Scotty McCreery, the 17-year-old country crooner with the deep voice and the chill attitude was, after all, “in it to win it” on the 10th season of “American Idol.”
McCreery beat 16-year-old Lauren Alain in an all-country finale, “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest announced at the end of Wednesday’s two-hour-plus finale.
Scotty is the fourth consecutive guy to win the pop singing contest, but the first country male singer to win. He’s also the first country singer to take the prize since season 4 winner, Carrie Underwood who is one of “Idol’s” most marketable winners, winning five Grammys and becoming a fixture on country radio.
The other winner: The “Idol” franchise itself, at a crossroads with the departure of the show’s virtual anchorman, Simon Cowell, which made some bets on personnel and format changes – like lowering the eligibility age to 15 -- that paid off.
More than 122 million votes were cast in the final round of competition, and three-quarters of a billion votes over the season, Seacrest noted at the top of Wednesday’s finale.
“That’s two votes for every man, women, and child living in America – not bad,” he told the jammed Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
The singers this year were an unusually diverse field for the usually middle of the road show, including a metal rocker James Durbin who made it to fourth place, a jazzy bluesy chanteuse Haley Reinhardt, in third and a genre-bender named Casey Abrams who soloed with a standup bass.
With Cowell jumping ship last season to launch his own singing competition show in the fall, “The X Factor,” (co-starring another “Idol” judge veteran Paula Abdul), the “Idol” producers needed to make a statement with the judging panel. Judge Randy Jackson returned, with new faces Aerosmith front-man Steven Tyler and singer/actress/diva Jennifer Lopez.
The show opened with tape of its coast-to-coast auditions and right away Tyler introduced some new energy to the tired act—leering at the girls, spouting off wacky patter (“what’s with the jujubes on the oo-oo-bees,” he asked one auditioner who wore a starry bra). As the season wore on, however, the judges table seemed to run out of gas when they settled into a routine of congratulating instead of criticizing the parade of contestants.
“Idol” producers had an ace in the hole, however: veteran hit-making producer Jimmy Iovine, who they’d signed as a mentor for the Idolettes to cure a long-standing problem for the franchise: the winners careers would fizzle once they actually tried to launch a recording career.
It fell to Iovine to fill Simon Cowell’s shoes, giving pointed but actually useful tips, as well as to help the Idolettes choose material that raised the overall level of competition.
Iovine had clearly pegged Scotty as a contestant with a real shot at a country career and worked hard to give the young singer some stage presence, and move him out of the straight-ahead, traditional country groove where he seemed content to stay.
Scotty had, for weeks, been the odds on favorite to win the competition, though the show’s three judges pronounced Lauren the hands-down winner of Monday’s final performance night.
“Scotty, sorry…Lauren gets it – hands down,” Tyler had said after each of the two finalists performed three tunes.
The Wednesday night grand finale of the “Idol” season featured a parade of stars for what’s become a major annual showcase for the music industry.
Beyonce led the “Idol” female finalists in a medley of her songs and a dance number; Casey Abrams joined his celebrity role model, Jack Black to ham it up singing “Fat Bottom Girls.”
Tim McGraw sang a duet with Scotty McCreery; Tony Bennett did Irving Berlin with Haley Reinhardt. Jacob Lusk was joined by Kirk Franklin and Gladys Knight; James Durbin got to rock it out with Judas Priest.
Some musicians, however, got to appear Idolette-less. Bono came on stage for a number from the oft-delayed, upcoming Broadway Spider-Man production. Judge Steven Tyler reprised Aerosmith anthem “Dream On,” and Lady Gaga appeared on top of a towering rock pile, dressed like a Venetian masquerade reveler who plunges to her faux death with her lover while singing “Edge of Glory.”
Throw in TLC and Lil John, and Jennifer Lopez doing a get-a-room-hot number with husband Marc Anthony, and there was some genre for everyone.
“It’s been a year since Lauren and me auditioned, and we’ve been together since Day One and we’re gonna stay together,” Scotty announced when he was pronounced the winner.
“Never in my wildest dreams… I got to thank the Lord first – he got me here,” Scotty added.
Then Scotty was compelled to sing the song Iovine had chosen to be his first single should he win: “I Love You This Big.” Like we said last nght, no song that requires the singer to hold his arms out in a fish-that-got-away gesture should ever be sung on a topic other than fish. In this case, it’s the hook for the cutesy-romantic song.
And yes, it’s another dreadful “Idol” debut single. Some things never change.
Photo Gallery: Season 10 of ‘American Idol’
Interactive: American Idol’s’ decade of hits and myths
L ast night’s performances: Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina battle it out
Last week’s results: Goodbye, Haley Reinhart
Last week’s performances: The top three perform