More than 100,000 aspiring singers auditioned for the "American Idol" journey last summer. Two teenagers are left standing.
Hometown favorite Lauren Alaina Suddeth from Rossville will take on Scotty McCreery from Garner, N.C., in tonight's finale at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Oddsmakers say the spread favors McCreery to become the season 10 champ. Bodog.com reports McCreery is a 1-to-5 favorite over Suddeth, who has 3-to-1 odds.
Should McCreery win, it gives validity to the question that has plagued "Idol" since five females in a row were eliminated at the start of this season's finals: Can a girl still win "Idol"?
Columnists with TV Guide, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and other industry reporters have weighed in on the topic throughout the season. All attribute the growing preference for male singers to the show's primary voting audience: women ages 25-54.
"It's 65 percent women to 35 percent men and they are looking for the next male pop star," Aaron Cohen, executive vice president of Horizon Media, was quoted in TV Guide.
Jordin Sparks was the last female to win in Season 6, and also the youngest at 17. Should Suddeth win Wednesday, the 16-year-old will break that record.
In the last three years, the top nine (the final three from each season) have included six guys and three girls. Of the top two in nine season finales, just seven of those 18 were women.
McCreery is 17, plays baseball, works as a grocery clerk and sings old-school country. Suddeth's a cheerleader, pizza-chain waitress and sings mainstream pop-country.
During the competition, both have expressed their deep religious faith and shown themselves to be down-to-earth, wholesome teens.
It appears to be a neck-and-neck race to a country music deal.
Suddeth has been considered a front-runner since "Idol" judge Steven Tyler dubbed her "the one" at last summer's Nashville auditions. Judge Randy Jackson has compared her to Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, former "Idol" winners who are the top two in CD sales and digital downloads among all winners on the show.
Jim Cantiello of MTV News believes Suddeth can take this season.
"She's everything 'Idol' is looking for. ... She has stage presence, a powerful voice, and she has a unique ability to live somewhere in between R&B, pop and country," he posted on MTV's website.
Huffington Post columnist Scott Barry Kaufman said Suddeth has been cast in the role of "American sweetheart." Record executive Jimmy Iovine's compliment last week on her blue gown, which he compared to a beautiful prom dress, lends some credibility to that theory.
Both singers have been portrayed through careful editing as caring young people.
McCreery gave a televised shout-out to his grandma in one episode and cried with emotion at his homecoming last week.
"Idol" videos have captured Suddeth in embarrassing, but relatable, moments (falling down the staircase of the "Idol" mansion, pantyhose-rip quick-fix backstage) to emotional scenes viewing tornado devastation on her homecoming a couple of weeks ago.
"If she would sing 'Georgia On My Mind' this week, she'd put it away," e-mailed one local viewer, Judie Morton.
Win or lose, both singers are assured a record deal, as history has proven with previous winners and runners-up.
"'American Idol' has really done well with country artists," said Bill "Dex" Poindexter, music director and afternoon show co-host on Chattanooga's WUSY-FM, a country station.
"Carrie Underwood is a country superstar. Kellie Pickler, who didn't win, has done extremely well. Josh Gracin, Phil Stacey, Danny Gokey have all had some degree of success in Nashville," he said.
But, Poindexter cautions, a win doesn't guarantee platinum sales in country music.
"Whoever wins 'American Idol,' that's wonderful. But it's not going to mean a lot in Nashville unless your record is great. Country is America's music, music from the heart," he explained.
"Country music fans won't play your record just because you won 'American Idol'; you'd better put out a great record."
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
MARK KENNEDY: According to various oddsmakers, Rossville's Lauren Alaina Suddeth is something of a long shot to win "American Idol." To boil it down, the bookmakers think she has about a one-in-three chance of winning. By definition, that means Scotty McCreery, the other finalist, has a two-in-three shot of winning. Here's the thing: It doesn't really matter. This is likely to be an amicable week on "Idol," without the built-in tension of previous years. Viewers will be treated to performances by two supremely talented, middle-America kids, both of whom are likely to have long, country-music careers. My advice to viewers is sit back and enjoy.
• Prediction: McCreery wins "Idol." Later, in the big world, Suddeth wins the first CMA award of many for both singers.
CLINT COOPER: If my favorite, James Durbin, can't win - and since he finished fourth, he can't - America will have a difficult choice in picking its favorite countrified American Idol. Both Lauren and Scotty seem to be good, clean-cut, down-to-earth teenagers, both sing well and both probably have good shots to make it - at least make a dent - in Nashville. It will be a pleasure to watch them compete, and it will be a shame one will have to finish second. Before the season, viewers - including me - were ready to abandon the show after it lost its bankable star, Simon Cowell, and seemed on a several-year slide into mediocrity. This year's talent and an interesting, if far less critical, panel of judges made the show worth watching again.
• Prediction: My heart goes with the hometown girl, and my head goes with Scotty. Scotty wins in a closer-than-expected finish.
SUSAN PIERCE: My head tells me Scotty McCreery is a lock; my heart wants the hometown favorite to win.
How can you not root for a guy like this: MTV reports that after last Wednesday's results show, Lauren and Scotty joined Ryan Seacrest backstage for the coin flip to see who would sing first tonight.
Scotty won ... but he deferred to Lauren and let her choose. What a Southern gentleman! She, naturally, chose to sing last, a savvy move that means her voice is the last viewers will hear before voting.
He has been the front-runner all season, and I like to listen to him. But he's becoming a one-trick pony as far as his vocal range, while she has the potential to become so much more.
• Prediction: The blonde dark horse wins. Lauren becomes the first woman in four years to wear the "Idol" crown.
KAREN NAZOR HILL: Having been one of the reporters to cover "American Idol" since its beginning, I can say in all honesty that this has been, by far, the most interesting season. To have a hometown girl slide into the finals is phenomenal. There were times I didn't think Lauren Alaina was mature enough to handle the pressure, but in the last few weeks she has stepped up to the plate.
My admiration for Lauren and Scotty skyrocketed when I saw their hometown videos that aired last week. Scotty's emotional visit home was equally as compelling as Lauren's. When Lauren visited the tornado-devastated Ringgold, she had me in tears.
• Prediction: I'm going for the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School sophomore. I think she has more versatility in her voice and will be able to reach a wider audience than Scotty.
LISA DENTON: I can't remember when "Idol's" final two singers have been so equally paired in terms of likability and talent. No matter how the voting goes, this year's competition is a win-win situation for Scotty and Lauren, laying out his-and-hers steppingstones into country music careers.
I'll be glad when the cameras are off and they have a little time to actually relax and rediscover the joy in singing. Trying to make sense of the judges' often conflicting comments, as well as those of producer Jimmy Iovine and the various guest mentors, was a little like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl for the audience, so I can only imagine how disorienting it was for the singers.
• Prediction: My heart's with Lauren, who has more crossover appeal and voice potential that has yet to be tapped. But winning "American Idol" comes down to demographics, and the screaming teen queens who make up a vast share of voters will crown Scotty their king.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.
Contact Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.
Contact Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.