It was all about the tears on Thursday night's American Idol. But the tears weren't being shed by the two eliminated singers, Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia. Or even by Casey Abrams, who made it through on his own merit rather than relying on a judges' save. Rather, the waterworks were coming from 16-year-old Lauren Alaina, who was visibly upset throughout the second half of the hour-long results show.
Alaina first lost her composure after her good friend and the only other 16-year-old remaining, Megia, was sentenced to the bottom three. But Alaina really lost it after 26-year-old Paul McDonald, who has acted behind the scenes in the role of trusted big brother, was sentenced to the same fate.
It seems clear that Alaina relies on McDonald to keep her steady. Last week, she was asked after the show about her on-air statement that people had said unkind things about her. "And at first I didn't deal with it well," said Alaina on the videotape. "But now I'm kind of at the point that I realize that I am who I am and I just have to not let what other people say bring me down all the time." McDonald was clearly a support system, giving her a big hug after she struggled to answer the question and again, broke down in tears.
Last night, and for the rest of the show after McDonald was sent to the hot seat, Alaina hid her face in her hands, crying. Jacob Lusk, sitting to her right, kept his arm around her. Abrams, seated two people over to her left, reached over Haley Reinhart to pat Alaina's knee. But she was inconsolable. Even the spectacle of a big production number featuring will.i.am and Jamie Foxx couldn't distract her. After the song was over and the show cut to commercial, Alaina was crying so hard that she didn't notice at first that the two stars had come over to the couch to say hello and shake hands with the contestants.
It was a disturbing display for a couple of reasons: First, even when "big brother" McDonald was saved from elimination the tears didn't stop. And second, instead of getting quality time with the judges after the show wrapped, Adedapo and Megia, who handled their eliminations with quiet grace, had to stand by and watch as judge Steven Tyler came up on stage and spoke quietly with Alaina, then wrapped her in a long, tender bear hug.
Both Alaina and Megia tried out for the show when they were 15, and have since turned 16. So what happened tonight begs the question: Are 15 and 16-year-olds really ready to handle this kind of pressure?