'American Idol' behind the scenes: Scotty and Lauren's music coach on their finale performances -- EXCLUSIVE


Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

How quickly did Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina choose their first songs for the American Idol performance finale? Were they familiar with the songs their own Idols picked for them? How have they changed this season? What are the biggest differences between season 10 and the seasons before it? In the final entry of our ongoing behind-the-scenes series, American Idol associate music director and arranger Michael Orland answered these questions and more while discussing last night’s Top 2 performance finale with EW. (Vocal coach and arranger Debra Byrd, who usually also contributes to this column, did not work with Scotty or Lauren this week.)

For a decade, Orland has been on the front lines with the contestants, from Hollywood Week to the grand finale. He’s worked with the contestants on their respective songs, helping them shine on the Idol stage and in front of a national TV audience. Check out his insights below:

ROUND ONE — Scotty sings “Gone” (Montgomery Gentry); Lauren sings “Flat on the Floor” (Katrina Elam)

Originally, I thought they were going to wait to pick their favorite songs until after they learned what the celebrity pick was going to be and what the Jimmy [Iovine] pick was going to be. But interestingly enough, they both picked those songs right away. If it was me picking for Lauren, I would have picked “Anyway.” It was one of my favorite ballads she did, so I thought she could have picked that one as well. With Scotty, he always wanted to do “Gone,” [but] he thought about maybe doing “That’s All Right” [from Top 9 week]. He was going back and forth about that. But I’m glad he did “Gone.”

It’s fun to watch now — these guys learn a song on Friday and perform it on Wednesday. It’s fun to see now that it’s been in his body and he’s had some experience with it — both of them did a better job tonight than they did [originally] on the show. The arrangements stayed the exact same; we just sang through it, and that was all we did.

ROUND TWO — Scotty sings George Strait’s “Check Yes or No,” chosen by Strait; Lauren sings Pam Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis,” chosen by Carrie Underwood

I don’t know how [choosing the song] all went down. I think [American Idol creator and exec producer] Simon Fuller arranged that. In past seasons, it would be a favorite song, a Simon Fuller pick, and a record label pick. They wouldn’t even tell us what the songs were going to be until Simon Fuller told the contestants on Friday.

Now, Lauren did not know her song; she’d never heard of it before. I had to tell her that anyone over 25 or 30 does know that song. It’s a big Pam Tillis song. When we were rehearsing, she was like, “I don’t know. I don’t feel this. Nobody’s going to know it.” We looked it up; it was a No. 3 hit in the early 1990s. I said, “People are going to know this song, I promise you.” She picked it up really quick, but she actually fought herself on it because she was not feeling it. But these are the rules of the contest; she’s just singing it. There’s no, like, “Oh, can I pick something else?” No. This is what they picked for you.

And Scotty loves George Strait, so he got a great George Strait song. But I never heard of that song until the day we worked on it. See? It’s funny what songs you know and don’t, and I know a lot of songs. I guess I’m old. Scotty knew it. Country fans are just die hard music people.

ROUND THREE — Scotty sang an original song “Love You This Big”; Lauren sang “Like My Mother Does,” which first appeared on Idol alum Kristy Lee Cook’s album

I was not in the room when they [chose those songs]. We were just brought in and told, “Here’s the song they’re picking, now teach to them and work on it and cut it down [to be sung on the show].” But I love both songs. Neither of them obviously knew them; they’d never heard of them. But I thought they both fit the occasion. I loved the lyric in [Scotty’s] song, about being a young kid. And [Lauren’s]? I mean, who doesn’t love their mother? She did tell me the first time they played it for her, she was just bawling her eyes out, the first time she heard it. And then she was like, “Are you feeling this?” I was like, “If you had that reaction to it, that’s a good sign.” I know this afternoon she said she really wanted to [walk down and sing to her mother]. I didn’t know Ryan was going to escort her, which was really sweet.

The only thing we played around with was the keys of the songs. I think Scotty’s was a hair higher on the original demo he listened to, but he wanted to put that key change into it, so we brought it down a little bit, and then raised it up. Again, he did a fun new melody on the last chorus. He came to me this morning and asked, “Can I sing this [melody change]? Does this fit?” He came up with a new melody that he wanted to do. I just love that that boy is that musical.

FINAL THOUGHTS — How have Scotty and Lauren improved? How does this season compare with the previous ones?

I really mean it: They both are winners. The first two get cars, they get record deals, the whole thing. They’ve grown so much, and they’re so good, I’m just proud of both of them.

