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September 18, 2019 at 03:00 PM EDT
Adam Torgerson/NBCUniversal

A talk show may be the latest undertaking for pop star Kelly Clarkson, but on Wednesday’s installment of the chatfest, the host decided to take it all the way back to the beginning with a fun and emotional reunion with OG American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, continuing host Ryan Seacrest, and first season runner-up Justin Guarini.

The show began with a tip-off of what was to come with Clarkson’s customary cover to open the hour: Abdul’s late ’80s dance classic “Straight Up.” She then welcomed her former colleagues to the stage. While the three judges and Guarini all made it to The Voice coach’s couch in L.A., the ever-busy Seacrest had to Skype in and took no end of ribbing from his former co-workers for not making the trek.

Cowell, Abdul, and Jackson regaled Clarkson with behind-the-judges’-table tales of that inaugural 2002 season of the singing competition and Clarkson admitted she didn’t even realize she was auditioning for a TV show until her final callback with cameras. Everyone agreed that they had no idea what a phenomenon the show would become, with Cowell admitting that he was worried that it would get “thrown off” the air in two weeks. Jackson claimed that he knew Clarkson would win at her very first audition. And Cowell, famously the caustic critic during Idol’s early years, had nothing but lavish praise for Clarkson giving her credit as the reason they were all sitting there since the heart of competition shows was, and remains, the talents of the contestants that keep viewers tuning in.

They all discussed how the show changed their lives– making stars of Clarkson, Cowell, Jackson, and Seacrest and reinvigorating Abdul’s career– with Seacrest succinctly summing it up by saying “It opened the doors to everything I’ve been able to accomplish.”

After a few segments, Seacrest was out and Guarini joined the group, recalling the finale of the first season with Clarkson– who bemoaned their contractually-obligated follow-up film From Justin to Kelly— and discussed his work since the show including in the theatre and his long-running Diet Dr. Pepper commercial campaign.

EW was on set for the reunion and can report the warmth was palpable even when the cameras weren’t running. At each break, the conversation on the couch continued with great animation punctured by frequent laughs and embracing and, at one point, the group headed backstage and Cowell and Clarkson linked arms the whole way as did Abdul and Jackson. The group got a little misty saying they would all be willing to work together again.

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Adam Torgerson/NBCUniversal

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