I gotta admit, PopWatchers, I got totally swept up during last night’s American Idol. I think it was something about the goosebumps racing over my skin during the Davids’ first songs that just washed away my better (i.e. snarkier) instincts for the rest of the night. Not even the sight of Constantine Maroulis’ hedge-row of chest hair could shake me from my Idol-soaked reverie — well, okay, the sight of that V-shaped plantation of curly hair did cause my snark demon, Smirkelstiltskin, to dance a tarantella of abject glee on my shoulder, but, really, the pickings were otherwise pretty slim for the poor horned dude.

Part of that, I think, has to do with the Nokia itself. I can understand why the producers moved the finale here; the place is frickin’ HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE, and I wish I had a more erudite way of describing it, but somehow “elephantine,” “Herculean,” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” just don’t convey the HUUUUUUUUUUUUGEness that is this theater. Put it this way: Nigel and Co. could comfortably fit four of the regular Idol domes inside the Nokia’s Mega Idol Dome. Or put it this geekier way: The Nokia is the super star destroyer to CBS Television Studio’s plain old star destroyer. Strike that: It’s the Idol Death Star to the CBS’s star destroyer. Um, in a good way?

Well, to answer my own semi-question, yes and no. Like I said, the vibe was electric for even those lame-y second songs, which is a sensation only a crowd of some 7,000 people can provide, really. But it also meant that I was seated about 15 miles from the stage — and, no, that is not me complaining, just stating the facts, I totally loved my seats totally, no complaints, thank you Fox for providing them! — and since it took roughly 3 minutes and 32 seconds for the light from the stage to reach my eyes, I wasn’t quite as able to soak in all of the minute behind-the-scenes details as has been my wont for the rest of this season.

But that certainly didn’t stop me from trying, so let’s all take this jump into hyperspace, and I’ll download all the details I was able to discern with my wee peepers.

addCredit(“(Michael Buffer introduces David Cook and David Archuleta; Michael Becker”)

First, a quick note of the circus outside the Nokia, which I’m sureis but a gram of the kiloton of insanity that’s set to ensue beforetonight’s grand finale. The winding red carpet was already set up forsaid finale, and beside that sat a small bazaar of Idol-related TV outlets already taping interviews with experts (like our own Jessica Shaw!) and Idolalumni (like, er, Anwar Robinson!). The will-call line was choked withpeople waiting to get in, and as I walked to grab my press credentialsfor the post-show “winner’s walk,” I caught Papa Archuleta and Mr.Brooke White snagging their tickets from a Fox official. (As promised,Mr. Brooke White had shorn his shaggy frat-boy hair upon the departureof his wife from the show. For the record, Mr. Brooke White, don’t everlet it grow that long again.) I also caught one of our Idol commentators, Chris Sligh, entering the stage — when you’re done here, be sure to check out the Idol finale columns he, Jon Peter Lewis, and Nadia Turner will contribute today. Alksjalzd.vjhalius (Sorry; Smirkelstiltskin just bit my fingers to protest such bald-faced pluggery.)

I passed through security (which, despite the warnings to leave allelectronic devices in our cars or “they will be confiscated,” wasn’texactly what I’d call thorough), and then, with my estimable colleague Shirley Halperin, wound my way past the walls of Nokia cell phones and Idolmerch booths (“Vote for Cook” and “Vote for Archuleta” T-shirts weregoing for $25) and up the escalator to our seats in the Nokia “loge,”which, to my disappointment, wasn’t a winter Olympics venue. Shirleyhelped me identify the dance mash-ups playing over the speakers —”Bleeding Love” got the royal treatment, with beats culled from “Don’tCha” and “Yeah” — but with no Corey the Warm-Up Comic insight, I took the opportunity to hire a sherpa and hike all the wayfrom the loge to the front of the stage to get a closer look at all thegoings on.

The front rows were thick with Idolalumni but no other discernible celebrities. Gina Glocksen signedautographs while Constantine enveloped fans in the balcony with hischest sequoias, and David Cook’s little bro won some sorority girl”wooos!” all by himself. I also caught a glimpse of that onesemi-finalist. You know, the one with the blonde streak in his hair?Who cornballed sang “Moon River“? That dude.

