‘American Idol’ Preview: Scotty McCreery Vs. Lauren Alaina

Which country kid will come out on top?

Is Scotty McCreery unstoppable? That’s the question heading into Tuesday’s (May 24) “American Idol” performance finale.

That we’re even facing the topic of his potential imperviousness to the whims of the voting public marks quite a turnaround for the 17-year-old country crooner. Just a few months ago during Hollywood Week, Scotty could be spotted desperately searching for a group that would take him and facing rude rejections from nearly every corner of the Pasadena Civic Center. While his fellow “Idol” contestants didn’t seem to take kindly to Scotty’s old-school country baritone, everything changed once the voting portion of the show kicked in.

Ever since, the kid has been untouchable. He stands now as a remarkable “Idol” specimen, one who arrived on the reality-show scene fully formed. In contrast to the artistic growth expected of most every contestant, Scotty has stayed solidly within his comfort zone, busting out performances of remarkable maturity, tunes that would find an eager home on country radio stations across the nation
. He hasn’t had to grow, because what he does, he does with an easy, breezy talent that defies his years.

Yet “Idol,” historically, has been filled with shocking finales. Observers, even veteran ones, make guaranteed predictions at their own peril. Last year, while neither Lee DeWyze nor Crystal Bowersox ever landed in the bottom on elimination nights, opinions coalesced around the idea that the dreadlocked soul sister deserved to best the rather milquetoast soft rocker. DeWyze came out the winner. In 2009, no one could dispute Adam Lambert was one of the most original and inspiring contestants ever to take the “Idol” stage, and still, he lost to Kris Allen. And who can forget the mind-boggling 2006 finale, when Chris Daughtry had already been booted and Taylor Hicks rode his soul train to victory over Katharine McPhee?

The past, however, is in the past. In Lauren Alaina, we have a very formidable opponent. The 16-year-old has been a producer and judge favorite from the beginning, featured often in the audition rounds and usually fawned over during the live shows by Randy Jackson and his cohorts. She’s also, no doubt, amassed a fervent fanbase, one that seems to have been scared into action when she landed in the bottom three earlier this month and which was able to siphon off enough of James Durbin’s voters to knock off Haley Reinhart last week. Lauren’s similarity to Carrie Underwood, at least on the surface and in the judges’ often-voiced opinions, should also not be discounted. Though a woman hasn’t won “Idol” since Jordin Sparks’ triumph in 2007, all these factors combine to make Lauren a potent force headed into Tuesday’s show.

While spoilers are popping up all over the Web, we’ll stick to our usual policy and decline to point out the specific songs Lauren and Scotty are expected to perform. Here’s what we can say: Each singer will deliver three tunes — a personal favorite from the season, a single selected by producers and a track picked for Lauren by Carrie Underwood and picked for Scotty by George Strait.

The producer’s singles have traditionally been original tunes that become the singer’s coronation songs, but those tracks aren’t typically artistic boons; they’re usually heavy on the schmaltz and light on opportunities to show off what each singer does best. This year, like last year, however, the producer’s single will be covers; thus, they’ll give us a sneak peek at what Lauren and Scotty will be like as pros. The thing is, we already have a pretty good clue as to what they’ll be like. Expect these songs to be unsurprising picks; how and if they rework them, and how successfully the performances turn out, will be the key. Then there’s the personal fave. Whatever Lauren and Scotty pick, the songs should have no trouble bringing the judges to their feet and the voters to their phones, ready to text in vote after vote once Ryan Seacrest gives the signal. Underwood’s and Strait’s picks, similarly, will play to each singer’s country strengths.

The takeaway from all this is that there really shouldn’t be too many surprises on Tuesday. We know Scotty will project a preternatural calm, shimmying across the stage like he’s been doing it for decades. Lauren will battle her nerves, and if she settles into two midtempo tunes, she’ll still be in good shape. The true sweaty-palmed action won’t come until Wednesday’s elimination show. If you ask us, though, Scotty will remain unstoppable.

Who will win it all? Make your predictions in the comments below!

Don’t miss a special edition of “Idol Party Live” Thursday at noon on MTV.com for analysis, finale red-carpet coverage and the last “Idol in 60 Seconds” of season 10. Get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.