Entertainment

'American Idol' finalist Lauren Alaina is just a country girl at heart

Every Wednesday night since she was 12, Lauren Alaina belted out a two-hour set at a restaurant just across the Tennessee border from her hometown of Rossville, Ga.

She'd roll through "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Big Girls Don't Cry," but her big number was Miranda Lambert's "Famous in a Small Town."

But the song doesn't describe the 16-year-old "American Idol" finalist anymore after she charmed viewers with her bright smile and powerful voice.

Now Lauren Alaina faces 17-year-old Scotty McCreery of Garner tonight for a final performance. A winner will be named Wednesday.

The bubbly Lauren Alaina, whose nickname is "LaLa," has breezed through round after round of "Idol" with her signature country sound. Her success is no surprise to the high school sophomore's supporters back home.

"I didn't know when, I didn't know how, but I knew it was going to happen one way or another," said Jennifer Lawhorn, owner of Magoo's Restaurant in East Ridge, Tenn., where Lauren Alaina performed weekly.

Friends describe her as a "country girl" who loves cheerleading, volunteering with special-needs children and singing any chance she gets. The straight-A student loves the "Harry Potter" series and lists "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood as one of her biggest musical influences.

Her father, J.J., works for chemical company BASF, and her mother, Kristy Suddeth, has quit work as a waitress to be with her daughter for "Idol." (Their daughter's full name is Lauren Alaina Suddeth)

In school, Lauren Alaina sings in the hallways, inviting friends and teachers to hear her perform at Magoo's.

"This is what she's always wanted. Ever since middle school, she's talked about `American Idol,'" said good friend Kaley Daniel.

The manager at the CiCi's Pizza where she worked when she was chosen for the Fox TV show said the teen even sang as she replenished the ranch dressing on the buffet table.

"You'd see people's heads turn - they noticed it," said restaurant manager Mike Wild.

Longtime family friend Jody Tinker, who owns a tanning business, recalls an 8-year-old Lauren Alaina singing and practicing her autograph while her mother was in the tanning bed.

"She told me she was going to be a big star one day," said Tinker, who traveled to California with the family a few weeks ago to be in the "Idol" audience. "I kept every one of them. I've got hundreds."

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