Good news for Nigel Lythgoe: In the year 2015, when he begins production on his Lifetime original movie Sing It Anyway: The Lauren Alaina Story, he’ll already have a script in place. Oh, sure, Uncle Nigel might take a few creative liberties with the historical record — perhaps Little Lauren will deliver her final American Idol performance in a driving rainstorm, on her way to the airport to stop her future fiancé from getting on a plane, with a pit stop to rescue a pack of kindly grandmothers from a burning bus — but make no mistake: Tuesday’s Season 10 performance-night finale was the carefully crafted, penultimate scene of a piece of fiction that Idol‘s evil-genius overlord has been writing since Steven Tyler delivered that line about finding “The One” back in January.
Was the plot line hammier than Babe‘s family reunion? Absolutely! The episode began with Ryan Seacrest addressing the “Lauren’s too sick to sing” rumors that rocked the internet (including TVLine.com) just an hour before the finale, with a scrubs-clad doctor explaining the improved state of the contestant’s sprained vocal cord, and Lauren herself pluckily declaring, “I’m here. I’m ready to sing. I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.” Ryan, ensuring no bit of drama got left behind, turned to the resident physician and asked, “Can she handle the entire hour, in your opinion?” I half-expected the guy to answer, “Only if deep down in her heart, Lauren truly wants to win this thing.”
J.Lo, Randy, and Steven got in on the cinematic feel, as well, following the “Please don’t spoil the movie by adding your own soundtrack” rule and not uttering a single word of critique until four out of the night’s six performances had been completed. (True confession time: I honestly didn’t notice the absence of the judges’ comments until Ryan started giving out phone numbers at the end of Lauren’s first performance. Which either says something about the sorry state of my brain after recapping almost five months’ worth of Idol telecasts, or the ultimate uselessness of everything that comes out of the mouths of the Dawg, the former In Living Color dancer, and the rock legend with a memoir to promote.)
Also of interest: Randy sported his best Miss Marple drag, rocking a brown tweed suit with wide black lapel, while J.Lo continued her quest to become a “quadruple threat” by dressing for the part of “figure-skater,” another title that in the future may be added to the list of things (i.e. acting, singing, shooting looks of deep loathing at Haley Reinhart) she does moderately well at best, moderately poorly at worst .
Anyway, not to get all Kara DioGuardi on you, but here’s the thing: Everyone knows that when it comes to Idol finales, too much producer manipulation often backfires. Which makes me wonder if perhaps Uncle Nigel’s advocacy for the Season 10 “southern belle” (seven consecutive “win” votes for Lauren from the judges to close the episode; copious shots of six shimmering pink and black signs spelling out L-A-U-R-E-N; the gift of superior songs in Rounds 2 and 3) might be part of a secret. reverse-psychological plant to activate the fanbase of the “boy next door.” Then again, maybe we’re dealing with a double-reverse — a reminder to the audience that “the judges’ favorites rarely come out on top!” — that will favor Lauren.
Oh, phooey. I could dig further and further down the Idol rabbit hole for the rest of the week, but instead, how about I get to rating this week’s performances?
ROUND 1: Contestant’s “Greatest Hit” from Season 10
Scotty McCreery: Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone”
For the second week running, Idol‘s producers scheduled the night’s best performance early in the telecast, giving the hour the trajectory of a sad party balloon losing helium. I loved Scotty’s “Gone” the first time around — in fact, it cracked my recent gallery of the 20 best performances from Season 10 — but take two was more muscular, more aggressive, and an altogether more authentic sendoff to the bad relationship at the heart of the song’s lyrics. I’m not usually keen on contestants starting off their performances out in the audience, but in this instance, the move allowed Scotty to amble cockily toward the stage, setting the proper mood of disdain and dismissiveness. I loved the way Scotty held out that “gone” going into the bridge, I loved the way the fiddle and guitar players followed him around behind the judges as if he was the Pied Piper of breakups, and I even loved his hokey “baseball windup” swing that closed the number. You know if the judges had been allowed to give a post-performance critique, somebody would’ve dropped a “home run” zinger, and I can’t even say I’d have blamed ‘em! [Side note: My husband and I had a five-minute debate about whether Scotty's strange t-shirt depicted a woman with flowing orange hair or two firefighters putting out a raging blaze with their hoses. Please weigh in on this important matter in the comments, and don't forget to share whether or not you were disappointed by Scotty's failure to follow through on J.Lo's request for a finale-week buzz cut.]
Lauren Alaina: Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor”
Is Lauren craftier than she lets on? By choosing a Carrie Underwood track for her encore, Season 10’s youngest contestant got another chance to remind the audience that, hey, Idol has a pretty solid track record when it comes to producing blonde, female country artists. As usual, the kid who just a year ago was doing cartwheels in her backyard was laden down with 100 lbs of black and silver fabric, jewelry (including an admittedly fierce bird ring), and hair extensions, but this time around Lauren showed improved vocal dexterity, only dropping a couple of words in the face of such a lightning quick cadence. If I had one complaint, it’s that Lauren seemed so focused on the mechanics of the performance that she didn’t really conjure up the exasperation of the song’s under-siege protagonist, but that didn’t stop J.Lo and Randy from giving her a standing ovation. Hey, it was the least they could do, seeing how Dr. Idol told them Widdle Wauwen had a boo-boo on her voicey voice!
