published Friday, June 10th, 2011

Lauren Alaina Suddeth, ‘American Idol’ winner play like a country duo

  • photo
    Scotty McCreery, left, winner of the singing competition "American Idol," and runner up Lauren Alaina pose for a portrait Tuesday, May 31, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)

By Mesfin Fekadu

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — In their own style, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina are the newest duo on the country scene.

Just a week following the season finale of “American Idol,” the teenagers were together doing press like a team — and this team doesn’t roll alone: They’re equipped with publicists, security guards, managers, record label extras and their real bosses: their mothers.

McCreery beat Alaina to become the Season 10 champ, but the fact that they are both young country singers with similar goals puts them on the same career track.

Ahead of their “Idol” Top 11 tour — which starts next month — they are in Nashville to begin prep on their debut albums.

“We’re going to work with the record people down there and get some songs straightened out, and hopefully I’ll get to listen to them, get to learn them,” McCreery said.

Tonight, they’ll make their debuts on the Grand Ole Opry stage as part of the CMA Music Festival. Fans can see the two perform alongside Randy Travis and Billy Ray Cyrus at the show.

Saturday, they’ll join the star-studded lineup of players in the 21st annual City of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge to raise money in the fight against cancer.

“American Idol” — the No. 1 rated show on TV — can make you a star, but not all of the show’s winners actually come out on top. Remember Taylor Hicks? What about Ruben Studdard?

Alaina, 16, thinks country music fans are what kept her and McCreery in the running.

“Well, country fans are really loyal, so I think that’s why Scotty and I did so good,” she said. “We’re young and so we appeal to a younger crowd, and I think that the combination of those two things really helped us out.”

McCreery, a 17-year-old from Garner, N.C., said growing up, his friends listened to Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync, while he jammed to Elvis and Johnny Cash.

“I guess you could say I was the weird one. But, no, I was the one who listened to good music,” he said. McCreery says that uniqueness — along with his baritone/bass voice — is what led to his victory.

McCreery and Alaina are also on the same page about recording pop music: While there’s interest, staying true to their country roots is their top priority.

Alaina wants to follow in Carrie Underwood’s footsteps, while McCreery is hoping to maintain a classic country sound with a “contemporary twist to keep it up-to-date.”

“With the album I just want to establish myself as an artist and put my stamp on that album,” he said. “My main focus is going to be country music. That’s what I grew up with and what I love.”

So far, the country world has been accepting: McCreery and Alaina’s first singles have hit the Top 40 on the country charts and the Top 20 on the pop charts. Their label, Mercury Nashville, ran an ad in the Billboard Country Update, a Web newsletter, welcoming the singers and thanking “country radio for a great start.”

But McCreery may already be on the pop route: His song, “I Love You This Big,” was co-written by Ester Dean, whose writing credits include No. 1 hits for Rihanna (“S&M,” “Rude Boy,” “What’s My Name?”) and Katy Perry (“Firework”). Dean has also written for Nicki Minaj and Usher.

“[Dean has] written a lot of other pop and R&B songs as well, so ... if we can get that kind of flavor in my songs and make it country and still make it current, then that would be fine with me,” McCreery said.

When asked if he felt pressure to match the success of Underwood — or surpass the disappointing sales from albums by Lee DeWyze and Kris Allen — the teen seems unfazed.

“I wouldn’t call it pressure,” he said. “I want to go out there and make the best record that I can, and I think if I do that people will buy it. It’s just up to me to put good songs on the album and get songs on that thing that people want to hear.”

Then he paused and said: “I guess that’s kind of pressure.”

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June 10, 2011 at 8:07 p.m.
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