I hopped a Lear jet back to my seat in just enough time to catchCorey making his customary entrance — for those of you just joiningus, that would be “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww yeah!” As our beloved WUC went through his full, unabridged warm-up routine,I realized with what Smirkelstiltskin was horrified to discover was awee smidge of nostalgia that this was the first time I’d actuallyexperienced Corey go through his entire routine since season 6. Evenwhen the woman in the red-and-white blouse that seemed right out of Little House on the Prairie kicked off her shoes so she could more vigorously show us her Beyoncé, I couldn’t help but break into a wistful smile.

Corey’s scream-off contest for the Davids ended in a clear win forMr. Cook, but my favorite two signs were both for Mr. Archuleta: One, agiant letter “R” and “U” and then a sign saying “LETTA”; and two, a rowof Brownie Scouts each holding up a sparkle-motion-y letter thatspelled out “Brownie Scouts Love David A.” Their den mother — is thatthe correct Brownie term? I only know from Cub Scouts — assured me,however, that all the scouts “love both guys,” but I don’t know whythey couldn’t have also brought a be-sparkled “C.” just to cover theirbases, ya know?

Corey welcomed the judges, Randy greeting the crowd with the rousing “What’s goin’ down LA? Yeah yeah!“Nigel Lythgoe emerged looking, as Shirley put it, like he was ready fora rugby match, and with three minutes to go before air time, the otherten Idol finalists marched in and took their seats. (Even from12.7 light years away, Brooke White’s glow burns bright.) Debbie warnedthe audience that “something different” was afoot, and it was only thenI realized that we’d seen no sign of Ryan Seacrest. I’d assume theywere keeping him hidden to better set up the surprise Michael Buffer”let’s get ready to rumble” boxing match intro — am I the only one whothoroughly enjoyed how the Davids completely embraced this vat ofVelveeta? — but after we all finally saw Ryan emerge, it looked to meand Shirley like he may have just been getting an extra five layers ofmake-up instead. (An illuminating factoid: If you shrink Michael Buffer down to the size of your thumb, he looks like a thinner George Lucas.) Interestingly, D’Archie won the second Idol DeathStar scream-off by a landslide, but the audio for much of the openingsequence was otherwise slightly janked. (Jankified? Jankeried? No,janked is right.) Foreshadowing the sometimes striking contrast inaudio quality between the TV broadcast and live performances, perhaps? Indeed.

During the first ad break, the Davids came in for a hug — and noteven the bro kind! — and then Debbie the stage manager had them wave tothe audience as the Idol band played them off the stage with afairly random rock riff they thankfully avoided the rest of the night.Nigel trundled over to what I first thought was the row of ex-Idolsbut turned out to be the seat of one Clive Davis, and gave the golden-eared music guru a thumbs up. As in, “Thank you, Clive, for choosingtwo songs so perfectly suited to their respective singers that you mayhave single-handedly elevated this ratings-challenged season into theRuben/Clay stratosphere.”

Because, as Eric Cartman might say, I’m seriously, PopWatchers: BothDavids had my skin taut with all the goosebumps they caused in thisfirst round. And I was far from the only one; right from the start,Cook’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” had the Mega Idol Dome all atwitter; a handful of people in the rows in front of me were even spontaneously waving their arms. And I didn’t even care. I actually felt bad for D’Archie; whereas Cook got to glory note his way through a U2 classic never before heard on any American Idol stage, the chipmunk from Utah had to tackle a song that Clay Aiken had so memorably soared through way back in season two. (And, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to link to this rendition as well.)

I needn’t have worried, of course; D’Archie killed it, bringingpalpable passion to a song Clay had only tamed through slick-but-emptyvocal virtuosity. (Somehow, I feel I’ve just managed to satisfy all theD’Archie fans while also inflaming the Claymates, which gives both meand Smirkelstiltskin a deep feeling of accomplishment.) As much as Cookbowled me over, I agreed completely with Simon that D’Archie won thefirst round — though Shirley, it must be said, wasn’t nearly as sure.Here’s the strange thing: After the show, as I was driving home, Icalled up my sister just after the first round had been broadcast onthe West Coast, and she wasn’t nearly as hot on D’Archie’s performanceeither. When I watched it back on the DVR with my neighbors later thatnight, they, too, were fine to let the sun go down on Archuleta. And Ican understand why: The audio mix on his performance was, yep, totallyjanked on TV, dropping the volume on Little David’s vocal track just ashe took to his feet and ripped out “bliiiiinded by theliii-iii-iiiight!” It made his voice sound under-powered and a bittinny when, in the Death Star, it was anything but; so much so, infact, that I suspect what caused the audio techs to drop the volume soquickly was the audience responding with its own ear-splitting cheersof appreciation.

