After the finale: 11 things to miss about ‘American Idol’

I’ve been waiting all season long to feel nostalgic about “American Idol,” the show many of us have spent years watching — if perhaps off and on in recent seasons. But the feeling eluded me until the finale.

It wasn’t the parade of “Idol” contestants, judges and wannabes past (or co-hosts, for that matter — nice to see you, Brian Dunkleman) on Thursday’s lavish two-hour series finale that did it. And it wasn’t the performances in which many of the performers showed just how talented they are and how much they’ve grown (sometimes literally) since last stepping into the “Idol” spotlight.

FULL COVERGE: Saying farewell to ‘American Idol’

Nor was my wave of wistfulness brought on by the lights and the hoopla or even the image of Jennifer Lopez enthusiastically shaking her fluffy purple tail feathers, although that was a lot of fun.

It wasn’t even the singing, or the music, or the continuing storyline about talented, fresh-faced young nobodies from all corners of the nation who, for 15 seasons — through hard work and good luck, rather than big bucks and key connections — have been able to find almost unimaginable levels of success and fame. And it certainly wasn’t the pats on the back about “Idol Gives Back” (admirable) or the show’s enduring sponsorship from Ford (less admirable).


No, I think what I will miss most about “American Idol” is the comfortable feeling of familiarity and predictability — Trent Harmon’s unexpected win this season notwithstanding, or maybe including it since white guys (with and without guitars) have won before. I will miss the sense that we’ve been doing this together for a long, long time — the awareness that for 15 years, no matter what has gone on in the world outside or in our homes, “Idol” has continued to be there, on the air, doing its thing.

I will miss the little things, the quirks and details that have made the show uniquely itself and intimately ours. For instance:

— The frisson of excitement stirred by the phrase “Dim the lights …” Although as I have aged with the show (my eyesight diminished by years of screen time, perhaps), I have begun to marvel at the counter-intuitiveness of asking for darkness before reading the results card. Good thing Ryan Seacrest is retiring before he gets too much further into his 40s.

— Watching Keith Urban’s shoulder begin to percolate and then really get going when the music behind a contestant sweeps him up.

— Jennifer Lopez’s outfits. (It’s like Oscar night meets Vegas showgirl every week.)

— Lopez’s “goosies.” You never know where she’ll say she’s gotten them.

— Harry Connick Jr. getting all music-wonkish about melody and harmonics and lyrical connection and delivery, or whatever.

— The theme music, compelling you to focus on your TV screen like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

— Hollywood Week, with which I confess to having always had a love-hate relationship. Was tormenting the talent — those poor kids! — really necessary? Wasn’t all that manipulation to heighten the drama simply cruel? No, and yes, and yet we couldn’t help looking forward to watching the inevitable metaphorical train wrecks play out, as if in slo-mo, every season.

— The sense of unexplored possibility in the auditions, although honestly those have never been my favorite part of the process. I always feel bad for the people who are unaware they have been brought before the cameras to be ridiculed and irritated by those who are clearly in on the joke. In recent seasons, that has felt more like a relic of a past (Simon Cowell) era.

— The surreal, sort of excitingly jarring transition from the taped to the live shows, which always feels a bit like stepping off a moving sidewalk onto solid ground at the airport.

— The hometown visits and the moment the “Idol” hopefuls dissolve in tears as they feel the intensity of their community’s support. Gets me every time.

— Ryan Seacrest. Our rock. Our guiding force. The guy who anchored the show and kept it moving and was there for us, week after week, season after season, elimination after elimination and coronation after coronation, since the very beginning. Seacrest out? Aw, Ryan.

I’ll tell you one thing, though. Thursday night’s finale also reminded us about resilience and our ability to move on: Look how well Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry have done after their premature eliminations — and hey, Pia Toscano is still hanging in there, making music too. And notice how little we actually missed all the judges who’ve come and gone over the years: from Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres to Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj and original trio Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Cowell. (Where was Mariah Carey’s taped tribute last night; did I blink and miss it?)

Of course, when all the hyperbolic eulogizing is over, we (and the TV and music industry and Fox and everyone associated with the show) will survive without “American Idol.”

Besides, there’s always “The Voice.”

What will you miss most about “American Idol”? Feel free to share.


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