The rumors started flying at about 4 pm Pacific time, roughly an hour before American Idol went live to the east coast: Lauren Alaina, one of the last two competitors standing, had no voice, and it would take every last minute up until show time for producers to decide whether or not she could perform.
And that raised immediate questions: Would she be advised not to sing because she was sick with laryngitis, or because she was experiencing strain on her over-taxed vocal chords? And if she couldn't sing, would the producers replace her three live performances with footage from dress rehearsals — as they do when a dancer is injured on Dancing With the Stars? Or, if she could sing but couldn't sing full out, would she have to forfeit the competition and be replaced by third place finisher Haley Reinhart?
Alaina herself answered the most important question when host Ryan Seacrest brought the two finalists, Alaina and Scotty McCreery, out onto the Nokia Theater stage. "I'm here, I'm ready to sing, and don't worry about it," she said, the show's doctor adding that she had been medicated after she "blew out" one of her vocal chords earlier in the day.
And with that, the high drama was over. There was still the issue of her ability to belt out her songs to a much bigger room and an expanded crowd of 7,000. She managed to do that without a lot of fuss. But backstage after the show, in a very short press conference, Alaina was under doctor's orders to rest her voice. So she stayed silent, letting McCreery do all the talking, and relaying her answers after she wrote them down in a small notebook.
Reporter: How do you think you did tonight?
McCreery: I went out there and I did my best. I just went out there and left everything on the stage. Our work here is done, and it's up to America now. [Looking at Alaina's notebook]. She says 'Ditto.'
Reporter: Are you going to shave your head (as Jennifer Lopez requested)?
McCreery: Every time I look in the mirror I think about that. To me, it's still a debate, though I'm leaning toward the NO side. [Lauren holds up her notebook to the press. In giant letters, it reads, 'NO.'] But how often do you get the most beautiful woman in the world to shave your head? We'll see.
So the crisis has passed, for now. It remains unclear what kind of medication was given to Alaina. When asked, she wrote that she didn't know. But season one winner Kelly Clarkson struggled with her voice on the finale, too, after months of competition, straining to reach the high notes on her first single (and the last song of that season), "A Moment Like This."
Could be a good sign.