The American Idol series finale was last night, and the country crowned its 15th and final winner
La’Porsha Trent Harmon. The show was jam-packed with special performances from former Idol contestants (Tamyra Gray, Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Jessica Sanchez, Pia Toscano, Kellie Pickler), winners (Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, Jordin, White Guys With Guitars, Kelly SINGING A MOMENT LIKE THIS), and Brian Dunkleman. It was clearly emotional for all those involved in the show for the past 10+ years, but it full disclosure, it was emotional for me too.
Yeah, 15 seasons is quite a long run and it’s definitely time to go, but you can’t deny how much of an impact this show has had on reality TV, the music industry, and most importantly, the lives of all those involved. For instance, Kelly Clarkson was waiting tables when she auditioned for the show, and was barely getting by. Now she’s become one of the most successful and acclaimed artists not only as an Idol alum but in pop music, and she probably wouldn’t have been able to reach the level of success she’s at without this platform.
But what I’ve realized over the past few days is that I’m not so much “sad” to see the show go – it’s more of the nostalgia I get from the Idol, yearning for the glory of what the show once was. Case in point last night’s finale. Reuniting the Three Divas (Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson & LaToya London), teaming up Justin Guarini & Jordin Sparks, throwing to Sanjaya & his hair in the audience, and that entire Gospel medley. The producers brought all these people back because THEY are what made Idol great. Back in its heyday, circa 2003 to 2009, Idol became the highest-rated TV show in the United States for an unprecedented seven consecutive years. It became bigger than anyone could ever have imagined. There were even people lit’rally making money off of Idol online with dedicated websites (because the Internet was still emerging as a thing) like Rickey.org and MjsBigBlog, and that type of fandom for an unscripted reality competition series had never been seen before.
But back then, everyone was watching it because it was entertaining. People got sucked into voting for their favorites (or their least favorites – Vote for the Worst, anyone?) and it became watercooler fodder the next day. I am not ashamed to admit that I, too, became a crazed fan of Idol. I purchased not only the winners’ albums but the Idol compilation albums. I’ve gone to a few of the Idol summer tours, and if you recall from a previous post, I may have been in the audience in season one holding up a sign that in all honestly, I partly made so I could get on TV. It worked.
Anyway, all this to say that while a lot of people consider the past few seasons of Idol completely moot, a series finale makes you remember why you fell in love with the show in the first place. Over the past 15 seasons, Idol has definitely given us plenty to talk about, and what better time to talk about all those moments than on the day after the show ends? Thanks for all the memories and lasting legacies you’ve left us with. We’ll Nvr4Get.
The Audacity of Season 1
Season one was kind of a shit show, but a good shit show. Production value was lower than Scotty McCreery’s basso profondo and it took a while for people to tune in. As we know, the auditions are sometimes the most entertaining episodes, and season one was no exception. It was the first we’d see of the extremely outspoken, cutthroat, no filter Simon Cowell. It was like he was being rude to all these contestants (who admittedly couldn’t carry one note) and America was like, ‘Yo, who the hell is this British dude?’ It was also telling of the singers who came in to audition – it was jarring to see a handful of people fight back against the judges and Cowell, since we weren’t necessarily used to the harsh talk back on TV. Enter Tamika Bush, who was one of the very first rude singers to grace the show. I personally enjoy her two-glasses style approach. Why keep your prescription sunglasses in your bag when you can just wear it you head?
Forget JHud, Give From Justin to Kelly An Oscar
Ok, you probably didn’t forget this happened but did you even watch it at all? WELL I DID. In the theater. And maybe with Molly? (yes, and I didn’t realize it would be a musical. YEAH.-M) Either way, it wasn’t that good, but it was along the lines of so bad it’s good. Bless these two for having to do this. The downside of fame, y’all.
Simon + Paula = Saula
In the first couple of seasons, viewers noticed there was an odd chemistry between Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. They’d be at odds with each other one second and the next it felt as if we all needed to leave the room so they could have it to themselves. During the season two finale, producers had fun with this and came up with this little sketch that is something you can never unsee.
World Idol Was a Thing
If you didn’t know, American Idol was adapted from the British version called Pop Idol, which was a huge hit in the U.K. Soon after its major success, more versions of the show started popping up around the world, and by late 2003, when we had already crowned our first and only Idol Kelly, producers of Pop Idol decided it would be a good idea to create World Idol. Think of it as Eurovision, but less importance on the song choice. Don’t get that reference, you lousy Americans? It’s like of the Olympics had a singing event and had one representative from each country compete. Kelly repped the U.S. but came in second to Norway’s Kurt Nilsen, who won with U2’s Beautiful Day. Foiled by Bono again.
