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'American Idol': Contestants open up about 'big balancing act' of juggling producers' opinions

April 28, 2011 |  3:14 pm


James Durbin stood frozen Wednesday amid thunderous applause after his performance of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” before judge Randy Jackson gave the 22-year-old the co-sign of the season.

“This guy just might win the whole thing,” Jackson yelled and leapt onstage to hug “Idol’s” resident rocker.

The proclamation, while bold, only further put the nail in the coffin of a female taking the crown in the show’s 10th season. A female hasn’t won since Jordin Sparks in Season 6, leaving guitar-strumming, singer-songwriter boys with scruffy hair and coffeehouse-friendly tunes to walk away with it all. Although the folksy Crystal Bowersox came in second last year, the way things have been going this season it’s statistically less likely that one of the last two women standing -- the twangy Lauren Alaina and the bluesy Hayley Reinhart -- will be able to win it all. Not even judge favorite Pia Toscano, a frontrunner, was able to hang in there.

And everyone has their own theories as to why.

Some “Idol” pundits think it’s the show's strong teenage female fanbase that's picked off the ladies --  though Casey Abrams got an early save and Stefano Langone and Paul McDonald have both been eliminated. Others think Durbin and Abrams simply have an edge over the rest. 

A quick survey around the audience inside CBS Studios, where “Idol” is taped, showed a mass of glittery signs for Durbin, Abrams, country boy Scotty McCreery and Jacob Lusk -- though one tween girl, who spent the entire evening screeching for the boys, showed Alaina some love on a two-sided sign; the front read “I Love Scotty,” but it saluted the country girl on the back.

As the show whittles down the contestants -- after Thursday, only five will remain -- the finalists seem more comfortable letting their guard down and opening up about the pressures of the competition.

MB1_1656 When asked whether they’ve felt conflicted over what the show’s producers want them to choose song-wise versus what Interscope Records head honcho and mentor Jimmy Iovine and his team of producers want, some couldn’t hold back their laughter as they all enthusiastically agreed.

“It’s horrible, [but] I think we’re all getting used to it,” Abrams said. “I think me, James and Scotty, really everyone, I think we’ve all had Ken [Warwick] and Nigel [Lythgoe, both executive producers of the show] say this, Jimmy will say another thing and the judges will say something completely different. You don’t even get to talk to them, and they have completely different opinions. You just have to do this big balancing act.”

Reinhart, who has been in the bottom three four times this season, admits it can all be too much.

“There are a lot of opinions and it can eat you up. A lot of them are contradictory, and that’s the part that gets me,” she said. “You have to meet in the middle and do what you feel as well. It can be tough, but we’re getting through it.”

McCreery, who has gotten plenty of criticism for being too ballad-heavy, said he changed his arrangement of King’s classic "You've Got a Friend" from an upbeat one back to a ballad, as “everyone was giving their opinion.”

“They always tell us that it’s our choice. They are very nice about it,” he said. “It’s like, ‘It’s your choice, but here’s my opinion.' ”

Alaina, a rather early frontrunner following a cryptic tweet from Lythgoe during the audition circuit, is one of two females left, and the youngest in the competition, but she's able to joke about it all. She's another that the judges have been tough on for her choice of songs. Jackson told her that although he thought her performance of King's "Where You Lead" came "with a vengeance," the song itself was a bit of a  boring choice.

“They really try to lead you that other direction. [They say,] 'Ultimately, it’s your choice, but I’m just telling you what America is going to love.’ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that,” she said.

Despite all the confusion, Lusk at least sees a silver lining when it comes to working with Iovine, who has been notoriously straight with the contestants.

“I feel a lot more support this go-round. I didn’t feel like it was a shark attacking,” Lusk said. “I feel like Jimmy is a partner now. I don’t see him as the guy who is trying to be mean to us. He’s a partner and he’s trying to make it happen for us.”


Don't blame teen girls for the lack of female finalists on 'American Idol'

'American Idol' recap: The top six take on Carole King

'Idol' Notes: Pop & Hiss lends an ear to the tunes that play out on 'American Idol'

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photos: (Top) Left to right: Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk. (Bottom) Alaina and McCreery duet on Carole King night Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox