American Idol: Are youngest-ever finalists key to Idol revival strategy?

American Idol finalists Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery are the youngest ever. Was that part of the American Idol Season 10 makeover strategy?

FOX, Michael Becker/AP
Lauren Alaina Suddeth and Scotty McCreery will compete Tuesday in the season finale of American Idol 2011.

Was the American Idol Revival Strategy built on youth?

For the first time since Season 7, American Idol ratings are up over the previous year. Last week, 95 million votes were cast – a new record for a Top-3 contestants show.

It would appear that, by opening auditions up to 15 year olds, American Idol producers succeeded in breathing new life into the creaking franchise. Tonight's show has the two youngest finalists ever (Lauren Alaina is 16, Scotty McCreery is 17). Both are country singers.

It might have appeared that the American Idol judges were in on the Cradle Robbing Revival Strategy. Last week, the judges chose the final song for each contestant. While the two teenagers, Lauren and Scotty, were given well-known songs designed to showcase their talent, poor 20-year-old Haley Reinhart was given Alanis Morrisette's 1995 song "You Oughta Know," a relatively obscure song (at least among voting teen girls) that did nothing to showcase Haley's vocal talent.

Hmm, was the fix in?

Probably not. But that's one interpretation.

Was choosing the most youthful contestants a post-Simon Cowell Idol makeover strategy? Perhaps. But there have been teenagers who succeeded on the show before. Seventeen-year-old David Archuleta made it to the finals in Season 7. Jordin Sparks, the current youngest-ever winner, was 17 when she won in Season 6. And Allison Iraheta, at 16, was the last woman standing in Season 8.

Banking on teens was only a small piece of what appears to have brought Idol viewing audiences back. There were many other changes this year.

More significant was the break with Sony as the company which has the recording option on all American Idol contestants. This year. Interscope Records became the official Idol record label. And Jimmy Iovine, Interscope's chairman, became the prime mentor/coach for all contestants. Each week, he brought in other producers and top recording artists with him to help choose the songs and polish the performances of the contestants.

The two new judges - Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez - also added some much needed star-power to the bench. Arguably, Tyler's contribution peaked before the final 24 were chosen. Jennifer Lopez brought sage advice to performers in the early rounds, but as the number of contestants thinned, so did her insights. Ultimately, the judges became little more than cheerleaders.

There's no question that this was a talent-rich season, and perhaps the judges should be given credit for that.

Finally, the move from Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the Fox TV schedule to Wednesday/Thursday nights for Season 10 may have helped too.

Tonight, Scotty and Alaina will perform and audiences will vote one more time. For the last three seasons, American Idol audiences have picked men. The blogosphere and history suggest that Scotty (the baritone country singer who looks like a junior George W. Bush) will prevail.

Who do you think will win?

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