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'American Idol' finale: Who cares?

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery haven't generated much enthusiasm among fans for the "American Idol" finale.
Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery haven't generated much enthusiasm among fans for the "American Idol" finale.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There's little buzz surrounding this season's "American Idol" finale
  • Teens Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery are vying for the title
  • Blogger says it's been "a strange season" on "Idol"
  • Former "Idol" finalist says young contestants have added stress
RELATED TOPICS

(CNN) -- "American Idol" is drawing to a close for its 10th season, and you don't even care, do you?

Despite what should be the excitement of having the youngest ... finale ... ever (imagine that being said with "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest-like excitement) with a pair of teen contestants, ratings that have rebounded and a brand new panel of judges, two of whom are viable music stars, there is surprisingly little buzz surrounding the show's two-night finale.

Instead the general feeling appears to be that the "American Idol" finale is happening. Meh.

"It's been a really strange season," said MJ Santilli, who runs one of the most popular blogs among "Idol" fans, MJ's Big Blog. "I think a lot of the early buzz (was) around the judges, but I never got a sense of a lot of buzz around some of the contestants."

Worse than a lack of buzz has been the backlash regarding contestants who were cut early (remember Pia Toscano?) and the final pair -- aspiring country singers Lauren Alaina, 16, and Scotty McCreery, 17.

It remains to be seen how electrifying the finale, which kicks off Tuesday night with performances by the pair and ends Wednesday night with the results show, will be.

Fox has been tight-lipped so far about who will be performing and appearing, though so far judge Steven Tyler, seventh-season winner David Cook and actor Jack Black are reportedly scheduled to make an appearance as well as U2's Bono and The Edge, who will be joining cast members from their Broadway musical, "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark."

Looking back over the history of what has become the most successful television singing competition ever, few could have predicted what has happened since "Idol" came roaring back for its latest season after a shake-up on the judge's panel.

The show's recognized star maker, Simon Cowell, following in the footsteps of beloved judge, Paula Abdul, left the show -- much to the chagrin of die-hard fans who enjoyed his no-nonsense critiques. Viewers had just barely survived the reign of judges Kara DioGuardi and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, whose addition to the long-running series had gone over like a lead balloon with many fans.

Ratings were dropping every season following a show peak in 2006 when close to 36 million viewers tuned in to the season finale to watch Taylor Hicks triumph over Katharine McPhee. That night host Seacrest announced that "an incredible 63.4 million votes came in. That's more than any president in the history of our country has ever received!"

The judges' musical chairs finally ended this season, with only a single original judge -- Randy Jackson -- remaining. He was joined by pop diva and actress Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.

Add to that flux, the expected competition of new singing shows such as NBC's "The Voice" and Cowell's forthcoming British mega-hit "The X Factor" on Fox and a less than inspiring season nine, and "Idol" looked poised to continue its downward slide in the ratings. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, where the "Idol" finale spectacular is held.

The show started looking revived. The new judges had chemistry, the contestants had talent, and suddenly fans began wondering if reports of "Idol's" demise had been premature.

In reporting that the show had reversed the declining ratings trend by "gaining total viewers for the first time since 2007," The New York Times said that "Idol" had a "79 percent higher rating among 18-to- 49-year-olds than the next biggest show, 'Modern Family.' That kind of gap has never been seen before in that demographic in television history, Fox says, citing Nielsen data."

"This kind of dominance suggests, as if there were still doubt, that 'Idol' has become a cultural fixture like "60 Minutes" or "Monday Night Football" or the evening news, one defined by its reliable place on the television schedule each year," the Times said.

Such largess seemed to bear out in the voting tallies as Fox announced that a record-breaking 95 million votes poured in for this season's Top 3 episode -- the largest ever for a nonfinale show.

But blogger Santilli said pundits shouldn't read too much into the number of votes.

"I think that adding online voting this year may have had something to do with the numbers being larger," she said. "Also, people are text voting, and you can send a lot of text votes so I think those numbers are a little bit inflated."

And there doesn't seem to be nearly the enthusiasm for the finalists that contestants have enjoyed in the past. Fans have cried foul over the early exit of favorites Toscano and James Durbin, both of whom were projected to make it to the finale.

Message boards are not dominated by fans of the final two, Alaina and McCreery, nor are the singers close to generating as much excitement as the ending of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which happens the same day as the finale results show.

And while the pop culture thermometer, Twitter, saw a huge trending wave about McCreery's hometown visit last week, the trending subject was country singer Josh Turner, who made a surprise appearance onstage with McCreery.

Not even the professionals seem to be all that enthused.

A recent article by Phyllis Stark, executive editor of country music at Radio-Info.com, quoted sources as saying that country radio types are not hot on either Alaina or McCreery, both of whom have been dubbed country artists.

"But country radio broadcasters may not throw open their doors to these (Alaina and McCreery)," Stark writes. "In fact, if he doesn't come with an undeniable hit single, McCreery in particular may meet with a lukewarm or even chilly reception in some markets, where certain programmers have been turned off by his frequent Josh Turner impersonating performances and quirky mannerisms."

Season three finalist Diana DeGarmo sympathizes with this year's final two.

Diana DeGarmo, who was 16 when she lost out by a small margin to Fantasia Barrino in the finale, said most people forget the added pressure young contestants face having to keep up with their studies while competing.

"In between rehearsals and when other people are resting or other contestants are getting time to just go and hang out, they are probably having to go and finish classes," said DeGarmo, who is on tour with the musical "9 to 5" and will be performing with other "Idol" alumni at a concert outside the Nokia Theatre before the finale. "On my finale, I was writing my final term papers in between the rehearsals."

She said she believes the attention aimed at the new judges' panel has been beneficial, even if it hasn't always been equal to the shine the contestants have been receiving.

"When you have people of that caliber join the show to judge, of course people are going to be curious, but I think it brings more attention to the show all around," DeGarmo said. "It sparks conversation around the water cooler. But they've had really good contestants this year, and people who are in my industry don't get to watch TV on a nightly basis, but it was interesting that my peers still knew about people in the show."

Whether the contestants continue to be well-known beyond the show remains to be seen. Part of the issue for the final two could be that they have so much in common, Santilli said.

"For the first time, you have two contestants that are very similar," she said. "We have never had that before. They are about the same age, and they both sing country."

Network executives don't seem too worried. Leading up to the finale, Mike Darnell, Fox president of alternative entertainment, told The Hollywood Reporter he had faith in the show's voters.

"It has always been about America's decision," he said. "And they've done pretty well over the years. Do I always agree with the winner? No. But that's my own personal feelings, and America is in charge -- that's what makes the show work."

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