Beating the System
For season four, a tricky concept called Dial Idol was introduced, and it’s important to know this had no affiliation at all to American Idol itself. Dial Idol was a Windows program and its associated website that tracks voting trends for Idol contestants. Using your PC’s modem, viewers can automatically vote for their faves and the program reports back to the main website. That site, DialIdol.com, kept track of all the voting data, and therefore was usually a good indicator on who was leading week to week. From seasons four through 13, Dial Idol’s prediction on who would take home the crown was only wrong once, and it was for S13 when the data predicted Jena Irene would win over Caleb Johnson (I barely watched that season too). It was controversial for many reasons, but for those betting money on Idol, it proved to be a secret weapon and guide to win that dough.
The Three Divas Debacle
This was an epic moment from season 3, and maybe the best/worst elimination ever? (Watch it above around the 28:23 mark) It was the results show revealing who was going to make the top 6. Ryan divided the remaining contestants into two groups – on the left side of the stage, it was Fantasia, LaToya and JHud. On the right side of the stage, it was Diana DeGarmo, John Stevens and Jasmine Trias. Ryan then told the remaining contestant, George Huff, that he was safe and to go to the group he also thought was safe. He apprehensively approached the groups, with the Three Divas motioning to come to join them. The audience cheered but then Ryan announced the plot twist – he had joined the wrong group. Note: they did this fake out again in S6, but Melinda Doolittle (in the George Huff position) decided to sit in the middle of the stage and didn’t pick a side lololol). Anyways, the result was the shocking elimination of Jennifer Hudson, but I hear she’s been doing fine since then.
Queen of Crying Memes
Ah, crying girl. The most memorable fan to come out of the pits of the CBS studio audience. Crying girl, aka Ashley Ferl, was 13 years old when she was left in hormonal teen tears after Sanjaya seductively moved his hips as he sang You Really Got Me in season six. The camera only panned to her for a few brief moments, but she’s lived on in the Internet forever. She’s now 22 and a college student majoring in liberal studies. And while she may not be a Fanjaya anymore, she’s still an Idol viewer. Wonder what she thought about Sanjaya’s random wig appearances on the finale last night.
After the unprecedented success of the first two seasons of American Idol, producers decided to capitalize on it even more by launching a spin-off show called American Juniors, looking for the best five young talents to create the country’s next big pop group. The format was a little different than Idol Senior, wherein each week one kid would get voted into the group as opposed to being eliminated. The group barely became anything, but the only thing you need to take out of it is that American was introduced to Lucy Hale of Pretty Little Liars fame. She made it to the group, but now runs from some Big Bad trying to kill her and her friends in designer clothes.
American Idol Experience
In 2009, a theme park attraction called the American Idol Experience, opened at Disney’ World’s Hollywood Studios. It was basically set up to be just like the show, with singers actually auditioning and performing in front of a real audience for a real shot to audition for the real show. There were a handful of Idol finalists from the AI Experience who made it to the show, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that at the grand opening of the attraction, a bunch of Idol alum took the stage, including winners S1 through 7, and that provided for a duet of two of my faves, Carrie and David Cook as seen above. And if you want to go to this attraction, too late. It closed in 2014.
The Best Hollywood Week Groups
Hollywood Week is notoriously difficult, and maybe my favorite part of each season. The contestants are really put to the test, and it always seems like everyone is sleep deprived, hates most people the interact with, and can’t remember the words to well-known songs for the life of them. Tensions run high, people get sick (S11 winner Phillip Phillips even had to be hospitalized during Hollywood Week due to kidney problems) and many are cut from the competition. But every year it’s the group rounds that separate the best from the worst, and in season six, four guys did their damn thing. Three of them even made the semi-finals, with Blake coming in as the runner-up to Jordin. Special shout out to White Chocolate from season eight.
Pants on the Ground
Civil rights activist “General” Larry Platt auditioned with this song in season nine and it became a viral hit. The actual track is meant to protest the practice of guys sagging their trousers, but I have a funny feeling most of the people who bought the single didn’t even realize the real meaning behind it. Either way, it was so memorable he even made a brief appearance on the series finale.
