S10E38: We've been building towards this week all season on Idol and now we've finally seen the big, arena performances from our top two: Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. They each performed three songs: one favorite from earlier in the season, one chosen by their own idols and one brand new song which would double as a single for the one that wins. All along, I've understood that Scotty was probably too strong for anyone to pass him up and take the winner's spot, but after last night, I don't think that call is so easy anymore.
Of course, it's the finale, so we can't have just contestant performances -- that would make too much sense. We got a little intermission with a performance from Taio Cruz singing a song co-written by a handful of people who submitted lyrics online. Genius, right? Nope. Fans submitted their lyrics, American Idol folks chose a handful, then fans voted on which ones were the best, and someone crammed them into an excruciatingly bland pop melody. The result is a song called "Positive" that Idol is GIVING AWAY FOR FREE; sure, that was the plan all along, but they'd have to give it out for free. It's worse than the watered down pop songs my friends and I used to write at middle school slumber parties while we were hopped up on grape soda and peanut M&Ms. Hell, our half-baked choruses even had more going on than "Positive's" recitation of the title over and over...and over. At least we diversified to something with multiple words like "you and me" or -- if we were feeling a little more adventurous -- "you and I."
David Cook also stopped by to perform the song that's been the Idol death knell all season, his cover of "Don't You (Forget About Me)." Sure, we get that it was a bit of a dedication to all the contestants who we will undoubtedly forget about in a few weeks, especially the ones who showed up at auditions dressed as Transformers and confederate soldiers. (Yeah, they included those jokers in the montage that ran behind Cook's head, ensuring there was no way we'd actually pay attention to him.)
Anyway, onto the performances that have actual weight, but before we get into it, I should note that Lauren almost didn't make it. At the last minute, she lost her voice and needed medical attention. Producers even brought Haley Reinhart on-set to rehearse in case Lauren had to drop out. Luckily for Lauren, she recovered and made it to the stage at the Nokia theater in Los Angeles to perform and maybe even get the edge on Scotty.
Round 1, Season Favorites
"Gone" by Montgomery Gentry
Scotty came right out of the gate with this rousing song and worked the stage like a professional. Not only does he own this song, but it's fast-paced enough that it helps push him a little closer to mainstream. This is dangerous for Lauren, because that's her demographic. Scotty has the hard-core country fans on lock, but those who are more interested in pop music would likely lean toward Lauren. This performance tows the line; it's a smart move on Scotty's part.
"Flat on the Floor" by Carrie Underwood
This would have been the best choice for Lauren if she had carried it the way she did the first time she performed. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the fact that she almost didn't get to perform, and maybe it's that the song is a very difficult one, but Lauren just wasn't as great as she usually is. Sure, she hit the notes, she hit her marks on stage, but the total package wasn't something we've come to expect from her. When Scotty comes out of the gate with infinite energy and complete confidence, her shaky and almost unsure performance took her down a notch.
Round 2, Personal Idols' Choices
"Check Yes or No" by George Strait
There's nothing necessarily wrong with this performance, it just wasn't anything special. Scotty did his usual Scotty thing, but the whole performance felt a little sleepy. When you've got someone like Lauren who forges a deep emotional connection to every song she sings, it's just a little disheartening to see Scotty who sings like he's taking a Sunday stroll. It also gives me time to focus on the elements of his performances that simply don't work for me; mainly, it's his facials that bother me. The laid back rendition just made me notice how much his wild-eyed look bothers me.
"Maybe it Was Memphis" by Pam Tillis
Well, I guess Lauren picked the right Idol. Her choice, Carrie Underwood, picked a great song to give Lauren that little push. The song was equally as easy-going as George Strait's choice (his own song) for Scotty, but unlike Scotty, Lauren knows how to give weight to any song. When she gets on stage, even the simplest lyrics mean something. The girl even brought emotion to "Unchained Melody" earlier this season and she's only 16. This song was the perfect way to showcase her knack for tapping into a song's emotional quality.
Round 3, Original Singles
"I Love You This Big"
Scotty did a lovely job with this song and it was certainly interesting to hear him perform a song that no one else has done before. Of course, I still feel like he has trouble connecting to lyrics, which makes sense, because he didn't write them himself and he's a 17 year old boy. I certainly don't hate the guy, but his emotional reactions during songs always have the air of an community theater play. There are always a few kids who overact, but can't actually tap into emotions. The result is a sort of emotional pantomime that undermines everything. Scotty is like those kids. He's got that great voice and that's what's carried him and if he wins, his voice will be the reason, but as an overall performer, he's just missing that little extra something.
"Like My Mother Does"
Well, damn. If her performance of the song itself wasn't enough, the fact that she got down into the crowd and sang this to her mother with big, crocodile tears in her eyes pushed her from contender to front-runner. It may not work, but like I said in round 2, Lauren has the ability that Scotty doesn't. She connects whole-heartedly to the lyrics and in turn connects the audience to those lyrics. That's exactly what a singer should do. Sure, the move to serenade her mother will likely be touted as a cheap move by Scotty fans, but it worked for the song and Lauren is a 16 year old girl. For those of you who've never been a 16 year old girl, let me tell you that most often, girls' relationships with their mothers at that time are extremely tumultuous and equally as loving. It's a very emotional time, so while it may be the "tactic" that pushes her past Scotty, I will disagree with anyone who finds it disingenuous.
Who's going to win?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say Lauren will. I'll probably be wrong, because Scotty is pretty much invincible and I think he expressed that in his performances, but last night really gave Lauren the fighting chance that, frankly, she didn't have at the beginning of the evening. It also helps that she came back from a widely-publicized medical emergency to get onstage and wow us. It's really anyone's game, but for the most part, it doesn't really matter. The last two contestants standing are essentially both winners, because one will win a record deal and the other one will be given a record deal. And really, does it matter which one Scotty or Lauren is?