- - Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Scotty McCreery won ‘American Idol’

From that initial moment when Scotty McCreery stepped in front of the “American Idol” judges and bellowed “lock the door and turn the lights down low” in his deep-beyond-his-years register, the fresh-faced country crooner captured everyone’s attention and he never let it go. Scotty, a 17-year-old high school student from Garner, N.C., won the “American Idol” title Wednesday night after performing nearly flawlessly throughout the 10th season of the Fox talent competition.

And he did it with an unwavering commitment to country music - even when challenged with other genres. During the show’s installment of Elton John tunes, Scotty uncovered Mr. John’s “Country Comfort” and made it his own.

“You have amazing instincts about performing and about what’s right for you,” judge Jennifer Lopez told him afterward.

Armed with an unflappable aw-shucks attitude and genuinely goofy grin, Scotty managed to outlast an array of more seasoned and outgoing finalists, such as eccentric 20-year-old jazz lover Casey Abrams of Idyllwild, Calif., wailing 22-year-old rocker James Durbin of Santa Cruz, Calif., and sultry 20-year-old vocalist Haley Reinhart of Wheeling, Ill.

In the end, Scotty’s biggest adversary among the top 13 singers was the one most like him: 16-year-old fellow country darling Lauren Alaina of Rossville, Ga. Despite her vocal cord injury that needed medical treatment before their sing-off on Tuesday’s finale, the judges proclaimed that Lauren overpowered Scotty with her soaring vocal spectrum.

The viewers, who cast more than 122 million votes, didn’t agree. Scotty built a stronger connection with the audience than Lauren, who sometimes wilted under the lights - and pressure - of the “Idol” stage, while Scotty always sizzled. Sitting across from his parents in his dressing room after the finale, Scotty had one clue why viewers picked him.

“It’s because I’m one of them,” he said. “I was just a kid who was bagging groceries three months ago.”

The matchup between Scotty and Lauren, who individually performed with country icon Tim McGraw and fourth season “Idol” winner Carrie Underwood, respectively, on Wednesday, marked the youngest finale duel in “Idol” history. Producers lowered the minimum age requirement to 15 years old this season, which allowed Lauren the opportunity to audition last year.

Wednesday’s finale was seen by an estimated 29.3 million people. The Nielsen Co. said Thursday that was 21 percent more than last year’s ultimate show.

The outcome punctuates the inaugural season of Ms. Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler as judges. The pair, who joined veteran Randy Jackson on the panel, brought a gentler attitude to the show after the departure of biting judge Simon Cowell, who left at the end of last season to transplant his British talent contest “The X Factor” to the U.S.

The new panel initially energized the 10th season of “Idol,” which still reigns as No. 1 but has steadily dipped in weekly viewership and seen its audience age.

- Derrik J. Lang, Associated Press

‘Oprah’ finale scores biggest audience in 17 years

Preliminary figures show Wednesday’s finale of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” scored its highest audience in 17 years, the Associated Press reports.

The Nielsen Co. said Thursday that the final episode delivered a 13.3 household rating in the nation’s metered markets.

It was the highest number since February 1994. That’s when an “Oprah” episode called “People Shed Their Disguises” got a 13.4 rating.

Metered market ratings measure roughly half the nation and can’t be translated into audience figures. A viewer count for the “Oprah” finale won’t be available from Nielsen for two weeks.2

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