The 10th season of “American Idol” has had enough memorable moments to revitalize the Fox franchise at a crucial time in its history. New judges, a talented group of finalists and unpredictable outcomes have made this one of the most entertaining seasons in its decade-long run. Here are 10 of the highlights heading into the finale.
1. Welcome to ‘Idol,’ Steven Tyler!
The Aerosmith frontman was the incoming judge who raised a lot of eyebrows before the season even began. Nobody really knew what he had to offer or how he would react when evaluating contestants. But he didn’t take long to show what he’d contribute: a generally positive and rarely filtered irreverence that marked a huge change from the ultra-serious foursome of judges a year ago.
When he greeted Scotty McCreery’s audition with “Hellfire, save matches, f--- a duck and see what hatches,” it made no sense and caused everyone — including the other judges — to get that “what in the heck just happened?” expression. It was also humorous, supportive and fun, which accurately describes what Tyler has been all season — Paula Abdul with messier hair, a fouler mouth and a more colorful wardrobe.
2. ‘Baby lock the door ...’
If there’s one song that McCreery is known for, it’s Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” but it’s mostly just the one phrase. “Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low” was our introduction to the McCreery baritone at his first audition, and he’s been turning his voice down low ever since.
Now we’ve heard him sing those lyrics about a thousand times, thanks to the ubiquitous footage of that audition and his use of it again in Hollywood. Though it did not impress Jordan Dorsey when McCreery was looking for friends on group-sing day, the unexpected sound of that voice coming out of that face is a big reason why McCreery is in the finale.
3. Meeting Lauren Alaina
The 16-year-old was a beneficiary of the decision to lower the age limit for auditioners to 15, and the first impression she offered was one of precocious confidence. The judges brought her family in to watch her sing, and she belted out “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Then she threw it to Steven Tyler, who took the baton ... and liked what he had heard.
“I think we found the one today, We found it. Oh yes we did,” Tyler said after those Nashville auditions.
We’ll soon find out if he was correct.
4. Burying Thia Megia — or not
We’ve seen hints of the exasperating tasks of the “Idol” vocal coaches in the past, but by and large they’ve been portrayed as gentle helpers. Peggi Blu, on the other hand, showed the motivational stylings of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese when she was unhappy at Thia Megia’s preparation for her performance in Las Vegas.
“Guess what. You’re gonna die on stage in front of all those people,” Blu told the 15-year-old. “I’m going to be laying in my bed watching you just croak.
“Bury her a-- onstage. Stomp right down on her tongue,” Blu then told a dumbfounded Melinda Ademi, who was sharing the stage with Megia. “I think you (Megia) don’t know what you’re doing. Make me a liar. Show me that you know. And I will eat crow. Happily. I will put salt on it and swallow it.”
Megia made the final 13. No word on how that crow tasted.
5. The unkindest cut
Chris Medina was one of the inspirational audition stories that “American Idol” finds every year. His fiancée Juliana Ramos suffered brain damage in a car accident and is confined to a wheelchair, but Medina cares for her and says she is his inspiration. The judges met her at his audition, which made an impression on both them and her.
“If you ask (Juliana) now what was the best time in your life, she’ll tell you Steven Tyler kissed me on the cheek, and I got to shake J.Lo’s hand, and I got to meet Randy Jackson,” Medina said while awaiting his semifinal verdict.
Unfortunately, that verdict wasn’t good. Medina did not make the final 24, and Jennifer Lopez broke down in tears after giving him the news and watching him leave the room. “I just don’t feel like I told him in the right way ... I felt so bad,” she said. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” But clearly she did want to keep doing it, since she’s still filling that seat in the finale.
6. The Hulkster takes the stage
Professional wrestling, and in particular the legendary Hulk Hogan, had a following in the “Idol” house this season. James Durbin was a particularly big fan, with Paul McDonald another aficionado.
So when Ryan Seacrest called the two singers onstage during the elimination episode and told them they were both in trouble only to have Hogan emerge, the instant 180-degree change of expression on Durbin’s face was priceless. And not only did Durbin get Hogan’s ripped shirt as a souvenir, the audience got to watch the Hulkster shove Ryan into the crowd.
Well, “shove.” This was, after all, both pro wrestling and “American Idol.”
7. Spending the save early
The judges’ save is always memorable, but it was particularly notable in season 10 because of how early they used it and the scene that ensued.
Casey Abrams was the biggest personality on “Idol” this season, as well as its most unique voice and irreverent character. Oh, and he also had health issues early in the competition that sent him to the hospital twice. So when the judges used their save on him three weeks into the finals and he collapsed in relief and shock onstage, there was the added drama of wondering whether paramedics would have to be called.
Abrams was shocked, he said, because he never expected the save to be used so early. That use would prove to be significant a couple of weeks later.
8. The stunning exit of Pia Toscano
Pia Toscano was one of the early favorites, with the only minor criticism from the judges focusing on her reliance on ballads. She went up-tempo one time, singing “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the voters showed they disagreed with the judges by sending her home. And those judges were not happy. “I’m shocked. I’m angry. I don’t even know what to say,” J.Lo fumed.
“I’m with Jennifer. We’re all in shock. I’m gutted. You’re one of the best singers in this. I’m never upset on this show, but this makes me mad. Really mad,” Randy chimed in.
That’s what happens when you blow the save in March. But considering the buzz that surrounded Toscano following her exit, odds are good it won’t end her chance at stardom.
9. Reinhart loses her cool
Criticism was usually hard to find this season, but Haley Reinhart got negative feedback more than most. And on April 28, she finally lost patience.
On that results episode, Jimmy Iovine offered his impression of each of the contestants. For Reinhart, his opinion was, “As an artist, Haley’s problem is that she really doesn’t know who she is yet. My prediction is that the audience is getting wind tonight. And if she goes home tonight it will be because of that.”
To which the exasperated Reinhart responded with an expletive that put the Fox censors to work. And then she went on to stick around. She knows what she is now — this season’s third-place finisher.
10. So much for the metal revival
Durbin was one of the livelier performers to take the stage this season, and when he exited in early May to finish in fourth place, the show was a little bit duller because of his absence.
“I did so much stuff that’s never been done on this show before,” Durbin said as he exited. “In my mind, I did what I came here to do and that is to give metal a chance.”
Consider the lack of metal on the airwaves these days. The fact that he finished in fourth with that kind of strategy says a lot about both his talent and fan appeal.
Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com. Follow him on Twitter as he live tweets each episode. Also, join him on May 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET to chat about the finale results.