published Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Hundreds gather for watch party at McKenzie Arena

Dorris Durham, lower left, and Maria Howard, bottom right, scream with others as the "American Idol" national audience gets a look at Chattanooga fans inside the McKenzie Arena on Wednesday.
Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Dorris Durham, lower left, and Maria Howard, bottom right, scream with others as the "American Idol" national audience gets a look at Chattanooga fans inside the McKenzie Arena on Wednesday. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

It was not the name they wanted to hear.

As “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest opened the envelope holding the name of the season’s victor, a hush fell over audience members in McKenzie Arena who turned out to support Rossville native and final two contestant Lauren Alaina.

But as Seacrest read the name “Scotty McCreery,” their shoulders collectively slumped. People threw down their hands, booed and shook their heads in disbelief.

“My heart dropped,” said Mya Abernathy of Chattanooga, who had been rooting for Alaina all season long. “It was like I was on a roller coaster and it just fell, high to low. I can’t believe it.”

Shock rippled through the crowd, which mustered up a final roaring cheer when Seacrest announced Alaina as the runner-up.

Rinngold, Ga., resident Brittany Kerr found herself close to tears.

“I was so sure she was going to get it. I’ve never ever voted for American Idol and I voted for her over 300 times last night,” she said.

Two hours earlier as the crowd of about 350 funneled in, they were buzzing with energy. Many carried signs bearing slogans like “We Love Lauren!” and “Just a Small Town Girl.”

“We’re just here to show her our support her, win or lose,” said Tara Webb, of Fort Oglethorpe. She and her husband voted for Alaina every night of the competition, except the week at the end of April when the tornadoes took out their power.

Many who showed up had been faithful followers Alaina’s entire journey.

“When all the hype started, it was just so fun,” said Nancy Howard, who watched every week with her family. “It’s a local girl. It’s that fairytale story. And then when the tornadoes happened that just made her homecoming more emotional. She was just the spirit of something good during a hard time.”

As the show began, fans began chanting “Lauren! Lauren! Lauren!” When the network showed a live feed of the Chattanooga crowd, McKenzie Arena exploded in cheers.

As the night wore on, members of the crowd got visibly impatient, biting their nails and holding their heads in their arms. But many insisted the two-hour finale’s grueling buildup was well worth sitting through.

“It’s not like it’s going to happen again anytime soon, having a girl from around here,” said Howard’s son Neil.

Anytime Alaina walked onto the stage during the broadcast, applause broke out. After she sang “Before He Cheats” with Carrie Underwood, the crowd got to its feet, whooping and hollering.

After the announcement was made though, the crowd quickly dispersed, clearing out before McCreery finished his victory song.

Many stubbornly held up signs reading, “Lauren is our Idol.”

“She represented this place so well. We love her either way,” said Abernathy. “And when she comes home that girl’s going to need all the love she can get.”

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