the weather at the local Fox station, throwing out the first ball at a Kansas City Royals game and having a parade thrown in his honor during an extremely productive jaunt back home to Blue Springs, Mo.

"You guys did an amazing job. You should be well proud of yourself," Jackson told all three before the Davids sat down and Syesha was forced to sing. "Give yourselves a big round of applause."

So, did America get it right? Or did it all go so very wrong weeks ago?

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