‘American Idol’ Series Finale Recap: The Winner Is…

THIS…is American Idol! And this is it, people! The final two hours of the show that changed countless lives, from everyone on camera to the behind the scenes crew and even to us watching at home.

I have lived and breathed this show for the past 15 seasons, since 2002 when my parents and I walked inside our house to see my sister flipping through the channels and landing on a brand-new singing competition show called American Idol: The Search for a Superstar.

I really have invested my time, energy and money into this show — from watching every week, spending hours voting afterwards, writing up recaps and other articles, buying the music, attending the concerts and closely following the singers’ careers. It’s hard for me to put into words my connection to this show, but to put it simply, American Idol has changed my life. And that’s no exaggeration. I have never connected to a show on the level that I have with Idol.

So…let’s get into it, shall we?

The finale opens with a video from President Obama congratulating Idol on all its success over the years and also pressing the importance of voting. Well said!

The Top 10 and many, many alumni take to the stage to perform “One Voice.” I know we’re at the start of the show, but already I’m getting excited seeing so many past contestants on this stage again.

It’s host reunion time! Ryan Seacrest is joined by Brian Dunkleman, who co-hosted Idol with him in season 1. Even though he was only on for one season and didn’t really make a strong impression, it’s still cool to see him here. Brian gets to introduce the judges.

The Top 2, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, perform “It Takes Two,” which the original season 1 Top 2 (Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini) sang back in the day. By the way, I’m predicting that Trent will win. But I love both of them so much that I really am going to be super happy either way.

As we go to commercial, former judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler speaks to us in a video.

Ryan chats with the Top 2 and in-house mentor Scott Borchetta.

One-time judge and hit songwriter Kara DioGuardi performs “Sober” with Jordin Sparks and Tamyra Gray joining her. Look at that hair on Tamyra! I didn’t realize that was her at first until I got a closer look.

What follows is a medley of various past contestants singing: Colton Dixon on “Through All of It,” Jordin Sparks and season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini on “No Air,” season 2’s Kimberly Locke on “8th World Wonder” with the help of Jordin and season 8’s Allison Iraheta (who’s been one of Idol‘s backup singers for the past handful of years), Tamyra on “Girl Crush” (with Jordan, Allison, Justin and Pia Toscano backing her), Allison on “No,” infamous auditioner Larry Platt with his song “Pants on the Ground,” Allison on “Untouchable” and Pia (who I seriously didn’t recognize at first) on “All By Myself.”

Idol Queen Kelly Clarkson performs a medley of her hits: “Miss Independent,” “Breakaway,” “Since U Been Gone,” “Because of You,” “Walk Away,” “My Life Would Suck without You,” “Already Gone,” “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” a quick snippet of “Heartbeat Song” and “Invincible.” Then the big medley is capped off with Kelly singing an a capella version of her winning Idol song “A Moment Like This.” During that part, I do get a little emotional–and chills.

The Idol rockers come out: Constantine Maroulis, Caleb Johnson, Bo Bice (where’d his long hair go?!) and James Durbin on “Vehicle” and “Hard to Handle.” Then it’s Chris Daughtry on “Torches.” And everyone on “Tobacco Road.” Such rocking out here! My only question is, since these are the Idol rockers, where’s David Cook? I know he was more of a pop/rock rocker, but still.

Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood perform “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.”

Then out come more alumni: Diana DeGarmo, Skylar Laine and Kree Harrison on “You Belong with Me.” Then it’s Bucky Covington, Ace Young (who’s married to Diana, though they were on separate seasons) and Constantine. Then Lauren Alaina and Kellie Pickler on “Done.” Finally, Scott McCreery on “Papa Loved Mama.” All of them join in on “Pavement Ends.”

Before commercial, another video message, this time from one-time judge Nick Minaj. Where’s Mariah Carey? Could she not be bothered to at least send a message? Figures. Such a diva.

The next segment starts with a video about how music can inspire and how much good Idol has done through Idol Gives Back. Harry Connick, Jr. and a student from New Orleans perform my favorite song of all time, “What a Wonderful World.”

Time for another medley of songs by a bunch of Idols. Katharine McPhee and Casey James on “Need You Now,” Carly Smithson (yay!) on “Here I Come Again,” Clay Aiken on “You Fill Up My Senses,” Ruben Studdard and Amber Holcomb on “Here, There and Everywhere” and Jessica Sanchez on “The Prayer.”

Someone I’m not seeing tonight is Crystal Bowersox. She’s one of my favorites.

Jennifer Lopez performs “Ain’t Your Mama” (that performance was taped at her Vegas show) and “Let’s Get Loud.” I bet her Vegas show is a lot of fun. Such high energy!

Ryan chats with Trent and his parents.

Then it’s time for one of the moments I was looking forward to the most, the season 3 powerhouse trio of Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia and La Toya London on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” J-Hud breaks away to perform “I Remember Me.”

