On Thursday, America, or at least the America that votes on ‘American Idol,’ decided it was time for an all-country ‘Idol’ finale. This is the first time two pure country singers have made the finale. In fact, it is only the second time a bonafide country singer has been in the finals, the first, of course, being Carrie Underwood, who just surpassed Kelly Clarkson as the highest selling Idol alum.
Lauren, 16, and Scotty, 17, are also the youngest pair to reach the Top 2, Lauren having been 15 at the time of her initial audition. They seem so in tune with one another, they could be brother and sister (or boyfriend and girlfriend, but let’s not go there).
So how did we get here? From early in this season, it really looked as though, once again, males would predominate. James Durbin seemed unstoppable and from mid-season, looked like a lock for the finals. Scotty started strong and never wavered. A Scotty/James finale seemed to be a given.
This assumption was based on historical data. Out of nine completed seasons, five winners have been male. The last three winners have been males, often dubbed “white guys with guitars.” Further, in the past three seasons, only one female, Crystal Bowersox, has made the Top 2. Prior to Season 7, at least one female made the Top 2 in every season except for the second one (Ruben/Clay).
The most widely accepted explanation for the predominance of male winners in the past three years is that they appeal to the most important of the show’s core demographic – tweens and young teens! Young girls have always fallen hard for the “cute guys” and voted their little fingers off for them. The producers know this. What makes young girls such a fierce voting faction is that they are the most up to date technologically and can utilize multiple voting interface tools. These tweens and teens phone, text, and vote online all at the same time.
James appealed more to older women and other less organized voting blocs. When it came right down to it, their votes could not offset the technological wizardry of the tween/teen votes. All things considered, even if James had made the Top 2, he probably would not have won.
Looking back, this explanation can also be applied to Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox, both of whom seemed to have an edge approaching the finale, but ultimately lost to a more generic, non-threatening individual. David Archuleta was very popular with the teens, but lost because David Cook was less polarizing and picked up votes from across the spectrum. I suspect this one was close, however.
With James out of the picture and two girls remaining, obviously, the male/male trend was broken. A girl was going to the finals. Haley was a real dark horse in the competition, barely surviving elimination early on, but coming on very strong in the last weeks. She was driven and determined, reminding me a bit of Kimberley Locke who gave Ruben and Clay a run for their money heading towards the Season 2 finale. But Haley may have been too feisty, projecting an air of over-confidence that turned the tween/teens off. Lauren, on the other hand, never lost her "golly gee" attitude and remained humbled and down-to-earth. She appealed to young girls in that she’s not picture-perfect. She’s a little chunky and awkward, a bit unsure of herself, and appropriately silly. Girls can see themselves in Lauren and supported her for that reason. In many ways, she has the same appeal as Kelly Clarkson.
So how did we get down to two country singers in the finale? It's never happened before, but remember, the majority of 'Idol' winners have been from the South (Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Taylor, and Kris). Over the years, country and country-rock singers have gone deep into the competition as well, and have had thriving careers (Josh Gracin, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington to name a few).
Southern viewers have always supported their own and are generally more zealous when it comes to voting. It's just the way it is.And, considering that country music came out of the south, so it was only a matter of time before this genre dominated 'Idol.' With two country singers in contention, stronger regional support plus the appeal of country music resulted an all-country finale. It was inevitable.
In the end, I believe Scotty will win this, and while we'll never know the voting results, I think it will be a landslide. Lauren got to the finals by default. Once James was gone, the competition was essentially over for a lot of viewers, and while people will certainly watch, the results will be utterly anti-climactic. I could be wrong, of course, I've been wrong more times this season than I've been right!
The one-hour performance show is Tuesday this week, with the two-hour (plus) results on Wednesday. Both shows start at 8 p.m. EDT.