May 18, 2011: Scotty McReery and ? Will Square Off on the Final Night of ‘American Idol’ (May 23, 2011)

Fox, Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 8 PM (ET) The Final Three contestants on “American Idol” sang three songs apiece on May 18, 2011, and the person whose songs I liked best were those sung by Haley Reinhart. Full disclosure requires that I say that Haley is from Wheeling, Illinois (Scotty is from Garner, Texas, and Lauren Alaina from a small town in Georgia). Since I live in Illinois, I may be prejudiced, but I am definitely in awe of the talent demonstrated this year by many contestants. [My personal favorites were Casey Abrams and Pia Toscano, and I was also seriously bummed to see James Durbin get cut.]

I also will admit that I am not a C&W fan (despite a daughter who lives in Nashville and used to work for Taylor Swift.) Therefore, the country and western-tinged renderings of both Scotty McReery and Lauren Alaina were not my favorite song selections, although all the contestants sang well. I’m by no means a snob about this, and have spent hard-earned cash for the likes of Dolly Parton and/or Taylor Swift, in concert, but, overall, I have to root for the Illinois girl who bravely sang Led Zeppelin this night. It’s in my musical genes.

So forgive me for those preferences and give me credit for sharing them openly, so you know where I’m coming from, musically-speaking. Do I have any musical background? Why, yes, yes I do. I play four instruments, (some of them well) and sang throughout high school and college in a Big Ten school showtunes group that was used as a recruitment group by the University in snagging plum football prospects. It was considered quite a “coup” to be selected for the group. We traveled in style with changes of onstage outfits, a combo to back us up and assistance in securing contact lenses (if we needed them) , all in the interest of looking better onstage. So I’ve probably got as much credibility as Ellen DeGeneres, and I’m not even a judge, except from the comfort of my armchair at home, where I am often wrong in picking the ultimate winner.

Two annoying things: Randy Jackson’s always saying, “_________is in it to win it!” and Jennifer Lopez telling various contestants, “You have the most beautiful tone of any contestant.” I’ve now heard this remark or a variant of it from J-Lo’s lips for Stefano Langano, Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina, plus, I’m sure, a few I’ve forgotten. I’d like to see the trio give up repeating these old and meaningless (and seemingly hypocritical) comments as the final selection looms. Steven Tyler can keep up the oddly humorous outbursts, however, as it has added immeasurably to the show’s appeal this season.

A few observations on tonight’s show:

I have said, since Day One, that Lauren Alaina, during the audition where she sang so beautifully with Steven Tyler (and was only fifteen at the time) was a “comer” and should have a real shot. She certainly has proven that to be accurate. I have also pronounced Scotty McReery to be “bulletproof” throughout the competition. Singing in his deep, deep voice with the manners and demeanor of a wholesome Southern boy, (straight from bagging groceries in Garner, Texas), Scotty has had a following ever since he apologized on air for not standing up to the bullying of Jaycee Badeaux during group night in Hollywood when “June Bug” decided that Jaycee could not remain in his group. It probably doesn’t hurt that each and every week Scotty fingers a cross hanging around his neck and looked askance at the scantily clad Lady Gaga. His voice (as with the others) is special, and so is he.

Who looks most like a star? I’d have to go with Haley, again. Lauren’s stylist has made her look middle-aged and dowdy and put her in creations that call attention to her rather prominent derriere. Unless she is trying to bond with Jennifer Lopez, this has not been a good idea. The blue strapless number that Lauren wore tonight while singing “I Hope You Dance” looked like it was straight out of the fifties, and the white sparkly boots with the red-and-white billowing thing that emphasized her somewhat generous tush: not good.

Lauren has great potential in this department, however. Just look at the changes in Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Hudson and you will understand that Lauren’s 16-year-old shape and wardrobe would soon give way to something different. It’s just a shame that it didn’t give way at any time during this competition, because she has sounded as good as any contestant, but not looked as good as many of the female contestants. The best outfit, for me, was the night she sang “I’m evil” and even that black sparkly outfit with padded shoulders looked too “mature” for a girl just turned sweet sixteen.

At least Scotty McReery has kept the emphasis on blue jeans and plaid shirts, which seems likely to be his normal attire. For Scotty, it works. He comes off as “down home” and genuine and real. That can’t hurt with the older (or younger) voters at home. It is this quality of Scotty’s that I think may propel him to the coveted top spot, but this year it is definitely a horse race.

Scotty McReery

Observations on Scotty all along have been that he seems genuine, has a Johnny Cash or Tennessee Ernie Ford quality in his extremely low vocal range, and tonight his three songs (“Amazed” by Lone Star; “Are You Gonna’ Kiss Me or Not?” by Thompson Square and Kenny Rogers ‘”While You Were Sleeping) were all fine. Scotty sticks close to the C&W formula that has served him well. Having said that, he does not use his body as well as Haley Reinhart onstage, and neither does Lauren Alaina. Onstage, Haley outshone both of her competitors, and the judges’ panel even declared that “Round one went to Haley.” However, Scotty McReery is seemingly bulletproof. He has little old MEN voting for him, I’m told, and he certainly has tweeny-bopper girls hoping he’ll win.

Haley Reinhart

Haley sang “Rihanna,” Alanis Morrissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know” off her “Jagged Little Pill” album and a Led Zeppelin song, “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The girl has chutzpah and looked great. Randy called her “Fearless” and she as pronounced “a rock star.” She was amazing doing “You Oughta’ Know.” (and “House of the Rising Sun” on another night). She even fell down in those killer heels but recovered without missing a beat. [You go, girl!] Round one, said the judges, to Haley.Haley’s outfits have generally been the best of the lot since Pia’s departure, (with the exception of the one night she wore her hair up), and she looks like a star.

Lauren Alaina

Also in the country camp is Lauren Alaina, who apparently has inherited Dolly Parton’s old stylist. Her songs were Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” “If I Die Young” by Perry and (my favorite), LeeAnn Rimes’ “I Hope You Dance.” She has a beautiful voice and looks just like her mother. She also seems very young because she IS very young. Her Southern drawl (Georgia girl) is bubbly and infectious. Randy felt that Lauren “won Round 3.”

A comment about the fact that the final selection will take place next week at a different time. Rather than Wednesday and Thursday, the final winner will be chosen from the last two standing on Wednesday night, while I’m attending the BEA in New York City. (Good luck to me in getting to see this.) I don’t feel confident enough to predict, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that it will be “boy vs. girl” in the Final round.