Watching the ‘American Idol’ Season 10 Performance Finale from the nosebleed section in the 7,000-seat Nokia Theater at L.A. Live is a little like sitting in the upper deck at a football game. You get the big picture, but you lose the nuance.
From this observation point, the evening’s most exciting performer was Corey, the guy who warms up the crowd before the live telecast kicks in, whipping everyone into a frenzy. The dominant aspect of the crowd is just how eclectic it was, age-wise, from seven-year-old kids to grandparents, all dressed to the hilt, which was kinda weird considering the show started at 6 p.m PST., with the sun still beaming outside.
The big story prior the show was whether Lauren Alaina would even make it to the stage, having what the “AI” physician termed, none too scientifically, as blowing out her vocal cords, “similar to a runner pulling his muscle.” That would have promoted third-place finisher Haley Reinhart, but the 16-year-old Georgia cheerleader proved to be as tough as the competition, assuring a tux-and-bowtie-clad Ryan, “I’m here and I’m ready to sing. Don’t worry about it.” For his part, fellow finalist Scotty McCreery, who entered in a gray T-shirt hand-in-hand with Alaina, remained as cool as he has for the entire run of the show. Maybe too cool, considering how close the competition was between what Ryan Seacrest termed “the boy-next-door vs. the southern belle.”
The show was divided into three performances apiece, starting with the contestants’ favorites, followed by “Idols on Idols,” with former winner Carrie Underwood picking a song for Lauren and George Strait choosing one for Scotty, and finally the sing-off concluded with the pair doing original tunes, the winner’s being released as their first single.
Round One: Scotty took the stage to sing Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” which he originally performed on the Top Five show, and proved more confident than ever, with the crowd coached to chant, “bang bang” after the line “like a Confederate soldier.” This was as rocking as McCreery gets, ending with a simulated swing of a baseball bat, while Lauren put aside her vocal problems to belt out a cover of Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” that made the first round practically a dead heat, both seemingly more comfortable with the slower material.
Randy gave the round to Scotty, while J. Lo couldn’t think of a better way to start the show than with “Gone.”
Round Two: McCreery’s own hero, George Strait, chose his own “Check Yes Or No” for the young country crooner, and it proved a fine choice, with Scotty’s eyebrows dancing, and his patented low voice proving equal to the task. It was here, though, that Lauren began to pull into thelead, her version of Pam Tillis’ “Maybe, It Was Memphis” showing off her command of the stage, proving once again she’s one old soul, 16 going on 35.
All three judges gave her the nod in round two, with Steven Tyler saying “she’s prettier than you are,” to Scotty, while J. Lo suggested Scotty’s take on the Strait song was “not as dynamic.”
Round Three: Mentor Jimmy Iovine picked two original songs for the finalists to cover, with the winner’s version the first official single released from this year’s Idol. He called “I Love You This Big,” the number he chose for Scotty “the right song emotionally and to launch his career,” set over a montage of his “AI” highlights, including the basketball shot from the balcony right into the hoop. But it was Lauren’s “Like My Mother Does” that hit the emotional sweet spot, a tribute to moms who Iovine described as “the bedrock of our society and they’re all going to be moved by this song like crazy.” The performance ended with tears streaming down Alaina’s cheeks, and sent her off on a high that could well catapult her over the presumed show favorite McCreery.
Both Randy and Steven gave the round to Lauren, Jackson once again heralding “the return of the Lauren Alaina we’ve come to know and love,” while J. Lo called the song “perfect for you,” though she called the race “too tight to call.”
And there we are, on the cusp of anointing a new “American Idol” tomorrow night. And if it seems a little anti-climactic, tomorrow should be a sweaty-palm finish. Will we get our first female finalist since Season Six’s Jordin Sparks? Or the first-ever male country singer?
Whoever wins, “American Idol” has been revitalized by executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and proved once more a ratings behemoth. The fact that they could fill the cavernous Nokia for what was essentially a 48-minute show was proof of that.
1. Lauren Alaina: If you look back at our very first rankings, young Alaina, then known for a brief moment as Suddeth, was the favorite, and, after almost five months, she is back on top. Get ready for some tears of joy tomorrow night.
2. Scotty McCreery: There is no underdog this week, as the kid from small town Garner, NC, is set, win or lose, for a long, successful country career just like his hero George Strait. The All-American boy next door with the dancing eyebrows and tilted microphone is a star.
TOP 4 PERFORMANCES
1. Lauren Alaina, “Like My Mother Does”: Give credit to Jimmy Iovine for a perfect match of singer and song.
2. Scotty McCreery, “Gone”: He owns this song, and it’s as lively as the laconic cowboy ever gets.
3. Lauren Alaina, “Maybe, It Was Memphis”: The next Queen of Country Music? She takes the Pam Tillis original and makes it her own.
4. Scotty McCreery, “Check Yes or No”: If he’s not the next George Strait, he could be in 10 years.