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In Cowell's opinion - and judge Randy Jackson concurred - Archuleta's opponent David Cook stumbled by not choosing a showstopper to sing in the final round.

The judges, however, don't have a voice in who ultimately wins the competition. That will be up to the "American Idol" viewing audience, whose decision will be revealed on Wednesday's grand finale.

The Fox reality show made full use of the boxing theme throughout Tuesday night's match, which kicked off with ring announcer Michael Buffer crying out his catchphrase "Let's get ready to rumble!" HBO's fight commentator Jim Lampley was shown in clips throughout the show, saying things like "in a three round fight, you want to pace yourself."

The fight analogy only went so far.

"You've gotta have a desire to win and you've got to hate your opponent," judge Simon Cowell advised before the first round of competition.

But the verbal handshake before the fight was a friendly one, with Archuleta saying Cook was "awesome" and Cook responding that Archuleta was the most consistently nice person in the competition.

Archuleta, who won the coin toss prior to the show, had decided to go second in front of the 7,000 people at the Nokia Live Theater in Los Angeles.

In the first round, the singers sang tunes selected for them by record mogul Clive Davis, whose record company, Sony BMG, will hand out a contract to the "American Idol" winner.

Cook kicked off the round with a solid performance of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." All the judges thought he was in fine voice, with Cowell calling his performance phenomenal.

Archuleta followed with Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," which Jackson called flawless.

"Taking everything into account, Round 1 goes to Archuleta," said Cowell.

The singers chose songs from the top 10 songs in the annual "American Idol" songwriting contest.

Cook broke out his electric guitar for "Dream Big" by Emily Shackleton and Archuleta sang the ballad "In This Moment" by Ryan Gillmor. Of the two, Cowell thought Archuleta chose the better song and gave the round to him.

The third round was the decisive one, at least according to Cowell.

Cook decided to go with a song he hadn't sung before, Collective Soul's "The World I Know." He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar for the soulful ballad. Jackson said it was the perfect song for him, 영암출장안마 but Cowell pointed out it wasn't the kind of showstopper that would win the contest.

"You should have sung 'Hello' or 'Billie Jean'," Cowell said, referring to songs that had won Cook praise earlier in the season.

"It was the wrong choice in the competition," Jackson conceded, "but it's a good song."

"The way that I was looking at it was, why do something I've already done. For the record, I completely understand what you're saying," Cook said.

Archuleta delivered the final blow by singing John Lennon's "Imagine," the song that got him noticed in week 2 of the competition.

"Tonight I think we've witnessed one of the great finals," said Cowell. "Here's the difference in my opinion: you came out here tonight to win and what we have witnessed is a knockout."

The evening wrapped with a live performance of season 2 winner Ruben Studdard singing this season's elimination song, Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home."

Tomorrow night, after the viewer votes are tallied, Cook and Archuleta will know which one of them will celebrate their win as this season's "American Idol."

By Judy Rosen
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