Unexpectedly, this week’s American Idol finale features not one but two young singers who will be unleashed on the country music world in the coming months. Perhaps because they represent different styles of country music, they appear not to have split the “country” vote getting to the final two. I mentioned deep voiced 17-year-old Scotty McCreery from North Carolina earlier this year, commenting on his similarity to Josh Turner, but at that point 16-year-old Georgia girl Lauren Alaina had managed to fly under my radar. She is a pop-country singer, with a voice not unreminiscent of a young Faith Hill. Both have selected a number of country songs to perform over the past weeks, and both are likely to head to Nashville once the show is over.
To be perfectly honest, both teenagers seem to have some raw talent but might have been better had they spent a few years honing their vocal and performance skills. Scotty is understood to be the front-runner, regularly eliciting deafening screams from young girls in the Idol audience, and he has by far the more confident polished approach, with an ease on stage which belies his youth and inexperience. Idol judge Randy Jackson even made some rather implausible comparisons to Garth Brooks last week. His poise and confidence will stand him in good stead whether his career takes him to superstardom or if he crashes and burns when out of the Idol bubble.
Back in April I speculated as to whether Scotty’s debut performance would involve “triumph or disaster”. I must confess that even after a dozen weeks of competition, I’m still on the fence. His voice certainly rivals Josh Turner’s in its range, but it signally lacks Turner’s resonance and richness of tone. I have also noticed that when he strays out of the most comfortable part of his range, his tone develops a slightly foghorn quality which is not mellifluous. Canny song choices when he is picking songs to record will be vital if he is to make a record I personally will like. And he is still only 17 – his voice may have room to develop and grow.
I want to root for Scotty, though, just because he is the most traditionally inclined of any real contender who has ever been on American Idol. Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, who has promised her upcoming third album will offer us some more traditional country, was never likely to win and ended up in sixth place, noted more for her dizzy blonde persona and dramatic family background than her singing.
Lauren, who was an early judges’ favorite, appears to have lost some confidence over the course of the show, and has the general demeanour and maturity level one would expect from a high school girl. This is not a criticism – merely an observation, and she will, in due course, grow up. I am inclined to think her voice may possibly have more potential than Scotty’s, as although she has shown some technical deficiencies – issues with her breath control and an occasional tendency to oversing in the manner of Carrie Underwood – she has a very nice underlying tone. Her youth makes her appear to be more malleable by producers and label executives, and her personal musical taste also leans very much pop-country, so I would be less likely to want to buy her post-Idol work.
Both of the youngsters are likely to sign record deals with one of the labels in the Universal Music Group, and I would expect Mercury or MCA Nashville the most likely homes for them. That brings in an additional complicating factor for Scotty McCreery, as his own idol Josh Turner is already on MCA. Regardless of the results of the show, it could be interesting to see what happens with the careers of the two finalists. It’s UMG’s first year in association with Idol. When the Sony group signed artists from Idol, if they didn’t meet with immediate success they were soon disposed of (Kristy Lee Cook, for instance, now signed to Broken Bow). They have been going slower with last year’s third placer Casey James, who has still not released anything. Will UMG want instant returns, or would they have the patience to emulate what RCA did with Nashville Star’s fourth season champion Chris Young or Columbia did with the same show’s Miranda Lambert, namely give these youngsters time after their reality show runs to mature and develop?
Scotty and Lauren duet on ‘I Told You So’: