Saying Goodbye to a Pop Culture Phenomenon


Photo credit: Alexandra Chang

The crowd in The Dolby Theatre cheers for Trent Harmon, who won the 15th season of “American Idol.” La’Porsha Renae came in second place.

After 15 successful seasons, “American Idol” has come to an end. Created by Simon Fuller, “Idol” first premiered on June 11, 2002. Ever since, it has become a pop culture phenomenon and formed a lasting legacy.

“American Idol” became the highest-rated television show in the United States for seven consecutive years, and the immense success and popularity of the show caused several spin-offs and competitor shows around the globe, according to TV by the Numbers.

The first half of the finale garnered approximately ten million viewers. At its peak, “Idol” drew up to nearly 40 million viewers. “Idol” officially concluded Thursday, April 7, 2016, and I had the incredible opportunity to attend the finale where the final winner was announced. Fox brought back two of the show’s biggest stars, Kelly Clarkson (via video) and Carrie Underwood in person.

The live broadcast was filmed at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. It is the same place where Clarkson, the first winner of “American Idol,” performed her winning solo of “A Moment Like This” in 2002.

Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae were the final two contestants on the show’s 15th season and both of their musical abilities were absolutely outstanding. Before the highly anticipated announcement of who won the final title of “American Idol,” every winner and several runner-ups from the past returned to the “Idol” stage to perform one last time.

From Underwood to Jennifer Hudson, the past contestants performed several songs, including a moving tribute to David Bowie. The original “Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson even made a group appearance, which prompted a standing ovation from the entire audience.

Season one co-host Brian Dunkleman also appeared alongside Ryan Seacrest, joking that the show had been struggling along for 14 seasons without him. To add to the variety of performances, current judge Keith Urban performed a duet with Underwood. To top it off, an incredibly talented young girl from New Orleans’ Ninth Ward — an area that was hit particularly hard from Hurricane Katrina — performed “What a Wonderful World” with Harry Connick Jr.

Before announcing the final winner of “American Idol,” Seacrest said, “I’ve done this 14 times and the atmosphere has never been more emotionally charged than it is tonight.” Many people in the crowd went wild after Seacrest announced that Harmon had won, but many audience members also were surprised that La’Porsha Renae came in second place.

Overall, however, the entire crowd stood cheering at The Dolby Theatre to celebrate an incredible, unforgettable franchise. Countless fans expressed their sadness over the show’s culmination on social media, many tweeting about their favorite memories in “Idol” history. On Snapchat, there were multiple “American Idol” themed geotags and the event garnered so much attention that it became an official story on the app.

While I was at the finale, a large majority of the audience became teary-eyed. Both past and current performers alike became highly emotional as well. Seacrest gave a quick yet especially heartfelt announcement at the very end of the show, saying, “Thank you and goodnight.”

People all over the world are saying goodbye, not only to the show itself but also to a phenomenon that changed pop culture forever. Although “American Idol” officially wrapped last week, show creator Fuller said in a recent interview with Billboard, “My head is exploding with [new] opportunities. The next generation of Idol — and Idol will certainly be coming back for sure — will have a youthful glow and it will be pioneering again, just as it was when we first began.”