So you say Scotty McCreery is a shoo-in to win "American Idol," eh? Not so fast. Lauren Alaina will pull off an upset tonight and become the first girl since 2007 to take home the crown. Here's why:
1. She's Carrie Underwood-meets-Jordin Sparks.
Lauren earns comparisons to season 4 champ Carrie for the obvious reasons -- she's a blonde, Southern sweetheart with big-time potential and impeccable crossover-country timbre. But she's really more akin to Jordin Sparks, another bubbly and preternaturally talented contestant who instantly stood out as a gifted vocalist, faded a bit as her teenage vulnerability revealed itself, then suddenly rose to the top. If there's another female who can appear unthreatening enough to win "Idol" in its post-peak, male-dominant era, it's Lauren.
2. She's the most commercially viable contestant of the season.
Scotty's a country boy, through and through. While that's also Lauren's preferred genre, there's no question her voice would be perfectly at home on Top 40 radio as well. She channels everyone from Carrie and Kelly Clarkson to Shania Twain and Mariah Carey. All she'll need is a little extra confidence to have the makings of "Idol's" first major star in years.
3. Her debut single is a game-changer.
Jimmy Iovine couldn't have chosen a better original song for Lauren to help her eke out a win over front-runner Scotty. "Like My Mother Does" appeals directly to the same moms who find Scotty to be the exemplary lovemate for their daughters -- those same daughters who wear T-shirts scrawled with the words "Scottie's Hotties" and feverishly text in their votes. Those girls can't possibly be into Scotty's debut single, the brutally titled "I Love You This Big," which sounds like it was written for a toddler to perform instead of a 17-year-old. Let's give them more credit than that.
4. She has an innate understanding of stardom.
Watching Lauren Alaina visit her home state of Georgia last week, I was struck by how seamlessly she navigated the trickier roles of a music celebrity, from endlessly cheerful role model (waving to the crowd and singing her heart out) to sensitive empathizer (tearing up over the little boy who saved his family after tornadoes devastated their home). It all came off naturally, and so has her vulnerability all season long. Though it sometimes resulted in performances that didn't reach their full potential, ask yourselves this: how many of you, at 16, would have survived four months in front of the "Idol" cameras without cracking a little?
5. "Idol" needs her.
If Scotty won "Idol," there's no doubt he'd be more successful than the show's two most recent winners, Lee Dewyze and Kris Allen. But Lauren could be the most successful champ in many, many years, and they know it. That's why Jimmy picked a great single for her, and why the judges have been touting her since her very first audition. "Idol" revived itself in a big way this year, but it'll take a successful female winner to bring the franchise back to its prime -- and Lauren's their girl.
Don't agree? Read my colleague's opposite take: 5 Reasons Scotty McCreery Will Win 'American Idol.' And tell us: