As American Idol comes to a close (as we know it), the documentary-style special “American Dream” followed Idol from its first steps all the way to its final note. While “American Dream” charted some of the more memorable judging changes, iconic mentors (Beyoncé, Sia, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, and Dolly Parton), and shocking votes, here are five of the most surprising facts from the retrospective.
5. The show was almost nice and friendly
Simon Cowell was nearly nixed before the show even started. The network was worried about how crass Simon was (especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and a tumultuous national landscape) and wanted to put together a show that celebrated, not stifled, American hope. Idol fought back and thus produced Simon Cowell, whose commentary was the stuff of nightmares. Ruthless and unforgiving, Cowell made sport of making the truth of the music industry known: Finalists outside of the ideal age, weight, and appearance may have slid through, but not without that anomaly being noted.
4. The first season was legitimately bonkers
Apparently, the first season was put together on a hope and a wish and a whole bunch of contestants who were willing to put it all out there. Behind the scenes, everyone got laryngitis, including Kelly Clarkson on the fateful night she sang Céline Dion’s “I Surrender.” Contestants had to flip coins for songs because the songbook was so incredibly limited by an industry that “didn’t want their songs sang on a talent show.” Also IdolOnFox.com gave a way for contestants to read the terrible things people wanted to write about them, and it was all recorded for camera. If America loved a talent show, then they doubly loved watching the talent respond to Internet trolls.
3. Ryan Seacrest taught America how to text
Okay, so maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but text voting was introduced in season 2 and ultimately changed the American voting game. Ryan Seacrest was brought in for a meeting specifically to learn how to text. Afterward, he took to the stage to teach people how to use their Cingular Wireless phones (once upon a million years ago) to text in and vote. Even Ryan thought that the concept of the text vote was absurd. Now people are pretty much programmed to never speak on their phones. Oh, how times change.
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2. Nigel Lythgoe knew how to use the votes to ruin a life or two
Some mysteries were hardly mysteries at all. Carrie Underwood, unsurprisingly, dominated the vote count every week of her season. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe noted that she was suspected to be crowned Idol from very early on. But as the show progressed, Nigel used more divisive voting results to the show’s advantage, including developing the awful tactic that forced George Huff to choose which group of three he thought was the top in season 3. He moved over and joined the “Three Divas” of Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino, and LaToya London. It just so happened that he was wrong and Jennifer Hudson went home. The “split choice” has been used multiple times since.
1. Paula’s exit was the beginning of the end of the judging powerhouse
Paula’s departure announcement hit the whole Idol team as a bit of a surprise. It was after that Ellen DeGeneres was put in her place. That season led to Simon’s departure and the shakeup that brought in Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, who had never seen the show. There’s still a slight chance that he still hasn’t, to be honest. But he, Jennifer, and Randy made the show warmer and cut the critical tone that Idol was founded upon. And then, of course, there was the Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey year. Candice Glover won that season, but literally no one remembers because the biggest memories of that year consisted mostly of bloodshed and brightly colored hair pieces. Idol struggled to return with that same Simon, Paula, and Randy energy.
BONUS: There was some heavy hinting at another life for American Idol
As the retrospective came to an end, it would seem that American Idol could find life in a different format. Producers revealed that Fox was interested in bringing the show back for an extra season but in a more cost-effective format. That’s when the Idol powers that be decided to “go out with their heads held high.” Even with that, though, producers seemed to hint that Idol‘s run wasn’t over and that this is an opportunity to look at how to take the same idea and adapt it. One producer went on to say that she didn’t think this was the end of Idol at all. So it whatever comes next might not be the American Idol we’ve come to know, but it seems that Idol may live to see another day.
Still, after 15 years, it might be Idol’s final hour, but before the show can end, one more winner must be crowned. Will it be Dalton, Trent, and La’Porsha? And what moments were you most shocked about from the retrospective? Hit the comments or tweet me @justinkirkland4, and I’ll join you for the two night finale beginning on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST.