Dante Miller and Brooke Hill drove for eight hours from Tucson, Arizona to get there.
“We don’t even have enough money for gas,” Miller says, laughing. “But we really wanted to be here.”
“We had to say goodbye in person,” adds Hill.
The friends, both graduate students and aspiring singers, sat beside me on Thursday night in one of the back rows inside the famed Dolby Theatre in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. We were joined by about 4,000 people in the audience of the final episode of the final season of American Idol.
Miller, Hill and the rest of us were rewarded with two hours of a nostalgia-filled, greatest-hits spectacle featuring the show’s most memorable alumni from its decade-and-a-half run.
All of the previous 14 winners – including Idol‘s biggest success stories, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood – performed in tribute.
During a series of group medleys, contestants from the various seasons performed hits from Idol‘s trademark jukebox catalogue.
Highlights included a stirring performance by Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London, known as the “Three Divas” from season three.
Idol‘s standout rockers, including Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis, tried to upstage each other during a raucous medley.
Season five’s soulful and gritty Elliott Yamin, my favourite contestant, also stopped by to groove to The Temptations’s Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, along with George Huff (season three), Brandon Rogers (season six), Danny Gokey (season eight) and Clark Beckham (season 14).
It was cheesy, silly and wildly entertaining – and reminded me why I will truly miss this show.
That there wasn’t a single performance by a special guest star, as in previous finales, was thoughtful of the producers – instead, the focus was entirely on Idol‘s home-grown talent.
Also present: Clay Aiken (season two), Pia Toscano (season 10) and Jessica Sanchez (season 11), three powerhouse vocalists who failed to win the crown during their respective seasons. As if righting the wrongs of the past, the show granted them one last chance to shine by giving them long solo numbers.
“I voted for Jessica from her first live show until the finals,” says Hill. I told her that the Filipino-American was the first and only Idol contestant I ever voted for. I skipped the part about voting for her illegally. As I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time, I resorted to what thousands of Sanchez’s Filipino fans had done: I voted via Skype by changing the location to an American city on the software’s dial pad.
The finale finished with Idol‘s original judges – Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell – appearing on stage for some hugs and banter. Master of ceremonies Ryan Seacrest kept cracking jokes throughout, but their reunion was actually the night’s most moving moment.
“Thank you America for inviting us into your homes,” Cowell said, choking just a tiny bit. “I’m feeling quite emotional now.”
At the end of the night, Idol crowned its final champion – and proved that after 15 seasons, it could still surprise: throaty, bluesy 25-year-old Mississippi farm boy Trent Harmon pulled off an upset win over 22-year-old power-belter La’Porsha Renae, who had been the front-runner since day one. Even the judges gasped in shock. “Wow,” mouthed Harry Connick Jr.
While Harmon was vocally polished, Renae was a piercing performer. “One is American, one is an idol,” Miller shouted to me amid the loud cheering that filled the theatre.
They didn’t show it on the live broadcast, but as Harmon performed his coronation song, Renae looked genuinely upset while watching from the side of the stage.
But she’ll be fine: Jennifer Hudson now has an Oscar and a Grammy – and she finished seventh in her season. For now, it’s Harmon’s moment.
“I live on a farm – I had never really given music a serious effort,” Harmon had said a day earlier. “I’ve never thought this was achievable – until Idol.”
As the lights faded and confetti snowed down all over us, Seacrest took the stage for the final time.
“This is so tough,” he said. “Good night, America.” Then, after a short pause, he added: “For now.”
Thanks for the memories, American Idol – until we meet again on your inevitable reboot in two to three years.
Source: art & life