We started singing, bye-bye American Idol

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 season four champ Carrie Underwood, back to sing for the last show.

The season four champ Carrie Underwood, back to sing for the last show. (From my wide-screen)

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.

Oh, where did you go, Lee DeWyze? (From my wide-screen)

Oh, where did you go, Lee DeWyze? (From my wide-screen)

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.

Keith, J-Lo and Harry dress up for the last show together.

Keith, J-Lo and Harry dress up for the last show together. (From my wide-screen)

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.

Trent Harmon, the final 'AI' winner. (From my wide-screen)

Trent Harmon, the final ‘AI’ winner. (From my wide-screen)

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.

Hover over any gallery photo for a description. Click on an image for an enlarged slide show.

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?

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33 thoughts on “We started singing, bye-bye American Idol

  1. Wonderful tribute, Mark. Your blog posts, a few years back, were the reason I started watching the show again after a two year hiatus. My favorite AI singer is Clay Aiken — his voice still gives me goosies. I have lots of fond memories of AI seasons past, many of which I shared with my son, Aaron (who is way too cool for the show, now). I also picked the final two for this season’s finale and didn’t care whether La’Porsha or Trent won — they are both extraordinary singers and I wish them much success.

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  2. You did an excellent job writing the eulogy for AI Mark. To me the program was what it was – a TV program with all the attached drama that actually gave some an opportunity they would not have otherwise had. It can easily be criticized on many levels from the verbal abuse of some contestants for TV ratings to the focus on looks as a criteria for participating – because “no star has ever been ugly”. That said, although it was not fair, still it added an opportunity for some rising performers they would not otherwise have been able to access. And for that it was a positive addition. I stopped watching it after the first season when it became obvious they were going to ridicule some who were deliberately chosen to get on stage and be ridiculed without their permission. That was so inimical to a professional presentation that it made me sick to my stomach. Imagine how that must have felt to those who were verbally abused and had their dreams torn asunder and stomped to death for the amusement of millions. F*ck! That made me so angry.It did NOT amuse me. There were a number of preparation levels where the judges knew they were permitting sub-grade acts onto AI for amusement purposes. Pandering to humanities basest desires- to take joy from seeing others crushed – is not something I will ever encourage.

    ha! Now that I’ve ranted all over your blog Mark – AI had it’s place and did some good,but I did not watch after the first season.

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  3. Our family bonded over the show in the first few seasons. It was quite a phenomena. We began to lose interest the year that Daughtry was eliminated. I think we lost faith in the American voting pool. ☺
    I did see Kelly Clarkson’s performance as a judge and her “Piece by Piece”, which I shared with my daughter, one of her biggest fans. We both cried.
    One thing AI did was create stars. None of the others, including the Voice, have followed up so well. Not sure why ?
    Nice piece, Mark. Thanks for sharing your POV. 💗 💖 💘 💝

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  4. Great commentary Mark! Over the years I was a very big fan until it seemed (in my opinion) to become less of an amateur talent competition when unassuming kids (like David Archuleta or Clay Aiken) had a shot. But throughout, like you said, it was a show you could sit around and watch as a family, talk about and pick favorites, as you did with Elisabeth and I did with my (wonderful) daughter too! It sure was a significant part of our recent pop culture, for better or worse. Last week’s finale was awesome indeed!

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  5. Trent was swinging from the Chandelier…LOL Hard song to belt out! I think Simon Cowell has become somewhat mellow since he became a Daddy! Funny part is the ones ridiculed could not carry a tune so was Simon really that much of a grouch or being honest-with the wannabe’s??? It was just a show if I caught some of it good if not I was always busy doing something…So we move on to the Voice-if I catch it good if not that’s good too. Have a great day Terp! Gatorette

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    • It made me happy that the reader thought enough of my work to have Carrie put her name on it. Or … It was pretty convenient for the newspaper subscriber to bring along to the concert, at least. 😉 Thanks, Rachel.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I started watching from Day 1 and spent the entire first season being pregnant, rooting for my homestate girl Kelly. Idol was watercooler talk at that job and the new job afterwards. I remember how irate many of us were, the morning after Daughtry had been cast off. Vows to never watch again ensued, and my viewership did drop off much after that. I hadn’t watched the last few years and didn’t know the new people.

