American Idol alumni (from left) Caleb Johnson, Constantine Maroulis, Chris Daughtry, and James Durbin perform on the series finale. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
And so, it’s all over. Kieran has dimmed the lights for the last time. Seacrest is “out” for good. On Thursday night, American Idol came to an end after 15 seasons, crowning soulful farm boy Trent Harmon as its “Kelly Clarkson bookend” winner.
But whether Trent or his worthy opponent La’Porsha Renae won Idol Season 15 was pretty much an afterthought on this throwback-Thursday spectacular. Lovingly produced by the triumphantly returning Nigel Lythgoe (who helmed the show during its first seven classic seasons, as well as Seasons 10-12), Idol’s grand finale was more a celebration of the series’ glorious past than an acknowledgment of its present or possible future. And sure, Trent, La’Porsha, and rest of this year’s cast may not have been too thrilled by the fact that they were basically relegated to stagehand status – the top 10’s practically only significant time onstage during the 126-minute broadcast was an awkward moment when they wheeled out a commemorative neon sign (a gift for veteran host Ryan Seacrest). I did feel a little sorry for those kids.
But I, for one, was not complaining.
Seriously, this finale was pretty much perfect (aside from a planned “Moment Like This” singalong getting cut due to lack of time and the notable absence of any Michael Johns tribute). It was everything all sorts of Idol nostalgists – from the live-tweeting diehards, to the fairweather fans who dropped off in recent seasons – could have hoped for. Why? Because unlike most talent show finales, this wasn’t some filler-padded affair with performances by Pitbull, Nick Jonas, and whatever other pop star might have a current single to shill. No, it was ALL IDOLS ALL THE TIME. Even Brian Dunkleman, General Larry Platt, William Hung, Sanjaya Malakar, Kara DioGuardi, and the original Randy/Paula/Simon dream team showed up. And they reminded us all of what a cultural force this show used to be.
Idol fanatics, this was our now. Nigel Lythgoe, yes, you did make us proud. And I personally had the time of my life. These were the highlights of Thursday’s jam-packed show…
11. Barack Obama Rocked the Vote
If there were any example of how influential and far-reaching this program was, it’s the fact the President of the United States recorded an intro for the finale’s opening number. “For over a decade, this show has motivated millions of young Americans to vote,” he noted. “Not all of us can sing like Kelly Clarkson, but all of our voices matter.” Wise words, indeed. (Side note: I wonder if President Obama voted for La’Porsha or Trent?)
10. “One Voice,” Many Tears
The first musical number of the night was a magnificent choral rendering of Barry Manilow’s “One Voice,” which kicked off with this season’s top 10 before a parade of past Idols started marching in – so many of them, in such rapid succession, it was hard to keep track of them all. Diana DeGarmo! David Archuleta! Katharine McPhee! Jessica Sanchez! Taylor Hicks! Jordin Sparks! Melinda Doolittle! Scotty McCreery! Allison Iraheta! Bo Bice! Pia Toscano! It was a sweet, simple, but stunning moment. Even the most hardened, Cowell-hearted curmudgeon must have teared up a little. I know I did.
9. Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood’s Duet Was Not a Drag
Underrated axeman and Idol judge Keith let it wail on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” filling the twangy Tom Petty role nicely while Carrie convincingly channeled her inner Stevie Nicks. Immediately after this, a bunch of other country Idols (Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Kellie Pickler, Skylar Laine, Kree Harrison, Bucky Covington) performed a medley, but this was Thursday’s true meeting of the Nashville stars.
8. Idol Went Pop, Dropped Some “Pants”
This was the most random, baffling medley of the night, but also one of the most wildly entertaining. It started with somewhat forgotten Season 8/9 fourth judge Kara DioGuardi storming out singing (thankfully not doing the terrible coronation song she penned for Kris Allen, “No Boundaries,” but her more successful composition for Pink, “Sober”), followed by CCM piano man Colton Dixon doing his own “Through All of It”; Justin Guarini taking on the Chris Brown role in “No Air” alongside Jordin Sparks; Kimberley Locke crooning her hit single “8th World Wonder”; and Tamyra Gray belting Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.” And then, the good General Larry Platt bumrushed Allison Iraheta’s fierce, fantastic cover of Meghan Trainor’s “No” with a brief, bizarre mashup of his viral Season 9 audition hit “Pants on the Ground,” before things got serious again with Pia Toscano’s “All By Myself.” None of it made any sense. All of it was amazing.
