In one final love song to 'Idol,' past finalists return to pay respects to the show before naming a farewell winner
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Dim the lights, one last time.

About 1 million 14 years ago, I cried watching Kelly Clarkson’s inaugural American Idol victory. That was partially because I was a young boy with a lot of years of therapy ahead, but more so because it was a show and a moment that gave you hope that you also might be able to change the world and sing in front of millions of people one day. We’re here, 14 years in the future, at the end of the Idol road, and I’m somehow still not an American Idol. But I am writing this recap, and you’re reading it, and we stuck it out, and that has to mean something, right? If nothing else, it means a lot for Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae because they are the final two finalists left standing, FOREVER.

Tonight is a love song to Idol. A final performance where the entire gang comes together one last time before burning the house down, except not really, because can you imagine the deposit they’d lose on the Dolby Theatre? I can’t even count that high, so why don’t we just go over what’s happening tonight, shall we?

#ThrowbackThursday: Idol Edition

Remember when a bajillion Idol contestants descended on the stage to open up the show together in all white and you cried and cried and didn’t stop for two hours? Well, I hope you stopped crying because soon after is when the TRUE IDOL took the stage — that’s right: Brian Dunkleman is back, y’all. If only for a moment (like this). It appears that it’s going to be an emotional throwback night because the finalist duet to kick off the show is one you might remember from Mr. Guarini and Ms. Clarkson. Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae take on “It Takes Two.” Trent is in LEATHER PANTS and a green leopard-print shirt. I’m here for it. And then, of course, there’s the vocal. La’Porsha and Trent are the reason this season ended up being successful. It’s been a while since a finale felt so satisfying.

The First of Many Medleys

In a musical flurry, half of everyone involved in Idol over the past 15 years came back for one of the most overwhelming medleys in history. To even remotely try to cover all that singing, let’s rank all those mini-performances.

8. Kara DioGuardi, “Sober”

Shamefully, I didn’t know that Kara DioGuardi could sing, but honestly, I’m not even sure that it’s completely fair to call it that.

7. Allison Iraheta, “No”


6. Tamyra Gray and friends, “Girl Crush”

I feel sort of bad that I didn’t even recognize Tamyra Gray, but I am pretty happy that she can still sing so beautifully.

5. Kimberley Locke, “8th World Wonder”

Did you guys even know that Kimberley Locke was still around? And that she still sounds so wonderful? Snaps for Kim!

4. Colton Dixon, “Through All of It”

Definitely didn’t follow up with Colton Dixon, but it would appear that he’s a Christian singer now. His song was beautiful, but that hair was breathtaking. As my grandmother once told me, the higher the hair, the closer to God.

3. Justin Guarini and Jordin Sparks “No Air”

On the other side of the hair spectrum, Justin Guarini sans hair is hardly Justin Guarini at all, am I right? It’s just a Dr. Pepper advertisement. But Jordin Sparks is still delightful.

2. Pia Toscano, “All By Myself”

This is Pia’s moment, y’all! Remember when she got eliminated super early and everyone was upset because she was the next Celine, and then we didn’t hear from her again? She showed tonight that she wouldn’t be upstaged twice! Well, almost…


NEXT: Medleys on medleys on medleys

Kelly Clarkson Medley

Poor Kelly is so super pregnant that she wasn’t able to make it back for the finale after all, but it feels incredibly fitting that she’s having her baby on the night of the final episode of Idol. Every time a reality show ends, a former winner’s baby gets its wings. Regardless, the show (smartly) had Kelly record a medley of her hits, and if you had forgotten why she was the first and most important winner, that incredible rundown of hits should be a reminder. All the way from “The Trouble With Love Is” to “Piece by Piece,” Kelly is nothing short of an American treasure.

Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and the Hoedown Throwdown

Honestly, I don’t mean to throw shade at anyone because all Idols are important, but they are not equal. Carrie Underwood appearing from the bottom of the stage and then stealing your country western soul is peak American Idol, and then on top of that, Keith Urban playing guitar and accompanying her is just delightful. Their version of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” sets the stage for the Idol finalists to follow. Diana DeGarmo, Skylar Laine, and Kree Harrison (how did I forget about her?) take the stage for a rendition of, “You Belong With Me” and then the country lineup barrels in with Bucky Covington, my new c-list celebrity crush Ace Young, Constantine Maroulis, the dance legend that is Kellie Pickler, Lauren Alaina, and the last great country Idol, Scotty McCreery.

