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'American Idol' recap: After 15 seasons, an all-star finale to remember

Trent Harmon, left, and La'Porsha Renae

Ray Mickshaw / Fox

Trent Harmon, left, and La'Porsha Renae



Let’s make one thing clear: American Idol is not going away. American Idol will never go away.

Oh, sure, everyone made a big deal of the fact that Thursday’s 15th season finale was the series’ big, nostalgic finish. Soulful country crooner Trent Harmon was crowned champion in front of an all-star lineup of contestants and judges, all swapping songs and shedding tears and raising a lighter for the show's impact and influence over the past 15 years. It was time for a break, and this was a memorable way to go out.

But has there ever been a more rebootable property than American Idol? What, are people suddenly going to stop singing and trying to get famous? No way.

“This show transformed television,” said President Obama – who was, at the time of Idol’s premiere, an Illinois state senator – at the finale’s outset. “It inspired young artists and captivated audiences across the country. And it taught Americans what it means to be pitchy.”

Before we get too far into the evening’s nonstop parade of nostalgia – Brian Dunkleman! William Hung! Pants on the Ground Guy! – let’s talk about the fact that, oh yeah, we have a new American Idol on our hands.

After having basically nothing to do for nearly two hours, Harmon and runner-up La'Porsha Renae met one last time at center stage for a coronation from Ryan Seacrest that couldn't help but feel a little anticlimactic. Well, to everyone but Harmon, that is, as he immediately collapsed into a sobbing mess on the ground.

"I worked so hard, and I know that I have a God-given ability, and I didn't want to take it for granted," he said, clutching Renae. "I wanted to work so, so hard. And she pushed me to do it."

Harmon has a nice, earnest personality and soulful voice that might serve him well as a Nashville newcomer. As for how well history will remember him, well, it's too bad the season he won was the last one, because this finale was a good excuse to give a generation of 15-minute wonders one additional moment in a prime-time spotlight.

For Idol superfans, how amazing it must’ve been to see all those singers from years past coming together for medleys and montages and memories. This was Idol's most over-the-top episode ever, and for the most part, it worked pretty well.

Original Idol Kelly Clarkson couldn’t make it – she’s about to have a baby – but past winners Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, Nick Fradiani, Kris Allen, Scotty McCreery, Caleb Johnson and Taylor Hicks were in the house. So were judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. So were popular figures who didn’t win, including Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Kellie Pickler and Katharine McPhee.

(In case you were wondering, Tampa Bay finalists made the finale. So here’s one final shout-out to Jessica Sierra, Melissa McGhee, Michael Lynche, Syesha Mercado, Jeremy Rosado, Shannon Magrane and all the rest of the ex-Idols repping the Gulf Coast.)

After a brief reunion with Season 1 co-host Dunkleman (“Looks like after tonight, you’re going to be out of a job,” Dunkleman told him, “and trust me, nobody knows the pain of life without Idol more than me”), Seacrest wisely got out of the way and let the music take over.

Some of it was pretty cheesy (that massive opening rendition of Barry Manilow’s One Voice), but hey, Idol never said it wasn’t all about that cheddar. And while the medleys weren’t exactly groundbreaking – or, um, entirely well-rehearsed – it was cool to see so many Idol classes on the stage at one time.

How about rockers Daughtry, Bo Bice, Caleb Johnson, Constantine Maroulis and James Durbin sharing the stage? Or a reunion of Season 3’s “Three Divas,” Hudson, Barrino and LaToya London? Or past winners Phillips, Cook, DeWyze, Fradiani and Allen joining forces for a tribute to David Bowie? (Although was it not kind of cruel not to have Adam Lambert on hand for that one?)

There was so much talent in the house that it served as a reminder of how many great voices the show has produced that have largely been lost to history (Pia Toscano, Carly Smithson, Joshua Ledet). Even if you’d only tuned in to one season over the years, you surely found something in the finale that reminded you how much fun the show could be at its best.

And that’s why American Idol will never really go away. Everyone put on a big show of this being the last episode ever; Cowell even got to say that old TV chestnut: "Thank you, America, for letting us into your homes."

But Seacrest got the last words of the night, and boy, were they were telling.

"Good night, America," he said with a big, shaking sigh. Then he took a long pause.

"For now."

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2016 10:21pm]


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