Lauren has more confidence now than when she’s come in. I would love for [vocal coach] Peisha McPhee and I to take a little credit for that, but it’s really everybody on the staff. Everybody just feeds these kids [confidence]; that’s all we try to instill in them every week. She really became the most confident performer in the 12 weeks of all of them. Her physical body look amazing; she’s lost weight. She looks gorgeous. I’m just really proud of her.

When Scotty came in, he was a little confident. He was really sure of his voice. He knew he had great musical talent going on. Scotty’s just grown as a performer, to be able to make melodies up and know that it fits musically. The way he sang “Gone” tonight and was just working the crowd — that’s just something from being here for 12 weeks.

In past seasons, I’ve always felt like one of them had to win, and the other one didn’t have to win. I’m really not saying this because we’re still in this season. They’re both going to have great careers. But I think the difference in this season than other seasons is Jimmy Iovine. I think because he really stressed developing these people as artists every thing week, and making them stay in their comfort zone and their genre every single week — no body had to jump a hoop. The counter boy never had to sing a disco song.

My second thing is — I’ve loved all the judges who have come in and out of this show, but this season’s judges have done nothing but praise and it really help build these kids’ confidence. But I know if Randy says, “In it to win it” one more time, we’re all going to have a drink. I’ve seen performers in the past who come out defeated before they sing, and this year, we never saw that once. We used to go to the green room and say to the kids, “Don’t listen to the judges when they critique the person before you!” We didn’t have that this year, and I think the kids thrive as performers.

Follow Adam on Twitter

Read more on American Idol:
EW’s recap of the performance finale: Duel at the Nokia Theater
On the scene at the Nokia for the performance finale
Did Lauren Alaina almost drop out of the ‘Idol’ finale? Her music coach gives EW the exclusive scoop
‘American Idol’: Scotty and Lauren’s journeys to the finals

Comments (83 total) Add your comment
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  • TONI

    Yes, they never criticised anyone but Haley their punching bag

    • Laura

      i’m so glad someone pointed this out – AI keeps pretending it was all love and coddling and yes it was … except for Haley. I’m not a huge Haley fan but even I recognize when a person is specifically singled out for criticism even though the other contestants made the exact same pitch or vocal mistakes but were babied and praised. Plus, i disagree that building the kids’ confidence this way is a good idea – they feel good, which is great, but they also end up with inflated, unrealistic views of their own abilities.

      • Jason

        Agree completely. Haley was criticized over and over again for picking songs that aren’t ‘popular’ or ‘not many people know’. I am music fan but scotty and lauren sang songs that were no more familiar then some of haley’s songs.

      • Lee

        It wasn’t just Haley who got the short end of the stick–it was also Thia, Pia and Stefano. Their golden boys and girls were Lauren, Scotty, James, Casey and Jacob.

      • Steve

        @Lee – they did turn on Jacob eventually (and to be honest Thia really was kind of a robot, more than anyone by far)

      • Steve

        @Jason – even worse JLo said not to pick something so currently popular as Adele (who was also charting above her hah) and then the next week she is like who cares Earth Song moved you you need to pick something everybody knows AND then she tells Scotty and Lauren how wonderful it was they picked songs that moved them even if they were not well known!!!!

      • Squishmar

        Let’s not forget the worst slight of the season… In the top 4 performance show, Randy declaring the first round a three-way tie and leaving Haley out of it entirely after trotting the contestants out on stage so he could specifically do that. That was the worst. And just plain rude and mean and uncalled for.

    • Kevin C.

      Scotty did get roundly slammed by the judges once (for “Swingin'”). The two solo performances that followed it (“You’ve Got a Friend” and “Gone”) were his two absolute best of the season.

      You’d think maybe the judges could learn something from this…

      • Squishmar

        Those were my two favorite Scotty performances. I thought the arrangement of “You’ve Got a Friend” was beautiful and he sounded great. Plus, “Gone” was fun without being corny like his other two upbeat numbers were… “Swingin'” and I forget the other one.

    • Steve

      Exactly, they build them up all so nicely! ALL of them. Oh wait, is that you Haley?
      Insulting to the fans and contestants both!
      I skipped the finale for the first time ever this year. Just could not let my self reward the games that go on this time. Just went too far this time.

    • daphne


  • Dawn Heels

    I know that as Canadians we have no say because it is “American”. I do wonder about doing the Canadian votes and then comparing them on air with what the US votes are. No actually voting but our voice heard. Some of these contestants are some day going to do concerts in Canada. Now we just sit on the sidelines, watching every single show and hoping the US vote matches ours. Thanks.

