First things first: Phew.
Barely an hour after word came from the set that Lauren Alaina had lost her voice and might not be able to sing on American Idol tonight, the spunky 16-year-old was all glammed up and seemingly good to go in time for her three-round battle against fellow finalist Scotty McCreery.
"I'm here, I'm ready to sing and I'm fine, don't worry about it," she cheerfully told the crowd at L.A.'s Nokia Theatre.
On with the show, then!
With a tuxedoed Ryan Seacrest moving things along at a rapid clip, Scotty and Lauren came out firing in round one, each one picking a favorite song from earlier in the singing competition.
Scotty, 17, worked the crowd with Montgomery Gentry's "Gone," and then Lauren proceeded to demonstrate just how easily she could have blown a vocal cord earlier in the day with a barn-raising rendition of Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor."
Both fun, neither one an earth-shattering moment in Idol history.
Then it was on to round two, where George Strait chose his own "Check Yes or No" (as in, "Dear girl in the next row, do you like me? Check yes or no") for young Scotty. Seconds later, that voice that always belies the North Carolina kid's 17 years was booming from the stage. It was an extremely crowd-pleasing performance, concert-ready as always.
Underwood, meanwhile, picked "Maybe It Was Memphis" for Lauren and, whatever may have been going on with her voice, it was working for her. A little bit husky, a little bit teary and a lot bit country, Lauren sounded better than ever—perhaps because she had absolutely nothing left to lose, not even her voice, at this point.
Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson both gave the edge to Scotty in round one and Lauren in round two, but Steven Tyler hilariously gave both to Lauren—"because she's prettier than you," the proud hound dog explained to Scotty.
Finally, in round three, Scotty and Lauren performed the journey-celebrating songs that will be their respective singles should one or the other win.
Producer Jimmy Iovine tasked Scotty with "I Love You This Big," a romantic ballad that gave the kid a good excuse to wear a suit and play leading man. The "this big" part of the chorus came off a little flat, but that was due more to the lyrics (a tad cheesy, we must say) than Scotty's voice, which helped the song along.
Lauren's song was called "Like My Mother Does" (it doesn't get more country than that, does it?) and, while it was even cheesier than Scotty's tune, Lauren was able to elevate the chorus into more than the sum of its mother-praising parts.
Most importantly, Lauren's mom, who's been in the audience every week, absolutely loved it.
"I feel great. My mom is crying, though," Lauren noted. "But she's always beautiful, no matter what."
"This is a very tight race tonight, but Lauren, with that song, you may have just won," J.Lo said, though ultimately she felt the race was too close to call. Randy gave the round-three edge to Lauren, and Steven—no shocker here—said, "Sorry, Scotty, Lauren gets it hands down."
But none of this matters. The only thing that counts now is America's votes, and we imagine more than 100 million will pour in tonight. The winner of the 10th season of American Idol will be crowned tomorrow night at the end of the two-hour finale.