7. The Dream Team Hung Out With Hung
Idol fans were partying like it was 2004 when the original judging power trio of Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell awkwardly reunited onstage, bumbling through their teleprompter lines between group hugs, before William Hung sprinted onstage to reprise his iconic, awful-but-awesome “She Bangs” audition. After Platt and Hung’s surprise appearances, I was kind of hoping Norman Gentle and Magic Cyclops would show up, but this would have to do.
6. Kelly Clarkson’s Medley Was All I Ever Wanted
The Season 1 winner is about to give birth to her second child, so her performance was pre-taped weeks ago. But she made her presence felt nonetheless. While she had so many hits to cram into her five-minute number, it all felt a little rushed, her a cappella rendition of the song that started it all for her, “A Moment Like This,” was everything. More tears fell.
5. Brian Dunkleman Was the Host With the Most
Idol’s original co-host became the butt of many jokes, and became known as the Pete Best of TV hosting, when he left the show after Season 1. So it was wonderful to see him back in the spotlight again, reuniting with Ryan Seacrest and having a great sense of humor about the whole thing. “No one knows the pain of knowing a life without Idol more than me,” he smirkingly warned the soon-to-be-unemployed Seacrest; he also congratulated the show for “struggling for 14 more seasons” without him. This was a more enjoyable comeback than Platt’s or Hung’s. Can The Voice hire Dunkleman to be its new co-host?
4. Idol Went Unplugged
The voices of some of Idol’s greatest powerhouses were front and center in this lovely, tasteful, bell-and-whistle-free number – a welcome counterpoint to all the wackiness mentioned above. Katharine McPhee, Casey James, Ruben Studdard, and Amber Holcomb all impressed, but the real stars of this acoustic medley were Carly Smithson, Clay Aiken (back despite trashing the show on Twitter weeks ago, and sounding fantastic), and pop princess Jessica Sanchez. So much talent, all on one stage… this was magical.
3. All These Young Dudes… Were Fantastic
I’m not going to lie: I was concerned that a David Bowie tribute starring the five “WGWG” winners – David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Nick Fradiani, and prodigal Idol son Phillip Phillips (who’s currently suing Idol’s parent company, 19 Entertainment) – would be a misfire. But instead it just made we wish there had been a Bowie Night during one of these guys’ Idol seasons. This worked shockingly well. Nigel Lythgoe joked in a recent Billboard interview that these five men should go on a joint “WGWG” concert tour. I would pay good money to see that tour.
2. Idol Was All About the R-O-C-K in the U-S-A
No finale number was more fun or fiery (literally; there was pyro involved) than the “Idol rockers” – Chris Daughtry, Caleb Johnson, Constantine Maroulis, James Durbin, and a barely recognizable, short-haired Bo Bice – joining forces for a freewheeling medley of classic rock jams. This was such a blast. (I’d go see these guys on a joint tour, too.) The only thing that could have made this better was the addition of a couple female rockers. Why not Carly or Allison? And surely Amanda Overmyer was available.
1. American Idol Brought Out the Soul Patrol
From reunited Season 3 divas Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, and LaToya London; to the male Motown group number with Clark Beckham, Danny Gokey, George Huff, Elliott Yamin, and Brandon Rogers; to Taylor Hicks in his famous purple blazer; to Joshua Ledet stealing the entire show with his knee- and mic-dropping “Man’s World”; to a phenomenal Candice Glover/Melinda Doolittle duet… this epic R&B medley stunned and slayed from beginning to end. It’s still hard to believe all of these world-class vocalists got their break on one little talent show.