21 Under 21: Scotty McCreery (2011)
Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, together on the "American Idol" finale.

The moment has finally arrived: Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina faced off in tonight's final "American Idol" performance episode, and each brought their best effort despite vocal chord woes that reportedly almost sidelined Lauren from the competition. But like the trooper she's been all season, Lauren battled back, and like the "chill" guy that Scotty is, he didn't even break a sweat while entertaining the 7,000 "Idol" fans that filled the Nokia Theater tonight.

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It may have seemed like a not-so-suspenseful face-off -- country singer vs. country singer! teenager vs. teenager! -- going into tonight, but once the singing started it clearly became anything but. Who edged out their competition, and who should take home the "Idol" season 10 crown tomorrow? Let's size up the performances one last time.

1) Lauren Alaina

Song: "Like My Mother Does" (Debut Single)

Steven said: "As far as I'm concerned, the first time I saw you I thought you were my American Idol. I think America's gonna find that to be true as well. You are in my eyes."

Jennifer said: "I think everybody will agree this is a really tight race tonight. But Lauren, with that song you may have just won."

Randy said: "At the end, finally, it's the Lauren that we grew to love in Nashville. You sang that little Mariah Carey whispery voice thing at the end. Lauren Alaina has finally arrived, America! That was amazing!"

We say: Boy, did Lauren luck out with the best debut single a potential "Idol" winner has been given in years. Sure it was sappy, but she sounded radio-ready and hit every note. What's more, she pulled off a seamless reality TV moment, thanks to Ryan Seacrest guiding her down the stairs and into the arms of her own mom, and subsequently triggering waterworks across America. Kudos to Jimmy Iovine for giving Lauren her best shot at winning this competition, with a song that appeals unabashedly to "Idol's" core demo. Don't be surprised if many moms switch their allegiance from Scotty to Lauren tonight...but will it be enough moms for her to win it all? Stay tuned.

Photos: Lauren Alaina's 'American Idol' Journey

2) Scotty McCreery

Song: Montgomery Gentry, "Gone"

We say: Does Scotty even get nervous at this point? He kicked off the show with his most poised and effortless performance of the entire season. Gone were the awkward performance qualities of weeks past, and in their place is Scotty, swinging an invisible bat and hitting it out of the park with this number. Randy's exaggerated proclamations that he's at a Scotty McCreery concert don't sound over the top at all anymore -- who would've thought?

Photos: Scotty McCreery's "American Idol" Journey

3) Lauren Alaina

Song: Pam Tillis, "Maybe It Was Memphis"

We say: Lauren's real idol, season 4 champ Carrie Underwood, picked a goregous, lilting song that enabled Lauren to showcase her impeccable tone and wispy runs in just the right ways. So often in the past, those vocals sytlings have been undermined by Lauren's nerves, but suddenly here, it felt like she was right at home with her voice and had stopped second-guessing herself. If that's the case, she couldn't have picked better timing.

4) Scotty McCreery

Song: George Strait, "Check Yes or No"

We say: Did Scotty even play the guitar during this one? It hardly mattered, anyway. This was yet another performance full of swagger and poise, and if there was just one complaint I had, it was that it didn't quite match the energy and all-natural appeal of his first performance.

5) Scotty McCreery

Song: "I Love You This Big" (Debut Single)

Steven said: Scotty, man, you've come a long way. You take your chances, you ran with it and you got it, you did it again."

Jennifer said: "You're our great storyteller on this show, and that's what it takes when you're singing a song that nobody's ever heard before."

Randy said: "I'm not sure it's the perfect song for you, but the range was great because you sung low and you sung really high. When you hit that end note? I was like, 'Yo, scotty you are here you are in it to win it; it is game time.' "

We say: Sorry, Scotty: you've been hit with the "Idol" debut single curse. I mean, Jimmy Iovine knows that Scotty is 16 years old and not 8, right? Because no teenager says "I love you this big," and Scotty looked visibly uneasy singing that line. The sentiment was sweet, sure, but after watching Scotty grow up before our eyes this season, this song felt like a giant step back.

6) Lauren Alaina

Song: "Flat on the Floor"

We say: Not a great start for Lauren tonight, and that's probably because the episode kicked off with a long explanation of her busted vocals. She was straining to hit the notes, and when she couldn't, the disappoint was written all over her face. That said, there was no truly bad performance tonight -- like Scotty did with his debut single, Lauren committed herself to the performance and used her power as much as she could, ultimately earning a standing ovation from J.Lo for her valiant efforts. \

Final Verdict: It doesn't bode well that Scotty's single was less than well-received, but I still think he'll be crowned champion in 24 hours. I say this knowing that Lauren Alaina won the night, and knowing that she is my season 10 favorite and has been from the start. But one year after Lee DeWyze beat a clearly superior Crystal Bowersox for the season 9 crown, I'm still feeling the sting and doubting that a girl can win. Besides, facts are facts: Scotty McCreery is light years ahead of Lee talent-wise, and he's ready to record an album now, whereas Lauren Alaina could benefit from another year in development. When you look at it that way, coming in second place wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?

What do you think? Will Scotty or Lauren win "American Idol" Whose debut single did you like better? Let me know in the comments...

And more importantly, a big thanks on behalf of Billboard.com for following along with our live-tweeting on Twitter (@billboardotcom) and our performance recaps every single week for the past four months. Part of what makes covering "Idol" so much fun is how passionate and engaged the fans are, and you've all made this season, especially, a blast. Looking forward to the next one!

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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