I didn’t necessarily plan on writing about “American Idol” two weeks in a row (although, to be honest, I never really plan what I’m going to write about on this blog in advance). But after this week’s series finale, I inevitably ended up with a lot to say. Between the medleys and the reunions and, oh yeah, the crowning of another “American Idol,” there were plenty of moments that made me both wish that the “American Idol” that I know and love wasn’t ending and realize that the “American Idol” that I knew and loved may have actually ended a while ago.
Let’s start at the very beginning, as I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start. The show opened with a pre-taped message from the President, which was somewhat unexpected, but also, of course he would. In it, he spoke about the importance of voting, which is of course, very very important, but I don’t want to think about that now! I watch “Idol” to escape this nightmare election! I’ll go back to thinking about debates and super delegates and all of that nonsense tomorrow. Tonight, I want to see pretty people sing.
Luckily, that was next on the docket, as the show really opened with a big ‘ol musical number (Barry Manilow’s “One Voice” to be specific) featuring a stage full of present and former “Idol” contestants. For someone who still remembers the names and faces of even the most obscure contestants, this one was a doozy. I’m not ashamed (okay, maybe a little) to say that there may have been a few tears shed. This first number really set the precedent for the night: you guys, a lot of talented people came through “Idol.” As much as some want to joke that it was just a glorified talent show, it really produced some incredible performers.
One incredible “Idol” product, who probably can’t sing a lick but still stuck around all 15 seasons, is the show’s perpetually wonderful host, Ryan Seacrest. But, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, the first season of “Idol” actually had two hosts. I had the highest of hopes that Brian Dunkleman, the long-maligned former “Idol” co-host, would make an appearance in the final season and guys, he totally did! In a great (and probably very scripted) moment, Dunkleman returned to the “Idol” stage to both rib Seacrest about how he was now “out of a job”and complement him on a job well done. It had a very full-circle feel, at least to cornballs like me who had been hoping for this since the day the “farewell season” was announced.
After that, the show went on in a somewhat typical finale fashion, with a whole boatload of performances and musical numbers. Unlike previous finales though, these numbers didn’t just feature the top 10 of season 15. In fact, it barely featured them at all. Instead, these numbers used mainly former contestants to celebrate the various genres of music that had been performed on “Idol,” including pop (duh), rock (sure), acoustic (okay?), country (ugh) and even soul (YES). And, of course, the genre specially formulated by “Idol” and it’s many tweenage voters, hunky white men with guitars! There were a few other special performances, including a pre-taped Kelly Clarkson singing a medley of her own hits, a reunited “Three Divas” from season three that quickly became “we totally screwed over Jennifer Hudson when she was on the show so let’s give her a moment in the sun” and a solo performance from Carrie Underwood. Each of the current judges also performed, which seemed a little unnecessary but was probably in their contracts, and the original judging dream team of Randy, Paula and Simon reunited, before being interrupted by William Hung. He seemed happy to be there, so that’s good.
After all that it was time to do that other thing that they were there to do, the naming of the latest and last “American Idol.” We hadn’t seen much of the final two, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, after they recreated season one finalists Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini’s duet of “It Takes Two” early on in the episode. That being said, it seemed pretty clear from the beginning of the night (a zoomed in shot on Renae’s face) that “Idol” had already crowned the winner in its mind. The few individual singers that were singled out in the night’s medleys were “Idol’s” famous females and the entire season seemed to be working under the premise that “Idol” started with a female winner and would inevitably end with a female winner in the incredibly talented Renae. It would be a perfect moment, hearkening back to the beginning of the series when all of America was voting to create the next superstar, a task that they somewhat succeeded in completing with Clarkson. But then, Trent Harmon’s name was called.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Trent. I love his weirdly wonderful voice and performance style, the fact that he kept on truckin’ in Hollywood week even when he had mono. I love his big hats and the fact that he would sometimes call the judges Mr. and Ms. Even the night before the finale I had struggled to decide who to vote for, as Harmon and Renae had been my top two for several weeks. But in the moment when his name was called, I didn’t jump for joy like I have in previous seasons. And really, it has nothing to do with him.
At the end of the day, “American Idol” was a TV show, and like any good TV show, it needed a thoughtful narrative, a through line that fans could follow until its inevitable outcome in the finale. In the last few years and seasons, “Idol” has had two, sometimes battling narratives: the narrative that they try to create and the narrative the voters create for them. People criticize the show for the seemingly endless stream of “seen-it-before” white dudes that win, but they seem to forget that after a certain point that decision is out of the hands of the producers and into the hands of the show’s viewers, who are now primarily tweenage girls and their moms. Gone are the days when everyone watched “Idol”; now it’s a select few and they seem to have very specific tastes. Trent Harmon fit right into those tastes, and that’s why he won. (Don’t worry though, Renae also scored a record deal after Thursday’s finale. There is some justice in the world!)
And that’s why, despite all of my nostalgia and love for the show, I think I’m okay with “American Idol” ending. (I mean, not really, but you know. In theory.) It could have easily kept going for years and years into the future until there are enough “Idol” winners to encircle the globe (or, at least, the Dolby Theater), but would it be producing, as the original title suggested, “superstars”? Probably not. While there are many superstars that found their audience on the “American Idol” stage, those days seem to have truly come and gone.
So farewell, “American Idol.” I’m going to remember you fondly, and try my best to ignore comments from series’ creator Simon Fuller saying that the show will eventually be revamped and brought back. (Come on, dude. Waaaay too soon.)
What did you think of the “Idol” finale? Happy with Trent Harmon as the winner? Think I need to stop talking about “Idol” for a while? (NEVER!) Sing a song about it in the comments. And, before I leave you to go watch the time that Jennifer Holliday was on “Idol” …