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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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”).
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).
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