Four months after we saw the first batch of fresh-faced auditions in New Jersey, season ten of American Idol reaches its grand finale. Before we embarked on our journey with the top 13, I asked whether this could turn out to be the year of Idol‘s country renaissance, and predicted a Scotty McCreery versus Lauren Alaina finale. So, yay me.
For the finale, each contestant performs three songs: one of their own choice which they have performed previously, then one selected for them by one of their idols – George Strait for Scotty, Carrie Underwood for Lauren – and finally the song which will be released as their first single if they win, selected by Jimmy Iovine.
Breaking with my standard practice, I have assessed each round as a simple score out of ten, as it doesn’t seem to make much sense to assign my usual ‘song choice’ mark when the initial song is a reprise, the second one is chosen for them and the last is an original track. Anyhow. let’s get on with it, shall we?
Scotty opens up with his personal selection of the Montgomery Gentry track Gone, which was his contemporary choice in the ‘Songs From Now and Then’ theme in Top Five week. Now as then, this is a fun, up-tempo change-up free of the usual painful my-wife-has-left-me-and-my-horse-has-just-died ballads which he specialises in. A very good choice to kick off the show.
For his second song, country music icon George Strait – who has recorded 44 number one singles on the US country chart – selects his own mid-tempo 1995 chart-topper Check Yes Or No, a song with a chorus which speaks right to the heart of Scotty’s fan club of teenage girls:
Do you love me, do you wanna be my friend?
And if you do, well then don’t be afraid to take me by the hand
If you want to
I think this is how love goes, check yes or no
Pass the sick bag, please. Scotty’s version is faithful to the original, with a few of the more overt country edges knocked off to make it more appealing to a mainstream audience. He rolls out his guitar and his full range of eyebrow waggles. It’s a solid, pleasant performance, but no more than that.
Finally, his winner’s song is a slow number called I Love You This Big. This ticks all the staple country ballad boxes, but to my ear sounds utterly formulaic and lacking in sparkle. Although it does allow Scotty to exhibit his full vocal range, it’s a plodding arrangement with no real hook to lodge itself in your memory. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will sell hundreds of thousands of copies and Scotty sings it well and finishes on a tender, understated end note, but this is a clear case of the singer being far better than the song. Through no fault of his own, this is less Scotty McCreery, more Scotty McDreary. If I hear this song again, it will be too soon.
You’ve come a long way. You’ve proved that you can’t make a three-point shot from under the net.
I’ve always said from the beginning that you are a great story-teller. I think you did an amazing job with that song, a really amazing job.
I’m proud of you because you have grown during this contest and that was a brilliant vocal.
Check Yes Or No: 6/10
I Love You This Big: 5/10
Lauren Alaina: Flat On the Floor – Katrina Elam
Like Scotty, Lauren’s personal choice is her ‘now’ song from Top Five week, the foot-stomping Flat On the Floor – originally recorded by Katrina Elam and later covered by season four winner Carrie Underwood – which I rate as her best performance of the entire season. Up-tempo and fun, it is everything we first loved about Lauren from her original audition. But whereas her previous performance was outstanding, this one is just okay. She definitely sounds as if the strained vocal cord we are told she was suffering from earlier in the day is affecting the punchiness of the notes, and it doesn’t explode into life the way it did first time around. Good, but not great – but understandably so.
For her second song, season four winner Carrie Underwood chooses Maybe It Was Memphis by Pam Tillis, a mid-tempo ballad from 1991 which reached number three on the US country chart. It’s a pretty little number, although I’m not sure that a wistful song about a former boyfriend is entirely plausible coming from the youthful Lauren. Having said that, she puts in a strong performance which sells the song well, giving it some oomph in all the right places and generally sounding very radio-friendly. If Scotty edged the first round, Lauren definitely wins the second.
To close out the show, Lauren’s supposedly original is actually a track which has previously appeared on former contestant Kristy Lee Cook’s debut album, although it was never released as a single. Like My Mother Does is an anthem to her ever-present mother, and could easily have been written specifically for Lauren:
When I feel weak and un-pretty
I know I’m beautiful and strong
Because I see myself
Like my mother does
Like Scotty’s preceding effort, the song itself is much of a muchness, but she carries it off with some beautiful sensitivity towards the end and really conveys the emotion in the song. A very strong finish.
As far as I’m concerned the first time I saw you I thought you were my American Idol. You are, in my eyes.
It was everything that it needed to be. You sang it just the way you needed to, with heart, emotion, feeling and a beautiful, beautiful voice.
I’ve got to give some mad props right here. It was exactly the summation of [your] journey. It was a great song, it was a great ode to your mum. It’s the Lauren that we grew to love in Nashville.
Flat On The Floor: 6/10
Maybe It Was Memphis: Score 7/10
Like My Mother Does: Score 8/10
Overall, I have Lauren winning two rounds to Scotty’s one, and coming out a clear winner on points. Of course, performances on finale night are largely irrelevant as they are unlikely to influence many of the voting audience, who will long since have decided on their favourite performer. At the beginning of the finals run, I predicted the two finalists correctly and said that Lauren would ultimately emerge victorious. However, it’s hard to see Scotty and his fan club of teens and tweens being stopped. I expect Scotty will be declared the champion tomorrow night, although it may be closer than many people have predicted. We shall see.
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website