"American Idol" has given 16-year-old finalist Lauren Alaina Suddeth an opportunity, but now, win or lose, she needs to make smart decisions, say music industry professionals.
"The whole trick, especially for a new artist [with] the hype she is going to have, is to produce a string of hits," said Joe "Dixie" Fuller, talent and production coordinator for Friends of the Festival in Chattanooga.
Suddeth, a Rossville resident who will compete in the "American Idol" finals against Scotty McCreery on Tuesday, with the voting results announced Wednesday, will need to make good choices and stick to what she believes in, said Kim Forester.
Forester, along with her sisters Christy, June and Kathy, formed the country group The Forester Sisters. The Lookout Mountain, Ga., quartet had 15 Top 10 singles and five No. 1 hits in the 1980s and 1990s.
"The best thing she can do is get a great, great manager," Forester said, "someone who is well connected and knows who to avoid and what the best route is. Especially at the first because there will be so much attention on her, and she will be pulled in so many ways."
Suddeth and her parents will face consultants who will "groom her to within an inch of her life," Forester said.
"What it takes"
Fuller, who traveled with country supergroup Alabama as both a backing percussionist and a stage manager for many years, was a judge when he first saw Suddeth perform in the Kids Talent Search presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Riverbend Festival a few years ago. He said he believes Suddeth has what it takes to be a big star.
"She was very sure of herself," he said. "I do believe she has what it takes. I saw her at Coolidge Park" during the "Idol" homecoming on May 14, "and she had the eye contact with the crowd. I watch for that, and she was connecting with people's eyes. She wasn't just looking at the carousel back there and thinking, 'Just let it be over with.'"
Danny Murray, director of Lee University's a cappella group Voice of Lee, which in 2009 finished third in the first season of NBC's "The Sing-Off" talent show, said Suddeth's future as a professional is all but guaranteed.
"From this point on, it's done," he said.
Her next step needs to be deciding the musical direction she wants to follow, Murray said.
"She's proven she can find a song and deliver it, whatever genre they choose," he said. "Now, she has to decide, 'What am I going to be as an artist? Am I going to be country or try and go pop?' She has to decide exactly, stylistically, what category she will fall in to be managed properly."
One key, both Forester and Fuller said, is that Suddeth should record only songs she believes in.
"She needs to be able to stand up for herself and not cut something she doesn't love. If it's a hit, she will be singing it for a long time," Forester said.
Murray compared Suddeth's vocals to previous "Idol" winner and country songbird Carrie Underwood, but he said the success of previous "Idol" Top 10 finalists such as Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert shows that winning the competition isn't necessarily required for a successful career.
Weeks of exposure to a national audience will ease Suddeth's transition to professional performance, Murray said.
"TV is such a game changer," he said. "When you've had millions and millions of people who have seen her and heard her name over all these successive weeks, it will make a huge difference in her life."
Fuller also offered his thoughts on what it would take for her to attain the type of stardom that would make her into a Coca-Cola Stage act at Riverbend.
"She'll need a presence coach to help her as far as the stage stuff," he said. "She'll have to have a string of three, not necessarily No. 1 hits, but three good Top 20 hits. She needs that to keep her name on people's minds."
Forester said a successful music career can be fun and exciting, but it comes with a price. She and her sisters walked away from their music careers a decade ago and returned to their family-oriented lives on Lookout Mountain.
"It's not as glamorous as it looks," she said. "It's a lot of hard work, and people don't realize what a sacrifice it is. You miss a lot of family events, and your world gets really small. It's a bus, a stage or a hotel room.
"We all sat down and said, 'This has been fun, but we are going home.'"