For additional coverage, please also read Local 'American Idol' Star Lauren Alaina Suddeth
LISA DENTON: Susan, I have to tell you that while I'm very happy that Rossville's Lauren Alaina Suddeth made it into "American Idol's" final 13, I may be even more excited that Paul McDonald is in the mix. Lauren seemed like a foregone conclusion to me. Even if viewers hadn't voted her into the finals, I'm certain the judges would have tipped their votes in her favor with a wild-card pick.
I know Paul's never lived here, but since his mother, UTC professor Susan McDonald, does, we're gonna claim him too. He is such a cutie with that megawatt smile. But what I really like about him is that he's so different from the other guys. He has Rod Stewart's voice and Porter Wagoner's wardrobe. What a combination.
SUSAN PIERCE: I agree Lauren's choice seemed fairly assured, and I'm rooting for her all the way. Between Lauren and the Sharrock family (on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"), suddenly small-town Rossville, is the talk of the reality TV universe.
If Lauren weren't competing this year, I'd throw all my votes to Thia Megia. I am so impressed by her! She reminds me a lot of Charice, the Philippino vocal prodigy that Oprah discovered.
I still can't get over Thia's gutsy move to sing a cappella her first week out onstage. She's 16! She placed pitch-perfect notes with more precision than a video-gamer nailing a solo on "Guitar Hero." In front of millions of viewers, she showed no fear. How can she top that? I can't wait to see.
LISA: Hers was probably my favorite performance of the night. It was just so simple and beautiful.
I was a little concerned about Lauren's nerves in last week's finalist selection. She could barely respond when host Ryan Seacrest asked her thoughts about the judges comparing her to a cross between Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Good thing she was the first female announced. I don't think she would have made it through the prolonged suspense of a two-hour show.
But what's the deal with the judges that they couldn't whittle the contestants down to 12? Once they got the number down from 24 to 10, it seems they each wanted to pick a wild-card contestant instead of reaching a consensus on two.
SUSAN: I was surprised the judges expanded the finalists to a lucky 13. I think that was too lenient. Of the singers who made it, I was surprised at the choice of Naima Adedapo and Haley Reinhart, and disappointed that Lauren Turner didn't make the cut.
In my opinion, only three of the girls come close to giving any of the guys a run for the money. The male vocal talent this season is almost as sparkling as McDonald's megawatt smile.