I don’t know if you noticed, but American Idol put on one hell of a finale last week.
The FOX competition show signed off after 15 seasons of crowning an amateur singer as best of the bunch by winning over the panel of judges and America in voting week after week.
The system worked to a T some years, including the kick-off, when a Texan by the name of Kelly Clarkson won, and then went on to a very big pop music career. You can say that season four winner Carrie Underwood is one of the most popular country music singers around, still.
On the flip side, gray-haired bluesman Taylor Hicks was considered pretty much a flop after his win in season five — but even he’s a hit in Las Vegas — and who can say that they’ve heard much from rocker Lee DeWyze, who won season nine?
In any case, there’s no doubt that ratings started to fall, interest started to wane, water-cooler chatter-chatter diminished year-by-year, or took on a more desultory tone.
But I think FOX got things right for the final go-round.
They shortened the season, for one thing. Programmers finally admitted that they’d been giving too much of what was a good thing.
They kept the same three judges as the past three seasons, and Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. remained personable, toward each other and the contestants.
The singers, well, I still think NBC’s The Voice has somehow passed AI by in the talent department, but there were a couple for this season 15 that could really bring it.
Lo-and-behold, my favorite two, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, made the final two.
They put together the finale right, too.
The two-hour, six-minute Idolpalooza began with a chorus of Idol contestants from throughout the 15 years, all dressed nattily in white.
Winners sang solos.
The mash-ups were splendid.
A four-line of Phillip Phillips, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze and David Cook gave me goosies, and judge Jen would say, with their medley tribute to our recently passed legend, David Bowie.
The original judging three of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and famous meanie Simon Cowell returned to schmooze with host Ryan Seacrest and soak in the applause once again.
After Seacrest — yes, the lone constant through all 15 seasons — announced Harmon as the final winner, it ran through my mind how Harmon’s bout with mono during Hollywood week almost ousted him from the competition, but he decided to sing solo on group night.
And as the producers did things right during the two-hour finale that my dear wife Karen and I watched on the DVR a few nights later — yes, a sign of the times in many ways — I also thought back to what AI has meant, to me and to music-loving America, these years.
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This show appealed to a cross-section of generations. It put young people on the screen singing songs from previous decades. It had parents and kids, grandparents and grandkids, watching the show together, talking about who they liked best and why. (My wonderful daughter Elisabeth and I would trade notes on our favorites before she got too busy with college and life to watch the show.)
It put music on people’s lips and in their minds. Oh, my musician friends around Syracuse often griped about AI, saying it was an artificial way to put anybody into the limelight, and adding that it also kept people in their living rooms instead of out in clubs and bars seeing live music, where they better belonged. While I couldn’t argue with their point that working hard on songwriting and singing was a better way to become successful, I didn’t quite wholeheartedly accept that second burr in their britches. Who was to say that the introduction to the love of music made with AI wouldn’t lead to live-music-going later on in life — or later on in the weekend, for that matter?
During the hey-day, I’d blog my opinions about how the show on my “Music Notes” feature for the big daily the morning-after, and that feature would get a slew of views and comments. Then when the organizers started the Idol Live tour, it included a stop in Syracuse. To preview the first show, I got a phone interview with Carrie Underwood. At the concert, I saw a happy Idol fan the row in front of me with a copy of my story that she’d somehow gotten autographed by Underwood. That made my night.
After my layoff from the big daily, two Central New York contestants appeared on the show. Kaitlyn Jackson made it to the Hollywood round. Kohlton Pascal earned a Golden Ticket for his audition. My stories about them account for the highest-viewed days here on markbialczak.com.
So, yes, I was glad that American Idol did it up right one last time.
Were you ever a fan of ‘American Idol,’ and if so, why? If you watched the finale, what did you think? Who was your favorite singer to come from ‘AI,’ and why?