Scotty and Lauren fight to gain support of their fans -- but only one has the support of the Idol machine.
Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup
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Earlier in the season, Randy Jackson told Lauren Alaina that the young contestant reminded him of a Carrie Underwood-Kelly Clarkson hybrid. And weeks later, during Tuesday night’s finale, Idol did its darndest to remind us of this very comparison. Lauren sings a Carrie song! Carrie chooses a song for Lauren! Random precious footage of Carrie (and David Cook, but strangely, no other Idol winners) as a youngster just prior to precious footage of Lauren as a child! Vocal troubles, just like Kelly during season 1’s finale! The comparison to the season 4 winner was so subliminal, I found myself several times accidentally typing “Carrie” in my notes instead of “Lauren.” How to explain the sudden urge to watch Minute To Win It and buy a Filet-O-Fish — that I can’t quite explain.

But it makes sense for Idol producers to push a Lauren win for season 10. After all, we’re looking at a perfect reality show storyline here: Sweet Southern Belle who dreamed of winning Idol as a child grows up to nab the title of our American Idol — but only after overcoming a health struggle that almost pushed her out of the competition. That’s right: Just prior to the show, rumors hit the Web claiming that Haley would replace an ailing Lauren. (Oh, what a tease!) But according to Idol‘s resident doctor, after Lauren sprained a vocal cord while pushing her voice in rehearsals, she was deemed healthy enough to compete.

NEXT: Manipulation makes it happen!

I’d be more impressed if it wasn’t such a manipulative move by the producers: Announcing her ailment and brandishing the Idol doctor in front of TV watchers immediately transformed Lauren into the Kerri Strug of Idol: She may land on one leg, but the fact that she landed at all is a victory worthy of a Wheaties box. Add onto that a clearly pre-planned — and Ryan Seacrest-escorted! — trip into the audience to hug her mother during her final number, and we’ve got a producer-approved winner on our hands. (More on that ridiculata later.) Sorry Scotty — Never mind that you arguably delivered many more solid performances throughout the course of season 10. Nigel Lythgoe wants his mini-Carrie Underwood storyline to come true — and I’d be shocked if Lauren doesn’t get her happily ever after under a confetti shower come Wednesday night.

But let’s delve into the performances. (Also, Tuesday night’s Idol has so hypnotized me into thinking of nothing but killing the prime minister of Malaysia Lauren Underwood, that I forgot to mention that your regular recapper Annie Barrett is pre-occupied on Dancing With the Stars‘ Planet Mirrorballus. She’ll return to Planet Whatever Produced Randy’s Jacket tomorrow.)

Scotty: Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone”

For his favorite song of the competition, Scotty chose the uptempo “Gone” — and, even though I typically groan watching contestants perform numbers we’ve seen from them before, the performance somehow felt different from what he delivered previously in the season. Perhaps that’s because, appropriately enough, “Gone” was Scotty’s goofy demeanor. “Gone” was his burrito-microphone habit. What showed up instead was a professional sense of passion we hadn’t seen from the contestant. Though the judges’ panel regularly claimed throughout the season that they felt they had traveled from the Idol stage to a Scotty-helmed concert, this was the first time I actually felt as though the contestant was successfully playing the crowd. Just like his final gesture, Scotty hit the song out of the park.

NEXT: Scotty tries to go Strait to the top

Lauren: Carrie Underwood’s “Flat On The Floor”

If I were Lauren, I’d choose a different stylist. But I also would have selected a song like “The Climb” or “Anyway” — two previous performances that reminded viewers that she was more than a human version of a cute, giggly Strawberry Shortcake. Instead, she chose the Carrie Underwood hit, and almost made the song literal when she took a small tumble at the top of Idol‘s staircase. Her vocal was by no means impressive or out-of-the-ordinary, but Jennifer and Randy opted to give her a standing ovation anyway. Why? I suspect it’s because her voice didn’t pull a Brian Dunkleman and disappear from the Idol stage. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel standing ovations are best saved for undeniably perfect performances. But I also think that human beings aren’t orange, and yet, Ryan Seacrest claims to be one. So what do I know?

