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While Tuesday night’s American Idol finale was loudly hyped as a battle between the show’s two remaining contenders, David Cook and David Archuleta, it was clear that judge Simon Cowell seemed to think it was a one-sided bout, with Archuleta mopping up the ring with his opponent.

Throughout the evening, the ornery Brit nitpicked Cook’s song selection while fawning over Archuleta’s performances. But when OK! caught up with the younger David after the show, he sprang to the defense of his friend and competitor.

"Cook was awesome," the teen sensation told OK!. "I don’t know what Simon’s problem was!"

Ironically, while Simon’s final, potentially damning criticism of Cook was that he chose to sing “The World I Know” by Collective Soul instead rehashing one of his previous hits like Archuleta did with “Imagine,” the young singer confessed that he hadn’t intended on repeating himself either.

Archuleta had wanted to try his luck with a handful of other songs, but was unable to get approval so he stuck to the John Lennon classic. “There were a bunch that I wanted to do,” he explained. “This is such a perfect song, though.”

And it’s not just David Archuleta that thinks Simon’s nitpicking was misguided — OK! went straight to the source, Collective Soul’s Dean Roland, to get his opinion. “After watching him [David Cook] all season, he stayed true to himself and the songs his own,” Dean told OK! exclusively via e-mail. “It was great to see him do this with ‘The World I Know.’”

Even with Simon’s naysaying, Cook tells OK! he’s proud of his performance. “I stand by my decision,” he said. “I didn’t want to regress. I’m happy that my past songs went well but I wanted to move forward.” As for Simon’s criticism, the Missouri native is taking it in stride. “All I can do is appreciate it for what it is — an opinion from a guy with some clout.”

And showing that he harbored no ill will to the judges or to Archuleta, David Cook explained to OK! that the night belonged to his competition. “I would probably concede the night to Archie,” he said. “I walk away from this with my head held high. I had a lot of fun.”

When discussing how he felt now that the performance part of the hit show is finished, Cook admitted, “I am relieved. This week is a celebration of the work that everyone put into this.”

Whether he wins tonight or not, Cook views his run on the show as a success. What’s he going to take away from the experience? “I’m going to take away hopefully a career,” he told OK!.

By Jon Warech

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