    • Tupelo

      Is there a law against doing “Canadian Idol?”

      • Kevin C.

        They did Canadian Idol for a few years, but it fell by the wayside.

    • Andre

      Canada is part of America – North America. Their country name is “The United States of America”, but they’ve claimed “America” seemingly without awareness of geography, like Central and South Americas.

      • JD

        American was a designation given to the population by the European powers as a means to differentiate settlers in French Canada from the British American colonies… Any other suggestions about what we should call those of us who live in the USA?

      • K

        Yeah, I’m thinking “United Statian” doesn’t really work in place of “American.”

  • Suncatcher

    “…but this season’s judges have done nothing but praise…” Huh?
    JLO and Randy took turns beating the crap out of Haley! This is BS, Mr. Orland – and America knows it!

    PS – Oh Canada! I totally agree that Canadians should be able to vote also! You make up a huge audience.

    • Suncatcher

      PS – If Nigel is going to continue to allow the tweenies to vote over 500 times EACH, then he should also allow the Canadians to vote at least once!

      • Andre

        Yay! Canada gets one collective vote! ;p

      • somet

        No, Canadians are stupid, no votes for them

      • B.Rich

        There arn’t enough Canadians to make any difference, but at least they have better taste than the garbage American seems to love now.

  • Dan

    Scotty “the counter boy”… LOL! Freudian typo? That’s where he’s going to end up in 3 years!

    • Mr. Holloway

      I’m thinking it was a reference to the fact that Scotty used to work in a grocery store.

      • Lisa

        I think it’s actually just a typo and he mean ‘country boy didn’t have to do disco.’

      • Mr. Holloway

        @ Lisa

        It certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near the first silly typo on this site.

      • Lola

        Nope – it’s called a lack of proofreading. As stated by others, it’s not the first typo nor the last on this site. Kind of embarrassing, in my opinion.

    • Chris Folsom


    • Ann Pickens

      lol dan your a joke

  • beast

    I wish that Canadians were able to vote I dont think that we can watch it and not have the right to vote.This is going to be a close vote for both of them.

  • Vighorois

    I Love You This Big. Pause. THIS BIG. Double Pause.

    This is such a great song for Scott McCreepy, better than Do I Make You Feel Proud and This Is My Now COMBINED!

    • Chris

      There is no need for name calling.

    • Ann Pickens

      shut the hell up idiot

      • Squishmar

        My god, you do have an anger problem, don’t you Ann? Maybe it’s time for your lithium?

  • Chelsea

    I’m so proud of lauren! She overcame the problem with her voice and did a great job. For not knowing maybe it was memphis she just nailed it! And like my mother does was so amazing! I think that song will do better than scotty’s personally. I hope lauren wins, but scotty is very talented as well. It is going to be a really close vote, I wouldn’t wanna try to predict the winner.

    • Ann Pickens

      yes maybe it would have been fare if they would have given scotty a great song that highlighted his voice like lauren got how unjust was that

    • Lee

      By Lauren almost losing her voice before the finale only goes to show that she is NOT an American Idol because she has NOT learned how to sing correctly. If she knew how to sing correctly, then she wouldn’t have strained her vocal chords. Neither Scotty or Haley strained their vocal chords. I think it may have something to do with Lauren always being out of breath when she sings. Some American Idol. Doesn’t even know how to sing correctly.

      • Squishmar

        Looking at this interview today, it seems clear to me that they exaggerated Lauren’s problems for drama. If she had truly ruptured a vocal cord, she wouldn’t even be talking tonight and they wouldn’t have let her sing. It could have damaged her voice forever. I’m sure it was strained but not blown. It was also used as more of the endless manipulation to garner sympathy votes in what was surely a runaway victory for Scotty. I know they didn’t say the margin…but I’m sure it wasn’t even close or they would have said that.

  • Leila

    Though they’re both very talented, I think Scotty puts more feeling into his performances and you can hear it when he sings.

  • shelbybb

    No one else needed a “critique.”
    Haley took it ALL herself. They all got a free ride on her shoulders!
    Come on Michael, be honest for one second – now that’s some shhhh!

    • TxJessie

      Quit whining about Haley for heavens sake. What the judges said or didn’t say doesn’t matter. It’s the people that vote and I for one did not care for her singing. Get over it already.

      • Lee

        To a lot of sheeps in America–it did matter what the judges said. And if you don’t believe that then I have some swamp land in Florida that I’ll sell to you. Dumb a$$.

    • Chris

      Not hardly. Haley was good – but she appealed to a different audience.

