Fans pour into arena to cheer on Ga. Idol finalist

The Associated Press

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Crowds poured into a Chattanooga arena for a watch party Wednesday night to see whether local favorite, Lauren Alaina, who lives just across the state line in north Georgia, could pull off a victory in the "American Idol" final.

They were disappointed to see the 16-year-old songbird, of nearby Rossville, Ga., come in second when Scotty McCreery of North Carolina became the 10th American Idol.

That didn't lessen their pride.

At the Renaissance Center in Rossville, where Alaina's family and friends gathered to watch the results, there was quiet disappointment followed by applause for the winner.

"She's still a winner," said Linda Stephens, Alaina's grandmother told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. "She's going to go far, going to be a star — and that's not just Nana talking."

An Pruett, one of Alaina's many fans, said she's proud of her.

"She's still a winner — she was the top female vocalist in this 'Idol' season. I think all of us Southerners have something to be proud of."

Tara Webb of Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., told the paper that she and her husband voted more than 900 times Tuesday night. She said they were at Wednesday's watch party to support the Georgia singer whether she wins or loses.

Tara Webb held a sign that said "Lauren We Believe."

Another sign in the arena described her as "Just a Small Town Girl," a message that harkens back to the days when she would belt out Miranda Lambert's "Famous in a Small Town" at Magoo's Restaurant in East Ridge, Tenn.

Since she was 12 years old, Alaina performed at the restaurant every Wednesday night, singing hits such as "Midnight Train to Georgia."

Friends in Georgia and Tennessee said they weren't surprised she made the finals of American Idol.

"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.

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 says "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood is one of her biggest musical influences.

Alaina sings in the hallways of Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School, always with a smile on her face, said friend Kaley Daniel.

"This is what she's always wanted. Ever since middle school, she's talked about 'American Idol,'" Daniel said. "It's her dream, and we support her all the way."

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com