The stage is set for a Southern country showdown in "American Idol's" finale Tuesday night.
Rossville's Lauren Alaina Suddeth, 16, advanced to the championship sing-off with 17-year-old Scotty McCreery from North Carolina after a record 95 million votes were cast. Finalist Haley Reinhart was eliminated.
The teen pairing marks the first time two country singers will go head-to-head in a finale. They are also the youngest competitors in an "Idol" finale.
"I'm thrilled that 'American Idol' has come down to two country artists," said WUSY radio music director and afternoon show co-host Bill "Dex" Poindexter. "I think these are two very strong young people who are both firmly grounded, know who they are even though they are 16 and 17. I think country music will welcome them with open arms."
"I wasn't nervous tonight. I had a feeling she'd make it," said Kim Edwards, who watched the results show with fans at Magoo's in East Ridge. Edwards said she has known the singer and her family for seven years.
"Lauren has a really good attitude and Haley's attitude came out a little too much with Randy a couple weeks ago. Lauren's a real humble girl. She never has a sense of entitlement," Edwards said.
"American Idol" changes nights next week from its current Wednesday-Thursday format.
The finale will begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox. Wednesday's star-studded results show starts at 8 p.m.
"It's her dream come true," said Jean Harper, an employee of Chattanooga Funeral Home. "This is all you hear people talking about wherever I go."
Kathy Norrell predicted the pairing Thursday over lunch at Christie's Corner Cafe in East Ridge. The cafe is owned by the singer's aunt, Christie Suddeth. Her son, Jake Suddeth, mans the grill. The regulars have hashed out the competition over their hash browns every Thursday morning in the diner.
Norrell's group of friends, Jeanette and Harold Frederick and Linda and Ted Newell, said they've known the singer since she was 6.
"We've watched her grow up and followed her career," said Norrell. "She used to come in here and sing at the tables."
"She's got the voice to win," said Mrs. Frederick. "She didn't have to train that; it was a God-given gift."