American Idol Recap: Nashville Stars?

Meet Steven Tyler, longtime Aerosmith frontman and surprisingly effective American Idol judge. He would like you to toast the conclusion of the show’s season 10 Nashville audition episode with a refreshing glass of Kool-Aid. “I think we found The One today,” he says with a cryptic wink.

You’re hesitant. After all, Team Idol has a long history of trying to force things down your gullet before you’ve even decided you like the taste. But go ahead and take a sip anyway: Notice the crisp notes of pulverized confetti that rained down on Kelly Clarkson as she tearfully belted “A Moment Like This” in the season 1 finale. Savor the surprise introduction of an against-all-odds backstory. And don’t miss that lingering hint of boiled-down tears collected not so long ago from Baylie Brown and Katie Stevens.

Yes, Idol fans, just like that, you’ve joined the cult of 15-year-old vocalist Lauren Alaina (whose name gives me unfortunate flashbacks to season 6 catastrophe Alaina Alexander). Not that you had a cricket’s chance in a snake tank of resisting the kid.

Which isn’t to say Lauren (pictured, top left) doesn’t have plenty of talent or charm or charisma in her arsenal. Quite the opposite! But it’s hard to suppress my cynicism/bitchery while executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is making like a master Jenga player and moving all the pieces around to force us into a premature attachment to Lauren.

It all started earlier today when Nigel took to Twitter to prime the pump for Lauren’s introduction to the viewing public (with no less than a barely concealed comparison to the original Idol winner, I might add): “Check out Nashville tonight,” he wrote. “I haven’t been excited about a 15 year old until now. I can’t wait to hear what Kelly Clarkson fans think!” And with that, Lauren’s audition played out like a checklist from American Idol: A Producer’s Guide to Manufacturing a Season-Long Front-Runner: 1) Unearth relatably upbeat teenage contestant. 2) Share her tearjerker backstory. (In this case, Lauren’s very close older cousin, Holly, developed a brain tumor a few years back, during which time Lauren performed a benefit concert on her behalf.) 3) Make sure she gives the public some much-needed tears. (Anyone else find the kid’s bedroom crying spell a tad, um, actorly?) 4) Attempt to draw in at least one judge for a jovial vocal collaboration. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I enjoyed Lauren’s brassy rapport with Steven as she began belting “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” then demanded he “sing it” along with her when she got to the chorus.) 5) Bring in the family! Party time! Excellent! 6) Make sure said audition is the final one of the episode, because Idol must follow Vanessa Williams’ golden rule of “Save the Best for Last.” (Hey, how come nobody ever sings that on Idol?)

I know, I know…I’m being awfully tough on young Lauren. The girl has skills, and there’s no denying she was worthy of that Golden Ticket. It’s just that 10 seasons in to the show’s evolution, I still struggle with the total absence of subtlety when it comes to producers pushing their favorites. Really, if Nigel & Co. want to see this girl excel, don’t they realize they’d be wiser to let Lauren’s fan base grow a little more slowly, a little less inorganically, in order to avoid the inevitable peaked-too-early backlash?

Ah, but there I am, the Kool-Aid in hand, spending half my recap talking about who? Yep, it’s official, I’m the worst. Especially when tonight’s telecast featured at least three, possibly four, singers I enjoyed as much, and probably more than Lauren. Shall we reminisce about their tryouts?

NEXT: Anyone else fall for “Maggie May” dude after 30 seconds of singing?

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