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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The upset "American Idol" victory by rock singer David Cook drew nearly 32 million U.S. television viewers on Wednesday night, up 3 percent from last year's finale, Nielsen Media Research reported on Thursday.
The two-hour broadcast on News Corp's Fox network marked the second-most-watched episode of the smash hit talent contest this season, behind only the 33 million-plus viewers who tuned in for the debut of the show's seventh installment in January.
The Nielsens rally came after weeks of record low ratings. And "American Idol" finished its latest run down year-to-year for the season as a whole in both overall average audience size and in ratings for viewers aged 18 to 49, the group most prized by advertisers.
It was the second straight year of season-to-season declines though the finale's ratings could be adjusted when the final Nielsen data comes in.
"Idol," which generally airs twice weekly, averaged about 28.1 million viewers per broadcast for the current season, compared with 30.8 million at the height of show's popularity in 2006. But it remains by the far the most watched show on U.S. television.
The unexpected triumph of Cook, 25, who was tending bar and playing in a band before he auditioned for the singing competition, marked one of the more surprising outcomes of the series.
His rival, 17-year-old David Archuleta, went from being the contestant widely dubbed "The Chosen One" to runner-up after a record 97.5 million votes were cast by fans of the show on Tuesday night, final performance episode.
The show is produced by 19 Entertainment, a unit of CKX Inc, and by FremantleMedia, a division of British-based RTL Group., which is controlled by media giant Bertelsmann AG.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman