You have to wonder why producer Nigel Lythgoe even bothered to launch a country talent competition, "CMT's Next Superstar," on the CMT network this year. He already has a country talent competition. It's called "American Idol." Because its final two contestants are...country singers Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. Yee haw.
OK, I have nothing against country music, and I think both Lauren and Scotty excel in their own styles within the genre and could have major careers in Nashville. But the elimination of raspy rebel girl Haley Reinhart this week means next week's finale is going to be a pretty ho-hum affair. Haley the wild child would have brought excitement--a duet with Gaga? a jazz jam with Casey Abrams?--not to mention a real element of suspense. A finale showdown between either of this season's chosen ones, Scotty or Lauren, and underdog Haley would have been a fight of Lambert-vs.-Allen proportions (that is, excellent television), not to mention it would have featured a vaster array of musical styles. But now it's country vs. country, apples vs. apples. Is it really going to be all that thrilling to find out who wins next week? Let's just call it a tie, give them both the record deals we know they're going to get anyway, and watch "The Voice" instead.
It's clear that this was the producers' plan from the beginning--Scotty was glowingly mentioned in some of Nigel's pre-Season 10 promo interviews, and Lauren was aggressively pimped throughout the season, ever since her first audition when Steven Tyler called her "The One." The powers-that-be really wanted these country kids, and I do mean KIDS--this year the age limit was lowered to 15 (the tender age Lauren was when she first auditioned), and in interviews Nigel frequently bragged about the caliber of this season's youngest singers. He also seemed to push Lauren and Scotty together every chance he got, having them sing cutesy duets and encouraging Ryan Seacrest to interrogate them about their (non-existent) romance. Meanwhile, Haley was thrown under the bus so much, I was beginning to wonder if this show was sponsored by Greyhound.
So, Nigel has gotten his wish. An all-country finale, a 16-year-old versus a 17-year-old. Congrats, Mr. Lythgoe.
However, Nigel should be careful what he wishes for. While Scotty and Lauren are obviously very popular, not everyone in America likes country music. Ninety-five million votes were cast this week, and some of those millions did go to Haley. So I wouldn't be surprised if, now that Haley's gone, some "Idol" viewers just decide to sit out the finale, and as a result "Idol's" ratings slump during all-important Sweeps Week. Nigel better try to get Aerosmith back on the phone and see if they'll reconsider performing next Wednesday.
But anyway, kudos to Haley for making it much, much farther than anyone, probably even Haley herself, ever imagined, and for taking the news of her elimination this week in her usual shrug-it-off stride. "I rocked it out and I had a blast," she said of her bumpy "Idol" run, before rocking it out on a swan-song performance of "Bennie & The Jets" that was more exciting than probably anything we will actually see on the finale next week.
And it does seem like Haley has one "Idol" big-wig in her corner--Universal Records' Jimmy Iovine, who arranged to have her sing the unreleased Lady Gaga ballad "You & I" a couple weeks ago and praised her throughout the season--so we may not have heard the last from her yet. Considering the incredible tenacity she demonstrated on this show, one day she may still Reinhart herself right onto the Billboard charts.