Update: Doctors have ordered Lauren Alaina to rest her voice tonight due to laryngitis. As such, third place finalist Haley may go on in her place. She's rehearsed in case she has to go on. What a shame.
Lauren Alaina showed what a true professional and champion does in her spirited performance against worthy opponent Scotty McCreery for the Season 10 Idol title. Just prior to the show she blew out her voice during rehearsals and had to undergo doctor's treatment to tend to her ailing vocal cord. Right up until the last minute, 3rd placer Haley Reinhart rehearsed three songs should she have to go on in Lauren's place.
Thankfully, this big of last-minute drama didn't come to pass. Though her voice was a shade rougher than its usual pure tone, Lauren sang three songs with difficult high, forceful keys, and she handily won all three rounds, securing my votes for the Season 10 title.
I figured Lauren for the win from the very first time we saw her during audition week. Idol wanted a younger winner when they lowered the eligibility age to 15, they wanted a girl (there hasn't been one since Season 6's Jordin Sparks) and Lauren was the the kind of marketable star Idol hasn't really found since rocker Chris Daughtry in Season 5 and country-pop's Carrie Underwood, the top earner among all Idols, from Season 4. But Lauren struggled with confidence during the season, going so far as to back off a glory note in Unchained Melody a month ago. Her chances at the top seemed to dim although she always seemed to escape elimination.
But tonight Lauren rose when she needed to and all but dwarfed the formidable Scotty.
That's not to say Scotty didn't do his best. As a vocalist, he was near flawless tonight. He is able to sing a song with key changes and navigate among them, up and down, with the smooth transitioning of a Lexus cruising on the highway. Scotty also is among the most marketable finalists in Idol history. He will have the entire young country traditionalist genre to himself and that can be huge in America. Look at how long Randy Travis has maintained a career by singing true, honest country songs and Scotty's younger, better looking and a legit heir apparent.
Where Scotty came up short tonight was in the quality of his songs and his performances lacked the sparkle of Lauren's.
The show opened with the contestants' picks of their favorite songs of the season and Scotty fumbled by choosing Montgomery Gentry's mediocre Gone. The song's generic, forgettable and not really suitable for a finals show. Scotty sang the uptempo number well and worked the stage equally well, but it was routine.
Lauren countered with her favorite Carrie Underwood tune, an overamped country-pop Flat on the Floor, which taxed her fragile cords but she managed to deliver the song with energy and flair and she got through it which will earn votes for pluck and rising above a challenge.
She takes Round One.
Round two found Idols picking songs for the Idols. Country music legend George Strait selected his own Check Yes or No for Scotty. While having the likes of respected Strait in your corner is certainly a mark of distinction for Scotty and proof he has the goods for a long career singing Strait's brand of country, the song is, sorry King George, bland. Scotty sang it well and I'll check yes, but with reservations. He couldn't transcend the simple song's limitations and the chorus wasn't in Scotty's sweet spot. Forgettable.
Lauren had Underwood as her song picker and while I'll complain about Underwood's choice of material for herself, she picked a Pam Tillis tune for Lauren so when thinking of others, Underwood recognizes country royalty and a winning Idol song. Maybe It Was Memphis was just right for the 16-year-old. Her performance was livelier than Scotty's, she introduced a fine song to a young audience who might actually want to download the track (can't imagine many going for the borderline cornpone Check Yes or No) and, I hate to do this, but I'll echo Randy: "She's in it to win it."
Steven Tyler revealed why he's paid $18 million to be a judge on this program when he awarded this round and the other to Lauren "because she's prettier than" Scotty. Lame reason, Aerofloozie, but ultimately correct. Lauren wins Rounds One and Two.
Round Three, producer/mentor Jimmy Iovine's choice cemented Lauren's victory and my votes. Lauren was given a song a previous lackluster Idol contestant once sang (Kristy Lee Cook's Like My Mother Does.) Perfect Idol finale song. It's big. It's sentimental. It praises moms (who vote) and their daughters (who vote even more) and Lauren's pretty mom is in the audience crying tears of joy. If this isn't a coronation song and Idol Moment, I've never heard and seen one. The only thing missing was the confetti.
Alas, Iovine proved he's in Lauren's camp when he gave Scotty the woefully sappy, dreadfully bland I Love You This Big. I hated the song this BIG. And yet, Scotty's vocal was peerless. He ran the keys, soared and coasted as the song called for it and can't be criticized for what he did in that two minutes. But when voting, people are thinking moments and memories and Scotty wasn't afforded any of these with three poor anemic songs. Blame the songwriters. Blame the producers.
Round three and the title: Lauren Alaina.
But don't feel bad for Scotty. The incredibly poised young man is going to rule his area of country, and Lauren is going to grow into a mainstream country star and will score in her arena. For once, Idol has two big stars in the making in the closest race yet. I'll be happy with whomever wins but I'm hoping it's Lauren.
The final performance show of the season closes with Season 7 winner David Cook singing an 80s karaoke cover and reminding viewers just how weak Idol had become under Simon Cowell's reign these last five years. For all the times I've criticized the judges this season when they started to abandon their roles as judges and opted to become cheerleaders I have to say where it counted, Hollywood Week, J.Lo, a much improved Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler, set higher standards than the previous judges had. The addition of Iovine, rather than outmoded and out of touch Clive Davis, was another shrewd move on producers' parts. Idol Season 10 made Idol worthy again.
See you on Twitter for tomorrow night's 2:07 finale starting at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Tonight is the Season 10 final performance of American Idol pitting country traditionalist Scotty McCreery against contemporary country singer Lauren Alaina. Look for live Twitter commentary during the show @HowardCohen and a review here late tonight after the Dancing With the Stars finale.
Read a pre-show recap here: