If you had any doubt whether country or rock was our national anthem, 95 million “American Idol” voters put it to you plain and simple, the way they apparently like it.
Mama, let your children grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls because that’s who’s going to the finals of the top-rated Fox music competition next week.
If you don’t want to know who’s going home, here’s where we yell, “SPOILER ALERT” and you stop reading. For those continuing…
In tonight’s results show, Haley Reinhart was voted off the island to “sweet home Chicago,” leaving the field at two.
In what seemed pre-ordained from the start of this 10th season, a pair of precocious teenagers are the finalists for the “Idol” crown, making it an all-Southern affair. North Carolina’s 17-year-old deep-voiced crooner Scotty McCreery and Georgia’s 16-year-old cheerleader next door Lauren Alaina might as well form a George Jones/Tammy Wynette duo right now because, as you can clearly sense, they’ll be fixtures of the Grand Ole Opry for decades to come.
McCreery captivated the “Idol” judges and public from the beginning with his mature-beyond-his-years rumble, as well as his light-hearted humor and self-deprecation. He literally grew before our eyes, from an All-American high school pitcher for his baseball team and a grocery bagger into an accomplished performer sharing the stage with the likes of Josh Turner, as he did in his recent homecoming.
The kid is genuine; what you see is pretty much what you get, and he enters next week’s final as the odds-on favorite to emerge as the show’s first male country winner. Whether he can actually turn into a male Taylor Swift is another story entirely. We still don’t know if the kid can write, but even if he can’t, he can have a long career as a kind of George Strait stylist. And he gets extra points for crying at his homecoming bash.
Lauren Alaina is another story, with some similarities and a few differences. She was touted even before the show began as a contender by executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, and ingratiated herself to the judges right away by joining Steven Tyler in a duet of “Sweet Surrender” in front of her family at the audition.
There is an “Idol” precedent for Alaina in previous winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, who both found success in the country world. Alaina could be Tanya Tucker if she learns to play off her sexuality, though she looks more like Tanya at age 25 going on 30. And I agree with the blogger who wondered why the stylists make her eyes up to look like Tammy Faye Bakker.
As always, the “American Idol” results show is 50 minutes of waiting, with a 30-second climax. With Scotty getting a pass right away, the finals was down, as Jimmy Iovine had predicted in the intro, “to at least one guy,” leaving Lauren and Haley to sweat out Ryan’s reveal. That was the sweaty palm, heart-pounding moment, at which point I found myself primally pulling for the feisty, unpredictable rocker with the guitar-playing dad.
When she lost, Haley gave her numerous blogging detractors fuel for the fire, appearing at first stunned, like she was hit by a 2 by 4, before launching into a searing “Benny and the Jets,” calling out each of the judges, who, with the exception of an adoring Tyler, sometimes gave her a hard time. “I rocked it out,” boasted Haley. “And I had a blast. And this is only the beginning.”
It will be very interesting to see what Jimmy Iovine does with Haley. She could go in any number of directions, and I bet Iovine will explore several of them for a unique performer who could be Janis Joplin, Joss Stone, Stevie Nicks or all three. United States of Haley, indeed.
The rather dull and predictable Scotty-Lauren finale represents the inherent problem of any show which attempts to define art with a popular vote. Many will agree the most compelling performers—from Pia Toscano to Casey Abrams and James Durbin—were victims of the public’s penchant for the familiar over the different.
Kudos to this year’s crop for offering a little something for everyone in a splintered pop musical universe in which all the king’s horseman and all the king’s men—not to mention TV singing competition shows—can put it back together again. When you make a popular vote the determining factor, you invite getting the blandest, lowest common denominator result.
Now, I’m not saying that about either Scotty or Lauren. McCreery has hung around thanks to his week-to-week consistency and now has outlasted many of those more flamboyant than he with an incredible cool under fire, especially for a 17-year-old. He seems poised for the title, but don’t underestimate Lauren’s aw-shucks down-home shtick. Like Haley, she’s a deceptive killer, and could well pull an upset by grabbing the spotlight and not letting go, which is what she’s done from her very first tryout.
Suddenly, it’s down to a pair of southern teenage country kids competing to become the next “American Idol.” In a year where the world seems to be tilting on its axis, somehow iit’s the perfect ending, right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Who’ll win this face-off between all-American boy and girl? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Let the games begin.
1. Scotty McCreery: Will he continue to play it safe, or reveal his hidden knockout punch. Whatever happens, he’ll go straight from the American Idol stage to Nashville, and he won’t have to pass go, either.
2. Lauren Alaina: To quote the Big Dawg, she’s in it to win it, and has been from day one. It’s time for the Georgia cheerleader to take a tip from the great Sue Sylvester and play dirty. That might be the only way she can upset the McCreery juggernaut.