Immediately following them are Brandon Rogers, Clark Beckham, George Huff, Danny Gokey and Elliott Yamin on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

Fantasia comes back out for “Ugly,” then La Toya, Taylor Hicks and alums perform “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” Joshua Ledet on “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and Candice Glover and Melinda Doolittle on “Joy to the World” with alums. Joshua was amazing. And Fantasia’s solo performance was beyond unbelievable! I was so enraptured the entire time! This is the first time I’m hearing that song, but she sure knows how to draw us in.

Now let’s bring out some of the male winners: Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, Nick Fradiani, David Cook (there you are!) and Kris Allen for a David Bowie tribute. Is that really all we’re going to get from Cook? He’s one of the best male winners and he’s only featured during a medley? No solo performance? I was hoping for a reprise of “Billie Jean” or something. Darn.

Next up is a video looking at the original judges from back in the day and some of the bad auditions. Then out comes Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul! Where’s Simon? I bet he’s gonna make a grand entrance. Randy, Paula and Ryan chat, then the first two present Ryan with a gift: the American Idol sign! That’s big–where’s he gonna fit that? Such a ridiculous question–he’s probably got such a huge house that the sign will look small.

And out comes Simon Cowell! It looks like Ryan is really surprised! Simon has been really coy lately on whether he’d be here, but c’mon, we all knew he wouldn’t miss it. I’m really loving this moment. It’s the original gang of Simon, Paula, Randy and Ryan all together again! Such nostalgia! Remember the good old days? Quick, let’s move on before I start crying…

Afterwards, the most infamous bad auditioner of all time, William Hung performs his audition song, “She Bangs.” Hilarious!

Before commercial, we get a video message from one-time judge (and my favorite comedian of all time) Ellen DeGeneres. Well, it does look like Mariah is literally the only judge who isn’t contributing something to the series finale. I can’t stand her so maybe it’s for the best, but it would’ve been good to have everyone involved.

We get a look back at the Ford videos from over the years, then the Top 2, Trent and La’Porsha, are presented with the keys to their brand-new cars.

Carrie Underwood (the alum that Simon correctly predicted would not only win this show but sell more records than any other Idol) performs the fantastic song “Something in the Water.” I thought she would’ve sang something off her most recent album, but I’m not complaining because this song really allows her to show off her powerhouse vocals. Also, I was kind hoping she’d do a medley of her hits like Kelly did. Oh well.

Now for the big moment. It’s time to announce the final winner. “Kieran, for the last time, dim the lights.” Oh, that’s the final time we’ll get to hear Ryan say that. Don’t cry, don’t cry.

The winner of American Idol season 15 is…Trent Harmon!

Winner: Trent Harmon
Runner-Up: La’Porsha Renae

Well, another white guy wins! So much for trying to crown a female winner as a bookend to Kelly being the first. But seriously, like I said, I love both of them, so this win is so deserved.

Trent performs his winning single, “Falling,” joined by the Top 10 and alums later on.

Finally, at the very end, Ryan Seacrest speaks directly to the camera, to us, and thanks everyone. You can tell he’s trying not to get emotional. He gives a goodbye and goodnight. We get a wide shot of inside the studio (there’s so much confetti we can’t see anyone), the lights go out and Ryan’s voiceover says, “…For now.” Such a tease! We all know that there’s been lots of talk for Idol to return eventually. And that’s kind of cool that they teased it in that way.

Well, I could say, “Another season gone.” While that’s true, it’s not just any season that’s in the past now; it’s the final season. American Idol is over. I have to say, I did really well tonight, only getting emotional a couple times. Maybe it’s because I was so excited about seeing all these past contestants returning that I just got wrapped up in everything.

How do I even go about ending this recap? This has been quite the ride. Fifteen seasons. Almost 14 years (almost half of my life). I made some comments at the start about how much Idol means to me, so I’m not going to dwell too much more on that. But I do want to say thank you to everyone who has read my recaps over the years.

Back in season 4, Idol had a magazine, which included scorecards to write down comments on the performances and such. That’s how I got my start in writing my thoughts on Idol. That transitioned into me doing recaps on my own blog. Then I eventually started recapping Idol on The BizzNiz–and I’ve been here ever since, through to the very end. Aside from all of you who have read my comments every week, every year, I want to sincerely send a huge thank you to The BizzNiz for giving me a home to express my opinions about my favorite TV show ever.

The American Idol community has been such a great group to be a part of. We’ve been through many highs and lows. We’ve witnessed some unbelievably talented singers and performances. We’ve watched superstars be born before our very eyes.

Music really is inspiring. Some music is just plain fun, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But music can also inspire and heal and motivate us. It’s universal. We all understand it. We all feel it. We all can connect to music in some way. And American Idol has been a part of that–for that reason, I will be forever grateful. (I’m actually starting to get emotional again as I type that previous sentence.)

To read my thoughts on all the latest entertainment and pop culture news, follow me on Twitter @TheJeffDodge. If you look over my tweets from the past couple days, you’ll find links to some op-ed articles I’ve written about Idol, including one about how the show has changed my life.

I usually end my recaps by previewing the next episode and saying “See ya then…” (That’s become my signature sign-off.) But I can’t do that this time. At least not in the same way. Idol‘s legacy will continue living on for years and decades to come. So I will finish by saying, see ya for the next chapter in this journey…