On Thursday night, with over 95 million votes cast, another American Idol record was set. These votes have so much more power than just selecting the top two contestants; they also send a very clear message to the producers.
Record numbers of votes suggest that viewers are loving the show as much as, if not more than, ever before. Considering that aside from the new faces on the judging panel, not much has changed, the votes are actually for the judges as much as they are for the contestants. Which means that viewers shouldn't be surprised when Season 11 is void of actual judging once again.
But it was easy to forget all that is wrong with Idol, since Thursday evening's episode was an example of all that is right with Idol and why it has captured the hearts of the American public for so long.
American Idol's hometown visits have become something of a modern day fairy tale, complete with princes and princesses reveling in the adoration of their people, if only for a day. Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery had the fortune of experiencing those hometown visits this season and thanks to filmmaker J.J. Abrams, they were able to bring along super 8 cameras to capture their experience.
Though all of the contestants were emotional in their hometown visits, this year's award for most moving was a tie between Lauren and Scotty. To see Scotty, who always seems just a tad detached from it all, so overcome with emotion that he openly sobs, made him that much more endearing and real to viewers.
Lauren, on the other hand, has always worn her emotion on her sleeve but when she visited the path of the recent storms' destruction in Georgia, it was hard not to share her pain and horror at the devastation. Of course all of these poignant moments were set to equally poignant music, resulting in moist eyes across America.
Idol attempted to lighten the mood with two music acts, one from Il Volo, a young Italian group who, though talented, seemed a rather odd choice for the Idol stage. One can only imagine the behind-the-scene favors and deals that had to go into securing this group a spot on a show that has hosted superstars like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. It was far easier to imagine how Nicole Scherzinger, who will be joining Simon Cowell in this Fall's X-Factor, got her spot on the stage Thursday. Nicole, who seemed to go a bit overboard with the body oil, performed "Right There" alongside 50 Cent.
Then it was time for the results and, as Jimmy Iovine predicted at the top of the show, Scotty McCreery was the first of the final two to be announced. That left a nervous Haley and a bereft Lauren to wait for the final name to be called.
When Ryan announced that Lauren would be joining Scotty in the final two, Haley seemed to be the only one who was surprised. Maybe it was that faith in her ability that helped her defy the odds throughout the season. She chose "Benny and The Jets" as her final song, reminding viewers of the moxie that got her to the final three.
Regardless of the winner, once again a country singer is poised to take home the title of American Idol. Perhaps instead of the Kodak Theatre, American Idol should consider holding their finales at the Grand Ole Opry from now on?