American Idol is done, and there is no doubt the program changed the way we do TV in modern America. Back in 2002, the reality TV craze was just gaining real steam, but Fox has something new and exciting up its sleeve. A twist on the familiar talent show shtick that would allow viewers to determine the fate of the contestants. We could all be Caesar with our thumbs up or down.
At the end of season one, Kelly Clarkson edged Justin Guarini to take the title. She went on to global superstardom and was remembered fondly in an episode earlier this season in which she served as a guest judge and mentor for the contestants.
This time around, it was another male-female finale. Trent Harmon beat La’Porsha Renae to take the title and the recording contract that comes with it. After 15 seasons, American Idol was done.
In its heyday, AI was as “must see” as TV has been in the 20th Century. Huge numbers of people watched and voted and voted and voted. The show drew big name sponsors and made household names out of DJ Ryan Seacrest, acerbic producer Simon Cowell and offered new chances at fame for musicians like Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.
In later years, viewership waned, and, finally realizing it was the judges and not the singers who were the stars of the show, producers brought in actual music superstars to be the judges. After a few interesting seasons – remember Steven Tyler – the show found the right group in Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. The trio brought together most popular genres as well as collective decades of professional experience.
But, despite its evolution through 15 seasons, the show returned to its roots for the finale. Clarkson appeared in a pre-taped segment, and the curtain fell with Seacrest joined onstage by Jackson, Abdul, and Cowell.
The finale didn’t lack for contestant nostalgia either, bringing back Scotty McCreery, Taylor Hicks, Diana DeGarmo, Jennifer Hudson, David Cook, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jordin Sparks and Kimberley Locke … and, of course, megastar Carrie Underwood, the undisputed queen of Idol alumni, who sang a duet with Urban.
Even President Obama made an appearance, in a pretaped segment. When POTUS shows up on your finale, you know you’ve made a cultural impact. Now some are asking if there will be another show as impactful as Idol. Skeptics abound. They argue viewership is changing. Folks are too splintered, too distracted to connect in the same way. Then again, there were a lot of people, way back in 2002, that said talent shows were dead too.