Pop Culture

'American Idol' goes country for its big finale

If you are a fan of teenage country singers, season 10 of “American Idol” is exactly what you ordered.

Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina got most of the 95 million votes cast on Wednesday, sending Haley Reinhart home in third place. The 17-year-old McCreery and 16-year-old Alaina are the youngest pair of finalists in “Idol” history, and Alaina would have been out of luck entirely had the show not lowered the age limit this year, as she just was 15 when she auditioned.

Reinhart looked stunned by the ouster, but rebounded to exit with a rousing performance of “Bennie and the Jets.” It was one of her best performances of the year, illustrating the performing skills that helped her bounce back from a slow start to fall just short of the goal. Ultimately, she just ran out of time to make up enough ground to catch the favorites.

As a result, the voters bought themselves a finale featuring two excellent country voices, and both singers could wind up Nashville fixtures for a long time. As measured by record sales, given their age and potential, they’ve got a shot to be among the most successful “Idol” finalists ever.

But neither has the stage presence of Reinhart or fourth-place finisher James Durbin. The result for viewers? A duller performance episode Tuesday night.

Heading home
This was the episode where audiences saw the footage of the hometown visits, which went pretty much the same as they go every year: trips back to high school, cheering throngs of tweens, contestants overwhelmed with emotion ... the usual script.

Reinhart was the funniest of the three, trying to get Aaron the security guy to cry while she struggled to avoid doing the same. She failed in both missions, though she did get him some quality airtime both in the clips and onstage. Love her or hate her, Reinhart knows how to work both a crowd and the camera.

McCreery’s visit had the best and most appropriate cameo, as Josh Turner joined him onstage for his hometown concert in North Carolina. A country singer known for having a deep voice, Turner’s the man behind “Your Man.” It’s a tune most of the audience knows because of the “Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low” lyrics that McCreery sang at auditions and that fans have heard about a million times since. Based on the attention McCreery has given that song while on the show, the appearance was the least Turner could do.

Alaina’s trip was the most sobering. In between the cheering crowds, she drove past the tornado wreckage in her home state of Georgia and visited with some who survived the storms. If nothing else, it reminded everyone of the devastation that occurred an eternity ago when measured by the modern news cycle.

Also, as was pointed out to me on Twitter, none of the contestants were wearing seat belts. Sure, those stretch limos aren’t going very fast, but will nobody think of the children?!

Who booked these guys?
Of the two live acts on Thursday, one was a no-brainer. It’s not a reality show if Nicole Scherzinger doesn’t make an appearance, so she showed up with 50 Cent to plug her new single, “Right There.” If you didn’t like it, too bad. You’ll be seeing her every week this fall as one of the hosts on Simon Cowell’s “X Factor.”

Il Volo also performed, which is only natural because nothing says “American Idol” like a trio of dudes singing in Italian.