Anyhoo, during the ad break, Little David did a quick high-five sweep of the Idol mosh pit, the techs brought out Cook’s amp, BigDavid did a sound check for his second song, and Corey proved thatjoking with six-year-old girls about snagging a boyfriend is creepy nomatter what the size of the venue. BestI could tell, the judges stayed put more or less during the entireevening, most likely for the simple reason that leaving their post tohead offstage meant a five-minute trek, both ways. I’m sorry, my snarkdemon is telling me that time frame isn’t randomly hyperbolic enough,and therefore not “funny.” I apologize. I meant a 582,045-year trek,both ways.

The less said about the middle round of songs, the better, I feel,other than to note that my heart is all soggy now that it’s clearneither of the Davids read the reviews Slezak and I logged of the 20finalists for the songwriting competition.All the same, I would like to go on record now with the prediction that”No Turning Back” will be the winning song that the winning contestantsings at the end of tonight’s finale, if only because Smirkelstiltskinis really digging what that title implies for the winner’s career. Theonly excitement during the ad break between the songwritingperformances, meanwhile, was when Ryan Seacrest hightailed it up therow next to me and Shirley’s seats, and I mean right next toour seats — so close, in fact, that had either of our names rhymed withPitney Wastorek, we could’ve tackled him and stuffed him into our bagsbefore anyone was the wiser. And if he’d managed to escape, we could’vejust snatched him up again when he made his way back down our aisleduring D’Archie’s performance of “In This Moment.” Although maybe wewould’ve lined the bag with plastic first, just to be sure RyRy’smakeup didn’t smudge up our Blackberry. Which, er, we would’ve left inthe car anyways lest security confiscate them. Right. Totally.

Um. So where we’re we? Right, the ad break after D’Archie closedround 2 was equally uneventful, save the moment when Corey, whilegoading the season 7 ex-Idols to wave to the audience, saidthat Syesha was “lookin’ hot” for all 7,000 to hear, which was justawkward for everyone, really. When we came back from the break, Shirleybegan curling her nose the moment Big David said he’d chosen CollectiveSoul’s “The World I Know” as his final song, and then began repeating”bad choice” over and over the further into the performance he got. (Bycontrast, several people seated around us were quite vocal with theirapproval of Little David’s decision to sing “Imagine.”) I can see whatshe meant — “The World I Know” is not exactly the rousingest of songs,and Shirley rightfully pointed out that I couldn’t conjure thenon-chorus parts of the song if my life depended on it — but I stilladmired Cook for taking on a song that clearly represented who he hopesto be as an artist, and he sang the heck out of it, too.

Our debate over the song actually distracted me from observing muchof the final ad break, although I did enjoy the extra guttural oomphDebbie gave her command of “A-pplause!” as we came back from it.After Archuleta sang “Imagine” once more (I still prefer hissemi-finals version) and Ryan gave out his numbers for the last time,Debbie kept the kid put during the performance recaps, and thenredirected both the Davids to the front of the massive American Idollogo. The Fox PR people had told me to get to the “winner’s walk” pressevent ASAP after the end of the show, so I let Ruben Studdard celebrateme out of the Death Star and down into the media den in the Nokiabasement, where I promptly waited two hours for my two minutes with each of the Davids.Actually, truly, this I didn’t mind at all; it completely goes with theterritory, and those two hours proved eventful enough that, once I logsome seriously needed shut-eye, I aim to recount the highlights fory’all, on-the-scene style.

In the meantime, tell me, PopWatchers, was the audio on Archuleta’s”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” buggin’ you like it bugged me? Areyou feelin’ the Nokia as the home of the Idol finale, or are you pining for the days of the Kodak? And what the heck do you think was up with Ryan’s make-up?