Scotty, of Garner, N.C., is the fourth consecutive guy to win the singing contest, but the first male country singer to win. He’s also the first country singer to take the prize since Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood, one of “Idol’s” most marketable champions — she has won five Grammys and become a fixture on country radio.
The other winner Wednesday: the “Idol” franchise, which is at a crossroads with the departure of the show’s virtual anchorman, Simon Cowell. The show made some bets on personnel and format changes — such as lowering the eligibility age to 15 — that paid off.
More than 122 million votes were cast in the final round of competition, and more than 750 million votes were tallied during the season, Seacrest noted at the top of Wednesday’s finale.
“That’s two votes for every man, woman and child living in America — not bad,” he told the jammed Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
This season’s singers were an unusually diverse field for the usually middle-of-the-road show, including metal rocker James Durbin, who made it to fourth place; jazzy bluesy chanteuse Haley Reinhardt, who finished third; and a genre-bender named Casey Abrams, who soloed with a stand-up 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. Longtime judge Randy Jackson returned with two new faces: Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and singer/actress/diva Jennifer Lopez.
The season opened with tape of its coast-to-coast auditions and, right away, Tyler introduced 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 seemed to run out of gas when they settled into a routine of congratulating instead of criticizing the parade of contestants.
“Idol” producers, however, had an ace in the hole: veteran hit-making producer Jimmy Iovine. They’d signed Iovine as a mentor for the Idolettes to cure a long-standing problem for the franchise: The winners’ momentum would fizzle once they tried to launch a recording career.
It fell to Iovine to fill Cowell’s shoes, giving pointed but 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 he worked hard to give the young singer some stage presence and move him out of the straight-ahead, traditional country groove in which he seemed content to stay.