Only in America.

It was bigger than any convention for either party. It was bigger than a Super Bowl. It reached out to more television sets than any program in history. In the end, a scruffy, 25 year-old bartender with facial stubble and messy hair stood weeping in mid-stage as American Idol, 2008, amid screams, confetti, cheers and record contracts falling at his feet. David Cook’s rise to stardom, fete accompli.

Over 95 million viewers participated in the voting process. That doesn’t say much for the poor turnouts we see for political elections.

I’m not a big fan of today’s pop music culture, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

This show does it well.

It all begins with three judges — Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson — scouring the nation for signs of talent, selecting a very few from thousands of auditions from amateur singers who — if they get the thumb’s up — move on to the next phases. Contestants must be between ages 16 and 29. Once the final dozen is assembled, the voting is all left to the fans. Judges critique each performance, but have no more weight in the scoring process.

I don’t take well to all of it. Teeny-bopper girls waving hands and screaming at the foot of the stage during and after each performance is more of a distraction than an asset to the show, and it’s sooo scripted. Some of the finalist kids are voted upward based more on popularity, and less about their musical talent. Such was the case, in my humble opinion, of dreadlock-laden Jason Castro, who had little stage presence to accompany his voice, yet millions of young fans thought he was “cool.”

Nevertheless, the majority of talent that did emerge via the voting process was worthy of stardom. Syesha Mercado, who finished in third place, was my pick for the top spot. This young woman not only sung beautifully, her range and versatility of music far exceeded most of the competitors, and she displayed stage presence equal to anyone on Broadway, past and present.

Brooke White, pianist, guitarist and vocalist also exhibited a vast range of styles. I had thought that Michael Johns, the eldest of the group, would have won it all. His Rock & Roll was dynamic as any. Seventeen year-old David Archuleto, who looks more like he’s thirteen, was the favorite of the judges. I didn’t agree. The boy has a good singing voice, but that’s where it stops. His lack of maturity seeps through. When the songs are over, he reminded me of a little kid opening toys under the Christmas tree.

The final ten weeks are grueling for all the kids who are still in the mix. They must learn an array of new songs and rehearse constantly, plus participate in more choreography with past finalists who are still part of the American Idol summer programs.

What I would change: Much like the premise of “Dancing With The Stars,” reduce the weight of fan voters to fifty-percent with judges (maybe five instead of three) weighing the other half. And dump the screamers.

Nevertheless, I’m hooked. I’ll look forward to the next season as American Idol starts fishing once more for the best hidden singing talent in the nation. Never can tell. It could be someone you know. Maybe even — you.