After 24 million votes were cast, an hour and 50 minutes of our lives were whiled away, more than 75 commercials were broadcast, and a truly disturbing dream sequence involving Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and whipped cream damn near put us off sex, Ruben Studdard was finally declared a superstar in last night's second-season finale of American Idol. But despite the close race — runner-up Clay Aiken garnered only 130,000 fewer call-ins — the contest's climax lacked both the emotional resonance and the suspense of the previous year's sing-off between Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini.

The blame for the first shortcoming rests squarely on Studdard's broad shoulders. Visiting judge Gladys Knight hit the nail on the head when she dubbed him "the world's velvet teddy bear." She meant it as a compliment, of course, but she spoke truer words than she probably realized: See, every time our teddy bear came on, we felt like curling up and dozing off. It's not his fault, mind you. We're sure he's a nice guy and all (not to mention cute and cuddly).However, Mr. Personality, he ain't. Heck, we laughed out loud when host Ryan Seacrest marveled that the newly-crowned king of pop was speechless. Dude, wake up — when was he not?! For Studdard's sake as well as our own, let's hope his Svengalis have the sense to keep him in close proximity of Aiken. The only time the big lug truly comes alive is when he and his little buddy are goofing around.

While nothing short of a Mountain Dew transfusion might have awakened Studdard, the special's second problem could have been solved by the producers. What's all the hoopla about which vocalist is named the American Idol if we are informed in the first hour by J Records bigwig Clive Davis that Studdard and Aiken both have already begun working on albums? Can you say buzzkill?! Cowell even drove home the point — or rather, the pointlessness of the endeavor — by blurting out that the fellows' CDs would be coming out the same week.

Then again, maybe we're just bitter. We can't sing a note, after all. And, as Abdul noted before saying "It's been an amazing journey" for literally the zillionth time, "Nobody ever wanted to grow up to be a critic." (Ow.) All told, the show was fine, cheesy fun, filled with exactly the kind of theme-park-caliber dance moves and medleys that have inspired so many of Cowell's putdowns. (Note to Vanessa Olivarez: Honey, you did the right thing by bailing on the tour; you're too good for this twattle.) And seriously, could the finalists — minus future America's Most Wanted guest Corey — have looked any more darling in their Old Navy denims?

Speaking of guests, the rowdy audience was packed with former temp judges like Olivia Newton-John, who seemed far less taken with Julia DeMato, Carmen Rasmusen and Kimberly Caldwell's rendition of "Physical" than Knight was with Kimberley Locke's "Midnight Train to Georgia." Funnier still, though we heard no such occurrence when Aiken was denied the Idol mantel, we imagined aspiring stalker Neil Sedaka demanding a recount on behalf of his fave. Oh, and how's this for ironic? The ubiquitous Clarkson was joined on "One Voice" by (start counting), the final two, nine also-rans and a full choir. (She also screeched her hit, "Miss Independent" at top volume, forcing us to reevaluate whether we'd ever liked the track in the first place. Turns out we did; she just had an off night.)

Anyway, now that all is said and done, and we can go back to using our cell phone for its God-given purpose (as a driving aid), we feel sort of empty inside. Yeah, yeah, we quibbled and griped that AI2 wasn't nearly as gripping as the original. (Where's Nikki McKibbin when we need her?) Yet we can't wait to go on this ride again. Maybe, as Dr. Joyce Brothers suggested earlier this year, we need to get a life. Or perhaps when Cowell quipped, "My role in this is to give something back to the community," he was only half joking.