Jennifer Lopez, “Ain’t Your Mama” and “Let’s Get Loud”

Fun fact: Did you know that this new J. Lo song was written by Meghan Trainor? It’s definitely catchy, but I’m distracted by how insane it is that Jennifer Lopez hasn’t aged in fifteen years. It’s funny that she can be so kind on the panel with her goosies and whatnot and then so incredibly fierce on stage, but the most amazing part of her performance is how she had an entire wardrobe change in about 30 seconds. It takes me 30 minutes for me to find the holes for the legs of my pants in the morning. And just in case once wasn’t enough, she changes again. Let’s all just admit that we’ll never be this talented — vocally or changing-wise.

NEXT: The three divas

Three Divas and the Soul of American Idol

LaToya London, Fantasia, and Jennifer Hudson back together is what longtime Idol fans have been living for. It’s like going to sparkle church, and it all starts with “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s not that theatrical business that we remember from Clay Aiken — it’s a bridge that leads you straight over the troubled water and directly to the tabernacle. And then Jennifer Hudson’s special solo with “Remember the Music,” is just a beautiful moment reminding us that at one point even seventh place wasn’t something to scoff at. Fantasia follows up with an unbelievable performance of “Ugly.” I run around my living room screaming, “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in celebration. The lesser known of the three divas, LaToya, is accompanied by season 5 daddy silver fox, Taylor Hicks, for a rendition of “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” Weird dancing ensues.

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Elsewhere in the world of soul, Brandon Rogers, George Huff, Danny Gokey, Elliott Yamin, and Clark Beckham show up to do a nice medley, but what really matters is that Joshua Ledet makes a rare appearance to sing “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and ruins you with his fun vocal scatting. Not to be outdone, Candice Glover and Melinda Doolittle (BOW AT THE IDOL ALTAR) show up to sing “Joy to the World.” In short, Idol has no shortage of country or soul or literally anything.

Gang’s All Here!

After a flashback of 15 years of awkward moments, bloopers, crazy contestants, and silly auditions, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson join Ryan Seacrest on stage to reunite, but the one part that seems to be missing is the heart (or lack thereof) of the show. But just as Paula and Randy launch into a Simon Cowell flashback speech, the devil himself appears to reunite the entire team. In a bit of an awkward moment, Simon, Paula, and Randy stumble through a thank you to the fans and to American Idol, as if they are holding off for one final surprise. And then, in a blur of white satin, William Hung (#HungOnIdol, y’all) blasts from stage left screaming, “SHE BANGS! SHE BANGS!” You know that he has been waiting on this moment for YEARS.

Carrie Underwood, “Something In the Water”

As the night comes to an end, with Kelly is on baby hiatus, it makes so much sense to me that we end this Idol legacy on Carrie Underwood singing her 2014 single because the main way that Idol will continue to live on is through the talent it has produced. Sporting a fancy sheer dress and a fun new bob, Carrie tears into “Something in the Water” with the same vigor and strength that she put forth every week as a contestant. She ends the performance with confetti rain because nothing is too much for the series finale.

NEXT: A final Idol

And the winner is…

After a very long night of memories, I think some people forgot that we were here for La’Porsha and Trent. But with no time to spare, Ryan dims the lights one final time. With La’Porsha and Trent holding each other close, Ryan screams out the winner’s name loud and clear: “TRENT HARMON.” After shocking the judges at his first audition, Trent sailed through the competition with a powerful falsetto and some crazy faces to boot. It could have gone either way, but for this farewell season, it goes to Trent Harmon. Ryan stands at the edge of a confetti storm to thank America for their years of viewership, and to say, one last time, “Goodnight, America…”

“...for now.”


Bonus moments

  • Forced product placement is and always will be one of my favorite Idol tenets, but no one will ever trump Ford. They gave La’Porsha and Trent new cars. OH FORD.
  • That little girl, Marley Fletcher, completely crushed Harry Connick Jr. She should be in whatever revamped version of Idol we get next.
  • Let’s talk about how Idol put all of its white guys with guitars (WGWG) on stage together for a…wait for it…BOWIE TRIBUTE. Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, Nick Fradiani, David Cook, and Kris Allen managed to do a plenty serviceable tribute to David Bowie, but c’mon y’all.
  • I’m a little sad that La’Porsha and Trent practically didn’t exist through the entire finale.
  • That rock montage with Constantine Maroulis, [Hot Dad] Bo Bice, Caleb Johnson, and James Durbin should have just been called the Chris Daughtry Show With Some Fun Guests!

And with that, we’ve completed an era…for now? What do you make of those final words from Ryan? And how do you feel about this Trent Harmon finish? Do you agree that the R&B crooner was the way to go, or are you still holding your torch proudly for La’Porsha? Either way, both should have spectacular careers no matter how the votes fell. As the Idol light fades out, hit the comments section with your reactions, or tweet me @justinkirkland4 with your thoughts. It has been an absolute honor watching, yelling, crying, and judging from my couch with you this season. Raise your heavily branded red Coca-Cola cups with me one last time (maybe?) and salute all those auditions who sang too close to the sun.

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