This is the end. At least for now.

Last night, ‘American Idol’ gave us what it wanted us to think was its series finale. It certainly looked, sounded and behaved like a series finale. With performances from just about every memorable ‘Idol’ contestant, visits from the judges and even a surprise show open from Brian Dunkelman(!) it must have been the last episode ever, right?

I, for one, am not buying it. I don’t even think the show itself is buying it. It’s very telling when the announcer began the show by calling it the “‘American Idol’ Season 15 Finale”. Not series finale, season finale. There’s plenty of other evidence out there too – Simon Fuller has told the entire Internet over the last few days that he sees ‘Idol’ coming back in a new form within two years.

There’s also the ratings – ‘Idol’ is not nearly what it used to be, but it still routinely wins its timeslot and the only reason it’s going away now is because they’re still spending money on it like it’s being watched by 30 million people. Some simple cost cutting keeps this show on the air forever. ‘Dancing With The Stars’ does about two-thirds of ‘Idol’s’ demo number and it’s in no danger of being canceled.

I’m not saying ‘Idol’ is coming back next season. I’m not even saying it’s coming back on Fox. However, somebody will resurrect this show within two years in a more budget-effective format and it will probably run for another fifteen years after that.

So I’m not going to say farewell with this recap, I’m just going to say goodbye for now.
The finale started with one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve ever seen from something so silly and inconsequential. Brian Dunkelman, who famously opted not to return for Season 2, made his first appearance on the ‘Idol’ stage since its first season summer finale. The moment had the perfect blend of snark and warmth to make it more affecting than something like that is supposed to be. It also reminded me of the huge cheer Dunkelman got when Ryan Seacrest jokingly announced him as a co-host of ‘Idol Gives Back’ a few years ago. It was just good to have him back.

From a music standpoint, the show was its typical medley-heavy self, but went even crazier with the musical mashups than normal. Nearly every segment featured a genre-specific matchup that brought out a couple dozen former contestants that ranged from winners to the obscure, “I remember them!” singers.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the medleys on this show as they always have had the worst possible choreography and the cheesiest arrangements. They also normally consist of songs that would make a jukebox at a fifties-themed diner think they were out of date. The former contestant medleys last night, however, all worked exceptionally well. Not just from a nostalgia standpoint, but the music and mashups were arranged spotlessly and the parade of former Idols handled their parts with aplomb.

There were so many standouts from former contestants that listing them all would take up this entire recap. I’ll choose to pick out a few that many probably didn’t expect. First, Carly Smithson sounded like a Carole King swallowed a huge-voiced soul singer – I’ll never understand how she didn’t make it all in the industry given how much support record companies put behind her. Justin Guarini, who’s currently making a name as Li’l Sweet, showed why he seemed like a future superstar on the first season – almost unrecognizable in a good way and sounding better than ever.

And, of course, the biggest standout of the evening was the 15 or so seconds Joshua Ledet was afforded to reprise the best performance in the history of the program. For my money, Ledet is the best contestant ever on the show and if Smithson’s lack of success is hard to understand, then Ledet’s is absolutely mind-boggling.

Altogether, it was a pretty impeccable night for the former contestants on the show. The one performance I could have done without was seeing the quintet of white guys with guitars do pretty mediocre versions of David Bowie songs. Maybe it’s just a bad idea to attempt to pay tribute to Bowie?

Really, the best decision the producers made for the finale was to do away with the normal cavalcade of celebrity guests and focus purely on the show, its history and the people who were so deeply a part of it throughout its run. Even if that meant we had to suffer through Kara Dioguardi attempting to sing and a montage of Ford commercials, this was a show about the show and the core of what made it popular.

That reached its apex when Simon Cowell made a “surprise” appearance onstage to join Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul for a reunion of the original judges’ panel. The show lost a bit of what made it great once they forced Kara onto the panel and its original magic trio was interrupted. It was so nice to see them back together if only for a moment. After the Kelly guest-judged the first live show, I thought they had a real opportunity to bring back one former contestant or judge as a fourth panelist each week – I would have loved to have seen Cowell get one last shot at the show’s contestants – but that was never in the cards this season so the mini-reunion was as close as we could get.

It wasn’t just the good either. Sanjaya was in the audience. Pants-on-the-ground Guy (for my money, the last really big moment ‘Idol’ had) showed up in a montage. If it weren’t for Carrie Underwood, William Hung would have been the last performance from the guest stars. It really was just about as perfect a finale as an ‘Idol’ fan could ask for.
There were a few former contestants a bit conspicuous by their absence. There was no Blake Lewis, David Archuleta, Adam Lambert, Crystal Bowersox, Haley Reinhart, Angie Miller, and Jax were all absent just to name a few. They couldn’t get them all in, but there were a few that I didn’t even remember until I went, “oh yeah!” who got in ahead of them. Presumably because of conflicts, but other than Lambert, I’m not sure what anybody else would have going on.

There was also a winner crowned in the midst of all the nostalgia list night. Trent Harmon won in what I consider to be a pretty big upset. Maybe I shouldn’t considering he’s essentially yet another white guy with a guitar – an archetype that won the last 8 of 9 years, only losing when the producers engineered against it and gave us Candice Glover – but I thought we would come full circle and have La’Porsha – the type of pop singer the show originally wanted to find – win the final season.

Of course, I say final with as many grains of salt as possible. After all, Seacrest’s final words of the last night’s finale…”For now”.

See you in two years.

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  • Laurie O’Connor

    David Archuleta was there – he was in the ensemble in the background.
    He didn’t want to be a bigger part of the show according to something I read somewhere else online:)