Idol Gives Back
Idol Gives Back was a charity campaign that happened three times throughout the run of the show. The episode featured performances from current and past Idols, celebrities, and music superstars in an effort to get people to donate their money to charity. From the three specials, the campaign raised over $185 million for underserved communities in America and around the world. And also Brad Pitt.
Listen, you can’t have thousands of people across America going to an open call for a hit TV show without meeting a few folks with colorful backgrounds. It began in season two with Corey Clark who was disqualified during the finals (he made it to the top 9) because of an undisclosed criminal record. He later claimed he had an affair with Paula during the show, and that led to her giving him preferential treatment. That went away, but he became a hot mess afterwards. Similarly, Frenchie Davis who I thought was going to be a frontrunner (see: Band of Gold that I still listen to to this day), was disqualified for having previously modelled for an adult website. Other notable controversial contestants include S4’s Mario Vasquez (a frontrunner, left on his own accord citing personal reasons, rumored to be related to lewd conduct with a crew member), S6’s Antonella Barba (racy pix of her surfaced online), S7’s David Hernandez (used to be a stripper), S11’s Jermaine Jones (concealed arrests and outstanding warrants).
Seacrest’s High Five Faux Pas
There is no back story to this besides Ryan can’t read the room.
The Life of Pablo
That time Seacrest used his connections to get Kanye to audition.
Contestants in the initial rounds had a lot of trouble figuring out which door to leave through, and this montage still gets me cracking up every time. In recent years, they’ve noticeably put an Idol-branded sticker on the door to indicate which one they should go out of.
In season eight, a gal called Katrina Darrell showed up to the auditions in only a bikini. It became this whole thing and she even managed to steal a kiss from Ryan. Second-hand embarrassment. She surprisingly made it to Hollywood but got cut in the group rounds. She appeared in the finale alongside judge Kara DioGuardi, who also showed up in her bikini and sang. This show, I swear.
Nicki vs. Mariah
Like what even happened that season? Rumors of their fighting surfaced (maybe that should be in quotes) on TMZ long before the first episodes even aired, and it continued for the whole season. It was annoying. It was even more annoying because the focus turned from the contestants to them, and that’s not fair.
Bigger and Better Than Idol
Listen, not everyone can get it right. And that includes Idol judges. There have been a handful of singers who auditioned for the show, didn’t make it, but eventually became superstars. For instance, Tori Kelly got cut during Hollywood Week, and Simon was not a fan of hers. Cut to 2016 when she got nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, COlbie Calliat, and Glee’s Amber Riley both didn’t even make it past the preliminary rounds, while The Swon Brothers’ Colton Swon and The Hunger Games star Alan Ritchson also didn’t make the cut.
And finally, here’s an ode to all the finalists who left an impression on me and other Idol fans throughout the 15 seasons. Most of the contestants listed below were underdogs and/or underappreciated, and I feel like they need one more shout out before Idol rides off into the sunset… for now (an actual phrase Seacrest said at the end of the finale, which could mean anything but I don’t need it to come back).
- S1: Tamyra Gray – Finished Fourth place/Best Performance, A House is Not a Home
- S2: Trenyce – Fifth place/Best Performance, I Have Nothing
- S3: Jasmine Trias – Third place/Best Performance, Inseparable
- S4: Vonzell Solomon – Third place/Best Performance, The Best of My Love
- S5: Lisa Tucker – Tenth place/Best Performance, One Moment in Time
- S6: Chris Richardson – Sixth place/Best Performance, Geek in the Pink
- S7: Michael Johns (RIP) – Eighth place/Best Performance, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
- S8: Matt Giraud – Fifth place (was the 1st ever contestant to get a judge’s save!)/Best Performance: Let’s Get It On (on Ellen)
- S9: Andrew Garcia – Ninth place/Best Performance, Straight Up
- S10: Pia Toscano – Ninth place/Best Performance, I’ll Stand By You
- S11: Heejun Han – Ninth place/Best Performance, How Am I Supposed To Live Without You
- S12: Lazaro Arbos – Sixth place/Best Perofrmance, Bridge Over Troubled Water
- S13: Alex Preston – Third place/Best Performance, The A Team
- S14: Clark Beckham – Runner-Up/Best Performance, Georgia On My Mind
- S15: Sonika Vaid – Fifth place/Best Performance, Look At Me