    But when I saw Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze and David Cook, it all came back. You see former contestants and remember their stories: David Cook losing his brother, Fantasia as a single mom, Danny Gokey losing his wife. I remember getting goose bumps when David Cook did “Hello.” And I don’t even like that song. That’s what Idol did. It could make you like songs you didn’t even like. That was the first time I really heard “Hallelujah” by the pothead Jason Castro. And now I love it.

    So we tuned in to see the Finale. From the get-go, La’Porsha looked like a scared skittish deer. Trent owned the stage. Having not watched the season, I immediately sided with Trent, who (by being comfortable himself) made ME feel comfortable. She made me uneasy. So good for Trent winning!

    And about your Underwood story, I could see how that could make your whole night. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trent was pretty level-headed, indeed, Kerbey. La’Porsha is a talented singer, so maybe the big theater and all those stars just got to her. I think you are right, though, she wasn’t quite herself that last week.

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  7. I was a fan of Idol but tired of it over the years. I knew it was in it’s final season but didn’t realize the finale was last night. I liked a few of the contestants and winners but was often disappointed by how they usually went on to become so generic, the exception being Kelly Clarkson who always prided herself in writing her own material. I was seeing a lot of coverage from this year’s Idol because Dallas Rapattoni was a School of Rock alum so I was kind of rooting for him without ever seeing one episode. Too bad he didn’t win but I’m sure whoever took home the crown deserved it.

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  8. I loved American Idol but became tired of it over the last several years. Didn’t watch it at all this year. It is a shame they are going away but I think it is time.

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  9. what a great send-off piece you wrote for them here, mark. i was a fan for the first few years and then i followed on an off and on basis. i grew to enjoy the voice more, but even that, i only see off and on. i watched the end of the ai finale and really enjoyed it. –

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  10. Never. Watched. It. Even. Once. 0-: Though that can be said for me and all network tv. No time. And I like music but not with the critic’s ear that you have. My 13-year-old loves The Voice, which is maybe sort of similar? I’ve watched that with her, but it’s too high-pressure. Assuming American Idol would be similar. But I realize I’m in the minority. Fave show of many. With good reason, I’m sure.

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    • Good for you, keeping busy otherwise, Liz. I got roped in by work and found it fascinating. Sort of similar to The Voice, yes, but different in tone. Anyway … Have a great day, my friend. 🙂

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  11. Mark, your review was complete and special. I was happy you saw the phone interview with autograph by Carrie Underwood, during the concert.
    I watched every season and usually picked 2 or 3 of top 10 somewhere in middle of each season. i thought Chris Daughtry would win. I loved his portrayal and song in The Passion during Easter. I felt Carrie was a natural born singer and liked her natural curly hair. She was medium build while young. Kelly is still amazing. Adam Lambert was a warm and caring coach. I like Trent and La’Porsha but wanted Dalton due to showmanship and rock music. I loved the years they did musicals, David Cook singing Meatloaf in Phantom of the Opera. I loved the Beatles week and Neil Diamond as a coach. 🙂 I cried during two times and David Bowie was one of those. Harry singing with the little girl was the other.

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  12. Great post, Mark! I did watch, & Trent was my fav 🙂 I have watched AI on and off over the years, & the finale was great. My favs over the years, right off the top of my head, would be David Cook & Adam Lambert – loved their voices & the way they often changed the arrangements to make it their own. I like a few songs by Kelly & Carrie, too. I really liked Crystal Bowersox, too – bought her 1st CD when it came out. AND super cool about your C.U. article being autographed for a fan – that would’ve made my day, too!!

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    • Crystal was a favorite of mine that season, too, Sadie, because she broke the pop singer mold. I was so hoping she would be more successful out there in the real world. 🙂 She was a songwriter. Like David Cook is a rock songwriter. I still dig him a lot. Adam, not as much my musical go-to, but yes, great voice. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I was a huge fan of AI from day one. Kelly Clarkson’s first album, Thankful, is still one of my favorites to listen to. My home region actually had 2 make it to the top 10, one I loved (Norman Gentle S8) one, not-so-much(Julia Demato S2). I thought that Fox sent it out in style. I found the finale to be a great compilation of all that Idol has done over the years, it was produced beautifully. I did, however, disagree with America, I was never a fan of Trent. I simply didn’t feel he was genuine. I did hear that the same record company gave LaPorsha a contract as well…..so at least there is that.

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