    • Ann Pickens

      hayley might have won if she wasnt such a biach

      • Lee

        You would be too if you were constantly being criticized.

      • B.Rich

        Haley never could have won. She was actually a great singer and artist.

      • K

        Sigh. She really wasn’t a b*tch. I’m someone who definitely gets their feathers easily ruffled when people come across as arrogant or snotty or attitude-y…and I never thought Haley did. I don’t understand where the impression that she had a bad attitude is coming from. She stood up for herself and one time couldn’t take Randy repeatedly dumping on her and tried to tell him she understood. That wasn’t b*tchy. I wanted to applaud her for that because it was such a normal response and I was glad she didn’t just crumble into a tearful mess like some other contestants would have done.

      • Squishmar

        B.Rich wins!

      • Squishmar

        K… there is something going on with Haley that is a phenomenon. What everybody saw and the over-reactions and endless analyzing of her every movement and facial expression is beyond normal. I love Haley, but (possibly) for the same reason I love her is the same EXACT reason so many dislike her. And I’m not even talking about her voice here, because 99 percent of the Haley haters don’t either. They have despised her for some unknown reason and that week when she just spoke up and defended her choice of song for what inspired her, of all things… well, after that, it was a free-for-all. Haley-haters could finally have something they could point to as ‘proof’ for their unfounded and unreasonable dislike for her. To us fans, the hate still seemed just as ridiculous and petty. But there really is something going on with her that you either really like or just cannot stand. Now for me, the voice definitely comes into the reason I love her so much, but it doesn’t even factor in to the judgements the haters have made against her. It’s inexplicable and really quite fascinating if you look at it objectively. It doesn’t matter now… I know she will be very successful (and at the very least, she’ll be able to keep doing what she loves for the rest of her life and make a living at it). Her iTunes sales prove this. We need to ignore the haters because their hate is so baseless and bizarre, it’s not worth it to defend her to them. Logic is not going to work in this case. It’s some visceral reaction they have to her and cannot be altered by reason.

  • lynne KASS

    The judges last night were so prejudiced for Lauren, it made me vote over and over for Scotty. Maybe that is what they intended……..

    • Chris

      I felt the same way! I thought they were extremely prejuidice and I think alot of people will do the same!

    • B.Rich

      LOL at the use of prejudiced. Both sucked but I guess they felt they had to pick one.

    • Idol Fan

      The judges just wanted it to look like Lauren had a chance. I’m sure Scotty still won by a landslide.

      • Squishmar

        Exactly what I think.

  • Davers

    “I had to tell her that anyone over 25 or 30 does know that song.” Ummm, what? Maybe all 25+ year-old viewers of Nashville Star, which is I guess what this show has become…

    • Chris

      No, it is apparent that America likes country music! They are loyal fans that will spend money on records and support them in concerts.

  • Debbie M

    I definitely think the singers need constructive criticism. If they are told week after week “there’s nothing to judge here” or merely “beautiful”, they are going to think they are doing their best, when the reality is that there is always room for improvement, even with the best vocalist. Haley didn’t even get constructive criticism. They were just plain mean.

  • Jason

    I personally got tired of all the praising. Not sure if there was one critical comment that was made all season long. They were babied all season long. “oh, let’s not hurt their feelings.” Whatever, they need to be judged properly. If they sucked then need to be told so.

  • Amanda P

    I think that either way its somehow rigged more than the american public thinks. Pia got taken off but heck… she didnt need American Idol. She could go out and get a record deal just off the performances that she did in the beginning. The song they picked for Lauren would reach out to the mothers out there. And the song for Scotty will just make the teenage girls vote just cuz they think he is cute or whatever. Either way I look at it, its gonna be based off which part of the population votes more… the teenagers or the mothers out there that were touched by the lyrics and not necessarily the performances. Just my opinion though….

    • Chris

      I don’t think it is rigged. Pia had a beautiful voice – but lacked in connecting with audience – the entertainment factor. The week she actually did something besides stand behind the microphone – she got booted – which surprised me.

  • Bob in Vegas

    Haley was a whiner who couldn’t stand constructive criticism ! I will be happy with either Scotty or Lauren winning. Scotty will be big in Nashville !!!

    • Lee

      Since when was criticizing a contestant’s song choice (“You and I” and “Earth Song”) considered “constructive criticism”? You Haley-haters are pathetic.

    • Steve

      Funny how weeks ago, her old music coach was going on about how readily she absorbed and took in criticism. Maybe because he was actually give her help and not just dumping on her in random sometimes non-sensical ways while telling everyone else they were so perfect there is nothing to even say!

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