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"American Idol": Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina sing for the win

Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery during the "American Idol" finals on May 24, 2011. FOX

(CBS) Last night's "American Idol" finale began with footage of a very young Carrie Underwood, singing in a very rudimentary manner. The message seemed to be: "Don't worry if the contestants can't sing all that well. They do get better."

And then we had Ryan Seacrest reminding those pink, fluffy children who vote that this would be night when they would change lives.

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Sadly, though, we had already been forced to endure rumors that Lauren Alaina's voice was shot and she was ready to withdraw.

Alaina insisted she was fine. Her doctor came on stage and declared that she had blown out one of her vocal chords. Don't worry, he declared, she's got some others. She'll be just fine. Like Derek Jeter with a broken leg. Well, almost.

This was the "boy next door" versus the "Southern Belle" insisted Seacrest. Not quite. This was the pretty-boy country singer who doesn't sing all that well versus the pretty-girl country singer who can. Prettiness would play a huge role in what ensued.

Scotty McCreery began by making a few grunting noises and repeating his performance of Montgomery Gentry's "Gone." He offered a new left-handed, airy-fairy gesture, which he might have borrowed from the Court of King James - or perhaps a cursory viewing of the royal wedding.

Alaina and her broken vocal chord opened with her favorite song of the season. This was Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor." Understandably, she seemed reluctant to floor it, so the effect was a little flat.

Still, we didn't have to tolerate the judges' platitudes after every performance. After a couple of commercials, we were straight into songs suggested by the contestants' heroes - in this case, George Strait for McCreery and Underwood for Alaina.

"Check Yes or No," sang McCreery, clutching a guitar and reeking confidence. However, the song, as so many of McCreery's performances, reeked of a karaoke bar in Spokane, which isn't to decry his obvious popularity, merely to suggest that many children have interesting tastes out of which they grow.

Alaina, thanks to Underwood, sang Pam Tillis' "Maybe It Was Memphis." She wore a dress borrowed from one of the more miserable members of the Bolshoi Ballet. She tried to push her voice into its stronger ranges, but still one felt she was holding back, as she has been doing throughout this competition.

Suddenly, the judges, whose vocal chords had been entirely redundant throughout this competition, decided to exercise them, in a fashion.

"America, these are the two that you chose," said Randy Jackson, as if to remind voters of their limited level of taste. Still, he decided that McCreery won round one and Alaina won round two.

Jennifer Lopez thought it was an explosive start. Explosively, she agreed with Jackson's assessment.

Tyler, demonstrating just how deep his analysis flows, declared both rounds for Alaina because she's prettier than McCreery. Surely no one at home can have deduced something so cerebral.

McCreery's final song was to be his new single. Would there be a gospel choir? Would they emerge from the wings, in order to give flight to his reedy voice?

The song had a touchingly ironic title: "I Love You This Big." It has gorgeous lyrics: "I know I'm still young, But I know how I feel, I might not have too much experience, But I know when love is real."

Oddly, the gospel choir didn't materialize. This left perhaps the smallest performance that McCreery has offered throughout this competition.

"I'm not sure that's the perfect song for you," offered Jackson, with cryptic perceptiveness. Lopez thought it amazing. And Tyler thought he still wasn't as pretty as Alaina, but at least could make a three-point shot in a video. I paraphrase, but only at the margins.

Alaina's single - should she win, of course - was called "Like My Mother Does."

She sang it just for her mother. Crazily, mentor Jimmy Iovine thought moms "would be moved by this like crazy."

Surely Alaina would have a gospel choir. But, no. "She's an angel. She's my heart and soul," sang Alaina. She tried to give it as much heart and soul as her remaining vocal chords would allow. She walked over to her mother and hugged her as she sang.

America wept. This was what they call a moment. It lasted at least two moments.

Surely this would move all of those who only dedicate themselves to "Dancing with the Stars" to exercise their fingers and phones just a little more to vote for Alaina - at least 70 times.

"You sang that Mariah Carey soft whisper voice at the end," said Jackson. He declared that she had arrived.

"With that song, you may have just won," said Lopez, as Alaina desperately tried (and failed) not to cry.

Steven Tyler told her, "You are 'it' in my eyes." It helps to be prettier than Scotty McCreery.

The judges declared that Alaina won the third round - "hands down", according to Tyler.

In truth, it doesn't really matter who wins. Both of these will be marketed to the country crowd with a relentless abandon last seen in the Civil War.

For those who enjoy performers who can actually sing, Alaina with a limping voice is still better than McCreery at his dreary best.

Oh, and she's prettier too.

TOP SINGER: Lauren Alaina
BOTTOM SINGER: Scotty McCreery

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