She nearly missed out on her chance to compete after losing her voice just an hour before the “American Idol” final round on Tuesday night, but 16-year-old Lauren Alaina battled back, giving her strongest and most emotional set of performances yet on the show and setting up a close battle with frontrunner Scotty McCreery.
It was Scotty who opened the competition with a redo of Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” a song he performed earlier in the season, but this time around, it was a new Scotty on stage.
The 17-year-old student and former grocery store clerk bounded across “Idol’s” big stage like a seasoned performer, full of confidence and gusto, making the song his own and winning over judges Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez.
“Your reprisal of ‘Gone’… I thought was brilliant! I thought I was at a Scotty concert,” Randy raved.
Steven Tyler, however, a supporter of Lauren from her infamous audition, where she pulled him in to sing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” gave Round 1 to his favorite, who performed Carrie Underwood’s “Flat On The Floor.”
It was her first song after receiving medical treatment for what the “Idol” doctor said was a vocal chord sprain, but the injury went unnoticed as Lauren belted out the chorus like a pro.
In the second round, “Idol’s” final two had their own idols pick songs for them. Country legend George Strait picked Scotty’s number, one of his own, “Check Yes Or No,” a sweet song with a theme of school-aged love, but it lacked the punchiness of his opening number.
Lauren came in with Pam Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis,” chosen by Carrie Underwood, and the teen won over the panel with her pop-radio worthy vocals, a little husky, strong and thrilling.
“First round and the second round to Lauren,” Steven said turning to Scotty. “Only ‘cause she’s prettier than you are.”
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It was Round 3, however, that may have locked up the competition for Lauren.
Jimmy Iovine picked the original songs for the contestants and Scotty’s was a slow mover called, “I Love You This Big.”
The number saw the teen reach out his arms during his rendition, as if to embrace the world, and the judges praised his performance.
“You take your chances, you ran with it and you got it, you nailed it again,” Steven said.
But Lauren’s heart-string tugging original song packed a major punch.
Jimmy picked, “Like My Mother Does,” an ode to mothers, and Lauren sang the ballad with all of her might.
Like a seasoned performer, the young woman walked off the stage and up to her mom, who was in the front row, hugging her and not missing a note as she continued through the catchy single. The move left her mom in tears, and the overall performance left the judges swayed.
“It was a great ode to your mom,” Randy said, before giving Lauren a standing ovation. “I love how at the end, finally, it’s the Lauren that we grew to love in Nashville. You sang that little Mariah Carey soft whisper voice at the end Lauren Alaina has arrived America. That was amazing, amazing.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the first time I saw you, I thought you were my ‘American Idol,’” Steven said. “I think America’s gonna find that to be true as well. You are in my eyes.”
When asked by show host Ryan Seacrest who the night belonged to, both Randy and Steven gave it to Lauren, while Jennifer remained impartial.
As Lauren and Scotty united on stage at the end of the show, Scotty whispered something following the judges’ comments, into Lauren’s ear and she shook her head.
The tenth “American Idol” will be crowned on FOX on Wednesday night.