Scotty: George Strait’s “Check Yes Or No”

Who would have thought that country star — and Scotty idolStrait would have better song choice instincts than Idol‘s own Jimmy Iovine? Sure, choosing the schoolyard-inspired “Check Yes Or No” was an opportunity for Strait to shamelessly promote himself, but it also was a wise choice for a schoolkid like Scotty. Not only does it appeal to young girls on the monkey bars and merry go-rounds eager for a go-round with the Idol, but it also brings out the inner-child of some of us older Idol fans. (If only the song had included a reference to Gak and Surge, I’d be sold.) Unfortunately, voters would have been more likely to check yes to this performance had it been delivered during, say, Top 7 week. But we’re talking about the American Idol finals here. We want to see a number worthy of the Country Music Awards, not the American Country Awards. And perhaps that’s why Randy, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler awarded Round 2 to Lauren over Scotty, but not before Randy proved his sage critiquing skills by saying to America about our Top 2, “These are the two that you chose.” Thank you, Randy! Care to follow that up with another comment? “They’re both in it to win it!” I’m fairly certain my Furby has a larger vocabulary than Randy.

NEXT: Lauren goes walkin’ in “Memphis”

Lauren: Pam Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis”

Maybe it was Memphis, but, more likely, maybe it was Lauren’s Toddlers & Tiaras get-up that had me completely distracted from her performance at first. Upstaging J.Lo — who, after tonight’s show, will return to the lake until Arthur comes to claim Excalibur — Lauren channeled one of those cupcake dolls from the 1990s with an outfit that almost led me to ignore her surprisingly tasty vocals on the song. But I have to give credit where credit’s due: Perhaps she was driven to impress her idol — Underwood, who chose the song for Lauren — but Lauren rocked that number. But why compliment her vocals when, like Steven, you can claim Lauren out-performed Scotty, but “only because she’s prettier than you are.” Just what every 16-year-old girl wants to hear: A 60-year-old musician with enough sense to wear feathers in his hair telling you that you’re beautiful, instead of critiquing your performance. Just like when the homeless man down the street says I look like a nice girl, but, nevertheless, will surely one day deliver the spawn of Satan. Yes, but what about my outfit?

Scotty: “I Love You This Big”

Poor Scotty. Not only was he forced to fight a formidable opponent (producer pimping) on Tuesday night, but he was also handed an original song oddly titled “I Love You This Big.” It’s an adorable title… if it was delivered by your illiterate 3-year-old cousin. And the way Scotty outstretched his arms during the chorus only served to remind us of that same 3-year-old who thinks it’s cute to demand that you hug them over and over and over again when you just want to read your damn Nicholas Sparks novel in peace, and why the hell am I reading a Nicholas Sparks novel, this metaphor is terrible. Anyway. Perhaps I just have no soul. Scotty, I really do love you this much, but here’s hoping your upcoming album boasts more mature singles than this.

NEXT: Moms — and Idol‘s producers — know best

Lauren: “Like My Mother Does”

Okay, fellow Idol fans, I apologize in advance, because even thinking about this number makes me — oh, god, it’s happening! My arms… they’re getting bigger! I’m turning green! I’ve burst my shirt open, yet somehow my jeans have turned into a stylish pair of perfect thigh-hugging capris! Arrrghhhh, you made my inner Hulk angry, Idol! And I really don’t like it when Idol makes me angry. It’s bad enough that the producers handed Lauren a number that would appeal to every speed-dialing mother and grandmother out there, but to choreograph a hug between Lauren and her mom? I haven’t felt this manipulated since Pepsi lured me into drinking the diesel-flavored Pepsi Spice through adorable holiday imagery! Had the moment been impromptu, it would have been sweet and tear-worthy. But producers did not even try to hide the fact that it was planned: By allowing Ryan to escort Lauren to her mother’s seat, Idol proved that Lauren was the series’ golden child. Honestly, why even have a show tomorrow? After all, Randy called the competition for Lauren, Jennifer Lopez told Lauren she may have the win in the bag, and Steven said something that was likely worthless, but I couldn’t even listen because of my ire. Idol, by all means, attempt to persuade us to drink Coke, drive a Ford Focus, and buy 500 copies of People‘s Most Beautiful issue. But, please, let your contestants persuade us to vote through their vocals. Why can’t this be a fair fight?

Indeed, Lauren may well turn out to be the next Carrie. But must we establish that now? No one should put Lauren’s baby in the Carrie Underwood corner! (That is a lot of pressure to put on the Top 2 finisher.) But now it’s time to throw it out to you, fellow Idol fans. What did you think of Idol‘s “youngest finale match-up ever”? Are you feeling as manipulated as I am? Does Scotty even have a chance? Is Lauren the next Carrie Underwood? Did David Cook’s performance of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” make you miss season 7? And, finally, do you fear for our country, based on Taio Cruz’s America-written song that boasted the inspired lyric “I’m going to be positive,” sung over and over again? (What was the song about again? I’m not positive I picked up the message.)

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

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