If you watched the last episode of “American Idol” on Thursday night, you got a refresher course in 15 seasons of contestants. You will now be better prepared for your future as a player of pop trivia games, more ready to yell “Kris Allen!” or “Lee DeWyze” when asked to name one of the famous “Idol” White Men With Guitars.
The “Idol” alums were all over the stage all night, singing solos, duets, and in groupings — David Cook, George Huff, Kellie Pickler, Diana DiGarmo, Constantine Maroulis, and, doing a ragged twist wearing purple velvet, Taylor Hicks. And it was just exactly the right approach for the finale. Rather than bringing in outside pop stars to celebrate, “Idol” stayed exclusively with its homegrown talent, enabling longtime viewers to sink into nostalgia as the faces just kept coming: Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, and LaToya London singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” Clay Aiken singing “Annie’s Song,” Jordin Sparks and Justin Guarini singing “No Air.”
Yes, even William Hung showed up for a bit of “She Bangs,” for completists. Also for completists: Brian Dunkleman, who was Ryan Seacrest’s cohost in the first season, appeared on stage at the top of the night for some gentle teasing and a heartfelt hug. “Looks like after tonight, you’re going to be out of a job,” Dunkleman said to Seacrest with no little irony, “and trust me, nobody knows the pain of life without ‘Idol’ more than me.”
It wasn’t an especially moving night, but why should it have been? There were no giant farewells to be said, really. The cast — the judges, the mentors, the contestants — changed from year to year, so that only the “Idol” moniker and Seacrest stayed for the full run. Fittingly, at the end of the night, former judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson presented Seacrest with that moniker — a huge “American Idol” sign from the set.
That presentation came moments before the big surprise, which was the appearance of Simon Cowell, who’d told the press he wouldn’t be able to attend. The three original judges stood gushing together, fully aware, it seemed, that they were the best part of the series during its best years, and that after they left, “Idol” lost its ratings momentum.
The show opened with a clip of President Obama congratulating the show for its successful run — but also urging young people to vote in elections as fervently as they voted in the “Idol” competition over the years. Former judges Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj and Ellen DeGeneres also appeared in quick clips across the night, while Kara Dioguardi took the stage to perform Pink’s “Sober.” The three sitting judges, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr., and Keith Urban also each performed.
Oh, and who won? Just around 10 p.m., a very emotional Trent Harmon was crowned the final American Idol, with La’Porsha Renae in second place. Wait, the final Idol? That franchise just might have more life left in it. “Good night, America,” Seacrest said as the theme music played. And then, after a long pause, he added: “For now.”