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 the franchise’s most marketable winners, earning five Grammys and becoming a fixture on country radio.
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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, Seacrest noted at the top of Wednesday’s finale.
“Even more insane,” he continued, over the course of the season, the show clocked three-quarters of a billion votes over the season. “That’s two votes for every man, women, and child living in America – not bad,” Seacrest told the jammed Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Much less applause, as the audience struggled to get their heads around that math.
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.
Durbin was the only other of this season’s Idolettes who was considered to have a real chance of winning.
“He begged us to give metal a chance. Tonight we’re giving him the chance to play with Rock Royalty,” Seacrest said by way of introduction. Out came James, dressed up like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.” Out came Judas Priest. They sang “Living after Midnight.” Then Seacrest gave a plug for their upcoming tour.
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 season opened with the traditional 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 and settled into a routine of congratulating, instead of critiquing, the parade of Idolettes. At some point in the competition Randy must have screamed at every one of the competitors that they were “In It to Win It!”
During Wednesday’s finale, the producers ran a tape of Randy’s parade of “In It To Win It!” eruptions, after which Seacrest remarked – speaking for us all -- “We got to get you a new writer.”
“Idol” producers had an ace in the hole, however, in 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 helping 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 Tuesday’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; while Tom Jones did the honors with the Guydolettes.
Remember how Casey Abrams said he dreams of being like Jack Black? He got to sing with Jack Black! They sang and mugged and jumped around to the tune “Fat Bottom Girls” while wearing matching silver sharkskin suits. Behind them, leggy dancers in tight shorts rode out on bicycles, dismounted, and waggled about a while.
“Jack’s new movie, ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ comes out tomorrow – check it out!” Seacrest shilled.
Tim McGraw sang a duet with Scotty McCreery, while Lauren Alaina did a duet with Carrie Underwood.
Tony Bennett did Irving Berlin with Haley Reinhardt. Jacob Lusk was joined by Kirk Franklin, Gladys Knight, and a gospel choir to sing “I Smile” while, on the screen, a message flashed urging viewers to text a number to donate $10 toward relief for disaster victims.
Gladys will be at the Tropicana in Las Vegas!” Seacrest plugged.
Some musicians, however, got to appear Idolette-less. Bono came on stage to plug his oft-delayed, upcoming Broadway “Spider-Man” production, with its star Reeve Carney. Bono’s reportedly leading the effort to save the $65 million musical money pit, for which he wrote the score.
And Lady Gaga appeared on top of a towering rock pile, to tell the story of a Venetian masquerade reveler who plunges to her faux death with her lover while singing “Edge of Glory.”
Throw in TLC and Lil John, judge Steven Tyler reprising Aerosmith anthem “Dream On,” and judge Jennifer Lopez doing a get-a-room-hot number with husband Marc Anthony, and there was a 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.” 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.
Yes, it’s another dreadful “American Idol” winner’s debut single. Some things never change.
Last night’s performances: McCreery and Alaina battle it out
Last week’s results: Goodbye, Haley Reinhart
Last week’s performances: The top three perform