ROUND 2: Track Chosen by the Contestant’s Idol (Though Not the Same Artist He/She Covered During Top 13’s “Personal Idol” Theme) (Ahem)
Scotty McCreery: George Strait’s “Check Yes or No”
There was nothing particularly wrong with Scotty’s performance of this midtempo story about a little boy standing in front of his third-grade sweetheart (and eventual wife), asking her to love him. Except for the fact that just last week, Scotty was singing “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” a superior midtempo ditty about a guy looking back at his youthful romantic feelings for a woman who would eventually become his betrothed. But while I can’t really sit here and blame the contestant for this conundrum — Jimmy Iovine picked last week’s ditty, while George Strait cynically boosted his catalog sales/graciously passed the torch by choosing the latter — I also can’t do more than give props to Scotty for completing another episode of Extreme Competence: Country Edition.
Lauren Alaina: Pam Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis”
I sure as heck hope Lauren has already sent a thank-you note to Carrie Underwood for giving her a vastly superior composition to Scotty’s round-two selection, but it’s a shame the Season 4 champ wasn’t able to perform a simultaneous wardrobe consult and talk Lauren out of a dress that was a half-dozen sculpted ponies away from looking like a giant gold carousel cake that may or may not have been the confectionary highlight of Lauren’s fifth birthday party. (That said, if Lauren hadn’t made such a fashion faux pas, my husband wouldn’t have coined the term “trailer tutu.”) Vocally, Lauren seemed to be running out of breath at the ends of several phrases, but her tone sounded pretty terrific paired with Pam Tillis’ trip down romantic memory lane. I loved the way Lauren’s voice broke on that falsetto ending, and the added grit she showed digging into the chorus. In fact, I’m not sure why Ryan brought up this “sprained vocal cord” business like it was such a hindrance.
ROUND 3: Contestant’s Debut Single
Scotty McCreery: “I Love You This Big”
I’m gonna be honest here: I’ve watched Scotty’s performance of “I Love You This Big” three times now, and here’s a snapshot of what my brain has retained: Damn! That is not a good title for anything, except maybe a child’s storybook. Wait, we’re not gonna hear Scotty deliver the line “Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low” on the Idol stage, but we have to sit through this silly piece of treacle that’s not a particularly good match for the kid’s voice? There’s so much going on here — the “Idol journey” montage, the 87 camera angles, the return of the %$@ *&%$^#&^%#*&# Swaybots — that Scotty’s performance almost seems secondary. One more second of crying-mom footage, and I’ll be reaching for the Kleenex. Oh, no, Scotty! Please don’t stretch your arms out to deliver the words “this big”! Worst part of my job is definitely not being able to fast-forward through another regurgitation of Randy’s “in it to win it” nonsense. Aaaand…scene!
Lauren Alaina: “Like My Mother Does”
This just in: A vote against Lauren Alaina is a vote to punch your own mother right in her sweet, devoted face! Or as Jimmy Iovine pointed out prior to her final performance, “Moms are the bedrock of American society!” — and that means a vote for Lauren is a vote for America. Right? Right. Indeed, Lauren’s debut single (ripped from the lifeless corpse of Kristy Lee Cook’s commercial flop Why Wait) is an Aspertame-infused tribute to the women who gave us life, and the staging here seemed designed to infuse some emotional energy into Lauren’s repertoire. Backed by a sweeping strings section, Lauren warbled her way through the opening verse, then headed out into the audience to embrace her own mama and thereby finally maybe sorta connect with the lyrics coming out of her mouth. I guess she was feeling it, but not as much as Season 10 finalists Naima Adedapo and Ashthon Jones, who were respectively grooving out and sobbing in seats directly behind Lauren’s mom, or the Idol camera operator, whose shot got all shaky after Lauren’s final note (presumably because every member of the 19 and Fox family was required to clap enthusiastically, and our guy couldn’t hold his camera steady).
The most stark image of the finale though, for me for you, was Ryan Seacrest rushing out to help guide Lauren (clad in a lovely, floor-length white gown with a floral-patterned bottom) down the steps and into the audience. It was a strangely “father of the bride” moment that probably activated the tear ducts and/or speed-dialing fingers of anyone who’s ever enjoyed a bridal magazine, an animated Disney film, or Webcam footage of newborn baby birds. Randy, of course, took his one million-billionth opportunity this season to herald the return of the girl the judges fell in love with in Nashville. “LAUREN ALAINA HAS ARRIVED, AMERICA!” he yelled, ending a bleak season of white-noise critiques.
And with that, let’s get to Tonight’s Letter Grades:
Scotty McCreery, “Gone”: A-
Lauren Alaina, “Flat on the Floor”: B+
Lauren Alaina, “Maybe It Was Memphis”: B+
Lauren Alaina, “Like My Mother Does”: B
Scotty McCreery, “Check Yes or No”: B
Scotty McCreery, “I Love You This Big”: B-
I realize I gave Lauren the slight edge over Scotty in two out of three rounds this week, but one evenly matched night does not an Idol champ make. Scotty’s consistently solid performances over the last 13 weeks have generally outshone Lauren’s in terms of emotional connectedness, stage presence, and confidence, and with Kendra, Lauren Turner, Pia, Paul, James, and especially Haley all sitting on the sidelines, I think Scotty is the clear choice “should” and “will” selection for the annual Nokia confetti shower on Wednesday night. It might not be the ending Nigel wanted for his Lifetime movie, but as I think he’s about to (re)discover, you can’t always force real life to follow a script.
What did you think of the Season 10 Idol finale? What were your favorite and least favorite performances? Vote in our polls below, then hit the comments to declare which contestant should and will win the season? And for all my Idol news, reviews, and interviews — including video Q&As next week with the Season 10 Top 3 — follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!