AI Finale Ryan Seacrest Brian Dunkleman

Longtime host Ryan Seacrest with one-time host Brian Dunkleman

By Chaz Lipp

Fans got three straight nights to close out a TV mainstay that has been with us for the past 15 years. If you’ve been on board with American Idol for a while, it might not have felt like enough. Despite host Ryan Seacrest’s teasing “…for now” at the very end, after the stage lights went dark and the final goodnights had been said, the reality that we don’t have a next year to look forward to has finally sunken in.

AI Finale Acoustic Medley

Jessica Sanchez (Season 11 runner-up) stuns with a show-stealing capper to the acoustic showcase

What a spectacular finale on Thursday night! Two hours of constant reminders of just how eclectic the talent pool discovered by Idol really has been. Seeing so many past and present favorites was a true blast. The show opened with a special taped message by President Obama. The president acknowledged Idol as a voter’s training program for young viewers weaned on the series. Regardless of how much truth there is in that, the emotional impact of seeing so many Idol alums—knowing that we had a hand in their success—ran high.

Season 15 finalists Trent Harmon and La'Porsha Renae

Season 15 finalists Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae

The only negative aspect of the whole night was how ignored the season 15 contestants wound up being. Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae rightfully had a spotlight moment with a sizzling duet on “It Takes Two.” Seacrest checked in with them a couple times throughout the night, but otherwise season 15’s finalists stayed in the background. The whole top ten came out to present Seacrest with a gigantic Idol sign, but this year there were no solo moments for the current crop. Other than that, there was nary a misstep. The very best decision made was to keep the focus entirely on Idol’s best rather than bring in a revolving door of all-star guests.

Judge Keith Urban with Season 4 champ Carrie Underwood

Judge Keith Urban with Season 4 champ Carrie Underwood

Each of the judges took a turn on center stage; Keith Urban duetted with Carrie Underwood on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” Harry Connick, Jr. duetted with a student from the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music on “What a Wonderful World” (acknowledging the “Idol Gives Back” charity), and Jennifer Lopez delivered a show-stopping medley of “Ain’t Your Mama” and “Let’s Get Loud.”

Tamyra Gray (Season 1), former judge Kara DioGuardi, Jordin Sparks (Season 6 winner)

Tamyra Gray (Season 1), former judge Kara DioGuardi, Jordin Sparks (Season 6 winner)

The two hours moved along at such a rapid clip, there was no chance of boredom setting in. Season one co-host Brian Dunkleman made a funny appearance early on. Nearly all the previous judges checked in, either live on stage (the original trio Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell; Kara DioGuardi delivered a solid performance of “Sober” with season six champ Jordin Sparks and season one’s Tamyra Gray) or via videotape (Steven Tyler, Ellen DeGeneres, Nicki Minaj). The only one absent: Mariah Carey.

Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini and Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks

Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini and Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks

Speaking of absences, while all the winners were accounted for (the very pregnant Kelly Clarkson provided a pre-taped medley of hits), several runners-up were MIA: no Blake Lewis (season six), no David Archuleta (season seven), no Adam Lambert (strange, since he appeared earlier in season 15), no Crystal Bowersox (season nine), and no Jena Irene (season 13). If any of those five were present, they weren’t given any camera time. William Hung and the “Pants on the Ground” guy did get brief solo spots, while season six favorite Sanjaya Malakar was unfortunately relegated to a few shots of him sporting a variety of outrageous wigs (including his infamous “ponyhawk”).

Season 3 finalist LaToya London and Season 5 victor Taylor Hicks

Season 3 finalist LaToya London and Season 5 victor Taylor Hicks

Somewhat lost among all the past talent (including surprising standouts by folks we haven’t heard a lot from in recent years; season 11’s Jessica Sanchez stole her showcase segment from better-known alums Reuben Studdard, Clay Aiken, and Katherine McPhee), the finale did crown a 15th and final Idol. Trent Harmon wasn’t kidding when he said he “worked hard” throughout the season and his victory was well earned. But just as deserving was La’Porsha Renae, who happily has signed a recording contract with Scott Borchetta (the first time in a couple of years that a runner-up has been signed as well as the winner).

AI Season 15 Finale Winner

So much was packed into the American Idol series finale, without a wasted moment, that it perfectly capped a spectacular 15-year run. Kudos to all involved, this was absolutely the way to put a bow on an iconic institution.

American Idol Images: FremantleMedia; 19 Entertainment; FOX

Season 11's Joshua Ledet killing it on "It's a Man's World"

Season 11’s Joshua Ledet killing it on “It’s a Man’s World”

 

Season 3's Three Divas: Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, LaToya London

Season 3’s Three Divas: Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, LaToya London

 

Idol Rockers: Caleb Johnson (Season 13 winner), Constantine Maroulis (Season 4), Chris Daughtry (Season 5)

Idol Rockers: Caleb Johnson (Season 13 winner), Constantine Maroulis (Season 4), Chris Daughtry (Season 5)

 

Marley Fletcher (Ellis Marsalis Center for Music) with judge Harry Connick, Jr.

Marley Fletcher (Ellis Marsalis Center for Music) with judge Harry Connick, Jr.

 

Allison Iraheta (Season 8) steals the show in the girls' medley

Allison Iraheta (Season 8; center) steals the show in the girls’ medley

 

Some of Idol's male winners pay tribute to a David Bowie with an acoustic rock medley

Some of Idol’s male winners (including Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, left) pay tribute to a David Bowie with an acoustic rock medley

 

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