Topping off the most unpredictable "American Idol" season ever--one that saw the shocking eliminations of several early frontrunners, Casey Abrams' crazy meltdown when he got saved, and the unlikely rise of dark horse Haley Reinhart--Season 10's final showdown started off as the most seat-of-the-pants finale ever, when, just minutes leading up to the live show at downtown L.A.'s Nokia Theater, TMZ reported that Lauren Alaina had lost her voice, might not be able to compete, and that third-place contestant Haley might compete in her place. TMZ even reported that Haley had rehearsed three songs--"Bennie & The Jets," "I Who Have Nothing," and "House Of The Rising Sun"--while Lauren sought medical treatment.
Of course, this all seemed sketchy. It had been clear from her first audition that Lauren wanted this BAD--this is a girl who used to entertain her family by pretending to be on "Idol" as a little girl, and seems to live in deathly fear of being voted off this show--so it was hard to imagine that she would forfeit, even if her voice had become as raspy as Paul McDonald's on a bad day. Or even if she had to sing while lying in an iron lung. And lo and behold, Lauren showed up after all, looking fabulous and in fine health, declaring "I'm here, I'm ready to sing, and I'm fine. Don't worry about it."
Of course, the conspiracy theorist in me wondered if this was all a planted, or at least greatly exaggerated, story to help generate sympathy for this year's "The One." The "Idol" producers had made it obvious that they'd like a female winner this season--after three cute, guitar-strumming boy winners in a row--but Scotty's so popular, it's possible they might not get their wish. So maybe a story arc about Lauren being a trooper and overcoming great adversity to fight for the "Idol" title would help earn her more votes. I wouldn't put it past that crafty old Nigel Lythgoe.
But sadly, then the competition ensued, and Lauren's health scare turned out to be the most exciting thing that happened all night. I hadn't been expecting it would be too thrilling of a show--barring the possibility of Scotty taking J.Lo up on last week's dare to shave his head. (He did not.) These were, after all, two of Season 10's least risk-taking contestants, so I expected both of them to take the usual "ain't broke/don't fix it" approach and just give the people what they apparently want. So the best performance of the finale was actually at the end, when truly worthy past winner David Cook played "Don't You Forget About Me" while a screen behind him ran a highlight reel of all the more interesting and diverse contestants that didn't make it further on this show.
But as for Scotty and Lauren, here's how they did...
Each finalist sang three songs this evening: A reprise of their personal favorite performance of the season, a song chosen by their own idol, and then their first single (an original coronation song this time, no Patti Griffin or U2 remakes like last year). For his first number, Scotty chose very wisely, going with Montgomery Gentry's "Gone," which he memorably did during top 5 week. The first time he did it, it was my second-favorite Scotty performance of the season, but honestly, my all-time favorite, "You've Got A Friend," would not have been a rousing way to kick off the show. "Gone" was classic upbeat Scotty, with all of his usual antics (eyebrow wriggling, running through the audience, slapping hands, playing to a gaggle of worshipful teen girls). It was a preaching-to-choir performance that probably didn't win over any fence-sitting voters out there, but for Scotty fans, it was undoubtedly a real crowd-pleaser. And hey, why should Scotty start switching things up now?
For her choice, Lauren was also smart, going with Carrie Underwood's "Flat On The Floor"--another fun and uptempo tune suitable for someone so young. (It's so annoying when teens sing snoozy, grandma-friendly ballads from 40 years ago; it makes me think it's not their peers who are voting for them, but blue-haired old ladies who don't want to believe that today's kids bear any resemblance to the cast of "Skins.") Lauren sounded fine, just fine--if anything, her new raspiness helped, toughened her up, and suited the song. Lauren should strain her vocal cords more often.
And then...the judges said nothing. Nada. The judges didn't judge. Maybe Nigel realized how useless and ineffective they'd been all season, and just told them not to bother anymore. Cut to commercial.
For his idol-chosen song, Scotty had George Strait give him "Check Yes Or No." I checked no. (These puns write themselves.) Scotty didn't do anything wrong with it, but it wasn't very memorable, and that old conspiracy theorist in me wondered if the yearning-for-a-female-champion producers had tried to sabotage Scotty with such a snoozer of a song.
Lauren didn't get a much better selection. Carrie Underwood, the female country Idol by which all other female country Idols must forever be judged, gave her Pam Tillis's "Maybe It Was Memphis." And maybe it was just okay. But Lauren looked beautiful, in princessy pink tulle, probably the sort of outfit she dreamed of wearing on the "Idol" stage as a little girl. And her voice was lovely too. But overall, it was not a big "moment" for her.
Finally, 40 minutes into the show, the judges actually spoke. But they didn't say all that much. Randy Jackson called round 1 for Scotty ("I felt like I was at a Scotty concert!") and round 2 for Lauren, as did Jennifer Lopez, but Lauren's biggest fan, Steven Tyler, called both rounds for Lauren, "only because she's prettier." Yep, that was some great judging at work, right there.
For their final numbers, the contestants did their original songs, and once again it seemed like Scotty was being sabotaged. He got a sappy ballad called "I Love You This Big," which seemed like a grammatically incorrect version of country singer Jimmy Wayne's "I Love You This Much," only not as good. Scotty wore a suit, which looked awkward on him and only made the song seem duller; despite its lyrical emphasis on youth ("I know I'm still young" and "I may not have that much experience," Scotty crooned), the ballad was just dreary. And it certainly seemed "too country" to give Jimmy Iovine the pop-crossover hit he probably desires. But, clearly reading off of old notes from episodes several weeks ago, Randy told Scotty he was in it to win it, Jennifer said he was a great storyteller and "amazing," and Steven told him he'd come a long way, baby.
Lauren's original song was clearly the better choice, even though it was not all that "original," since it'd already been on an album by Season 7 also-ran Kristy Lee Cook (and it wasn't a hit for KLC back then) and was covered by another country singer named Jesse Lee. It was "Like My Mother Does," a treacly ode to mommas (or the "bedrock of all society," according to Iovine), and Lauren sang much of it to her own doppelganger mom, the two of them swaying in the audience with their matching big blonde Bump-Its, while all of America's moms and grandmas probably welled up and oohed and aahed at home. "With that song, you may have just won," said J.Lo, which said a lot more about the fact that it was a much better song, with much better lyrics, than whether or not Lauren actually sang or performed it better. But I must say, Lauren did a good job with this one; for once, she seemed to connect emotionally with her lyrics, which made sense considering the subject matter.
All three judges called round 3 for Lauren, with Randy calling her "amazing" and Steven gushing, "The first time I saw you, I thought you were my American Idol, and I think America is gonna find that to be true."
So, is Steven right? I just don't know. Based on this final showdown alone, it seems Lauren would have the edge. The two songs selected for her were better (conspiracy theory alert!); she sang second (no conspiracy theory there; Scotty let her do that after last week's coin toss); it's fair to assume that a decent portion of the 25 million votes cast last week for Haley would go to Lauren, not Scotty; she had the night's sob story with that whole strained-vocal-cord thing; and frankly, she's always been the stronger singer of the two. Until this week, I thought the unstoppable Scotty had this thing sewn up, but now, another coin toss is in order...because anyone could win this thing. Lauren has a real shot now.
Tune in Wednesday and find out who's really in it to win it, for real. Until then, Parker out.
[photos courtesy of Fox]