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America's favorite "American Idol" crooner, Utah's own David Archuleta, stood on stage in front of nearly 30 million television watchers Tuesday night - and choked.

The 17-year-old Murray High School student - who has developed a typhoon-like swell of viewers nationwide - forgot the lyrics to one of the Beatles' more popular hits, "We Can Work It Out."

Twice, he mumbled through some lines. Later in the song, he did a better job of "masking" his memory loss.

It's OK to flub the words to a popular song when we're alone in the shower or car. But to stumble on the highest-rated television series of the year may be a singer's worst nightmare. Your only option: Fake it.

"Unless you totally stop or make a gesture, the audience does not know you made a mistake," said David's vocal coach of six years, Dean Kaelin, of Salt Lake City. "It's only if you acknowledge it, either rolling your eyes or making a face. Instead, you sing the words as you remember it, so if you sing the verse three times, that's what you do."

David's fans, who call themselves "Archies," needn't worry. He survived the results show Wednesday night to sing another week.

B. Murphy, who once sang for rock vocal group The Platters, has been in that horrifying circumstance "too many times to count."

"Sometimes that will happen even if you're [the] best prepared. You know the melody and the words, and then for some ungodly reason . . . you forget," said the singer, who now lives in Salt Lake City and has known David for years. "I've been in that situation, and I just threw some words in there and kept going."

Still, some fans were less forgiving and were vociferous in their criticism.

"It was horrible," was a posting by "Steveno" on the show's message boards Wednesday morning. "You absolutely cannot forget the lyrics at this stage of the competition!!!!"

The judges, who have been among Archuleta's biggest supporters, were downright harsh.

"That was a mess," said Simon Cowell, who has been one of the teens' biggest boosters. "You stumbled over the lyrics at the beginning . . . it was all over the place."

Ever the apologist, softie Paula Abdul told the devastated teen: "It's OK. You know what? We still love ya." But she also noted that "forgetting the lyrics, it can get a little tough. You can never let it show on your face."

No one expected the gaffe would seriously dent David's popularity. Going into the final round of 12, TV Guide's Web site had Archuleta garnering more than 40 percent of votes in an informal Internet poll, more than twice that of the No. 2 contestant, Jason Castro.

Besides, Murphy added, "In the final analysis, they will only remember how you started and how you finished, so you make sure you finish strong."

Archies believe he did just that.

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