Every Wednesday night since she was 12, Lauren Alaina Suddeth belted out a two-hour set at a restaurant just across the Tennessee border from her hometown of Rossville, Ga.
She’d roll through “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” but her big number was Miranda Lambert’s “Famous in a Small Town.” That song doesn’t describe the 16-year-old “American Idol” finalist anymore after she charmed viewers with her bright smile and powerful voice.
Now Suddeth faces 17-year-old Scotty McCreery of Garner, N.C., on Tuesday night for a final performance. A winner will be crowned on Wednesday.
The bubbly Suddeth, whose nickname is “LaLa,” has breezed through round after round of “Idol” with her signature country sound. Her success on the top-rated show is no surprise to the high school sophomore’s supporters back home.
“I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how, but I knew it was going to happen one way or another,” said Jennifer Lawhorn, owner of Magoo’s Restaurant in East Ridge, Tenn., where Suddeth performed weekly.
Friends describe her as a “country girl” who loves cheerleading, volunteering with special needs children and singing any chance she gets. The straight-A student loves the “Harry Potter” seriesand lists “Idol” winner Carrie Underwood as one of her biggest musical influences.
She has an older brother, Tyler, who is a high school senior. Her father, J.J., works for chemical company BASF, and her mother, Kristy, has quit work as a waitress to be with her daughter for “Idol.”
In school, Suddeth sings in the hallways of Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School, inviting friends and teachers to hear her perform at Magoo’s. She always has a smile on her face, said friend Kaley Daniel.
“This is what she’s always wanted. Ever since middle school, she’s talked about ‘American Idol,’” said Daniel, who has been friends with the ‘Idol’ finalist since Suddeth was in the sixth grade. “It’s her dream, and we support her all the way.”
The manager at the CiCi’s Pizza where Suddeth worked when she was chosen for the Fox TV show said the teen even sang as she replenished the ranch dressing on the buffet table.
“You’d see people’s heads turn — they noticed it,” said restaurant manager Mike Wild, who said Suddeth sang to him the first time they met.
Suddeth had just finished up a performance on ‘Idol’ on April 27 when a massive tornado hit Ringgold just down the road from her hometown. The normally smiling teen broke down in sobs when she toured the destruction during a visit home on May 15.
“I didn’t let her know how much devastation there was. She carries her feelings on her shoulders,” her mother, Kristy Suddeth, told FOX 5.
Two weeks later, Suddeth dedicated an emotional rendition of “Anyway” by Martina McBride to the tornado victims.
Longtime family friend Jody Tinker, who owns Fort Lake Tanning in Fort Oglethorpe, recalls an 8-year-old Suddeth singing and practicing her autograph while her mother was in the tanning bed.
“She told me she was going to be a big star one day,” said Tinker, who traveled to California with Suddeth’s family a few weeks ago to be in the “Idol” audience. “I kept every one of them. I’ve got hundreds.”