“American Idol: American Dream” – Finale Retrospective Recap!
The three-night “American Idol” finale kicked off on Tuesday with a special 90-minute retrospective called “American Dream.” Get the full recap here!
The documentary-esque show began with behind-the-scenes footage from season 15 of “Idol,” before cutting to interview snippets from Ruben Studdard, Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Clarkson. Former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and other producers explained the show’s genesis, with credit given to “Pop Idol.” Simon Fuller was moved to create a U.S. edition because, “If you haven’t made it in America, you haven’t really made it at all.”
Simon Cowell recalled being told a “music show” wouldn’t work, and Randy Jackson admitted to also doubting the idea as he thought it sounded “corny.” As it turned out, Cowell actually quit the week before production began, and had to be convinced to come back. After the first awful auditions, Jackson thought, “What the hell is going on?!” Cowell thought he was doing a “service” by telling people how poorly they sung, turning off Paula Abdul, who said she “quit eight times the first day.”
Though producers said they had to recruit contestants, Justin Guarini said he stood in line for hours and almost left. Cowell thought they were on the path to “disaster.” And then Clarkson showed up, with her now-iconic “At Last” audition. “When Kelly came in, I knew and I think we all knew we got a winner,” Jackson said.
Abdul went on to connect the early success of “Idol” to 9/11, saying the show gave people “hope,” and producer Ken Warwick said he was told that bad auditions couldn’t be aired. Cowell, however, was frank about finding an artist that would sell records, which required him at times to be brutally honest. And Clarkson now argued that she often agreed with his critiques, and have found people in Hollywood to be far worse than him.
The production sputtered along through the first season, and then came the game-changing finale. Harry Connick, Jr. remembered attending, but of course at that time, he had no idea the craziness that was taking place backstage. Ryan Seacrest earlier noted how he and Brian Dunkleman were chosen to co-host simply because the British version had two hosts, and it was revealed that Dunkleman had wanted to announce the winner. It was Seacrest, however, who revealed Clarkson’s name.
Clarkson admitted to breaking down in tears afterward… because she was exhausted. Jackson compared the feeling to being “proud parents” sending a child off, and Hudson, Fantasia, and Jordin Sparks discussed being inspired to follow in her footsteps. The success of the finale and Clarkson’s subsequent career set “Idol” on to the path to becoming the juggernaut we know today.
Along the way, there were innovations like text voting, and Taylor Hicks pointed out what was key to him: Winning over the people at home. The engagement evolution continued with easy-access to songs via digital platforms, and Lambert called it “surreal” to see himself on the iTunes chart. The “Idol” tour allowed, as David Cook put it, to get out of the “sterile studio,” and Lambert attributed his fan base to the opportunity to come face-to-face with viewers.
Studdard and others recalled going through various rounds before actually stepping before the judges, and Lythgoe justified having the “extremities” like Hung audition for the panel. Jackson was stunned that it took Sparks three seasons to get through, and she, Hudson and others discussed the “stress level” of the live shows as the competition went on. With shocking eliminations like Daughtry’s, one producer stressed how they had to be true to America’s vote, and another spoke of the difficulty of balancing an “entertaining” with a need to find a star.
With live TV, of course, there were plenty of unexpected moments, such as Casey Abrams’ insane reaction to being saved. Jennifer Lopez admitted, “I’ve see people faint, throw up, pee on themselves — crazy stuff.” And Lythgoe, who Seacrest deemed “diabolical,” explained how he orchestrated the shocking reveal that Hudson, Fantasia, and LaToya London were in the bottom three during the season 3 “divas” year. And that was the night a future Oscar winner was eliminated.
As the retrospective neared the end of its first hour, Connick pointed out how the contestants “pay their dues,” and a segment looked at the difficulty of Hollywood Week, as well as the challenge of teaching ordinary people to be on TV. “The fact that it was bootcamp, that it was taking in a lot of information… I learned most of what I know from being on ‘Idol,'” Underwood said. She went on to add, “‘Idol’ is made for people like me, who needed a door.”
Daughtry shared that sentiment, joking, “I used you guys!” He seriously went on to note, though, “Even if you win, doesn’t mean it’s going to work out.” Mentor Scott Borchetta even said, “‘Idol’ doesn’t entitle you to a career. It entitles you to an opportunity to have a career.” Studdard said of his early success, “This stuff only happens in your wildest dreams.” Fuller also celebrated a different kind of success, the more than $100 million raised through “Idol Gives Back.”
Seacrest went on to discuss how “established artists” wanted on the show because it was the “biggest” promotional platform. Scotty McCreery amusingly remembered when guest mentor Beyonce professed her love for him. Lythgoe argued that in the end, though, the focus should be on the contestants’ “talent,” and confessed to making “mistakes” with that in years’ past. One of the distractions became the changing panel of judges.
“When you start dismantling the winning team, all bets are off,” Jackson said of Abdul’s exit. Ellen DeGeneres’ struggles as a judge was noted, and Cowell said he “knew it was time to go” when it “stopped being fun.” He said he was “proud of being part of a revolution in a way, and I knew it would never be that way again.”
Gossip Cop was actually the first to exclusively report Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler would be joining the panel. The rocker admitted of his start, “I didn’t know what was going on that day!” Despite his eccentricities, Fuller was thrilled that ratings “barely changed,” and Lopez was credited for bringing a “nurturing” aspect. “I still don’t like that idea of judging people, because I have been judged my whole career,” she explained.
But the focus turned even more to the star power on the judges panel, particularly when Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj came on. Lythgoe called it “exceptionally challenging” to work with them, making for a “confrontational year” that no one “enjoyed.” Jackson confessed, “At that point, I was done.” Keith Urban stayed on afterward, and said his own childhood experience with talent competitions made him want to experience the process from the other side of the table.
It was said the conversation to end the show and go out on a “high” began a year ago. And it’s at this point, with minutes left in the special, that the retrospective came full circle. Looking back on the journey, Fuller said, “Here we are 15 seasons later, I think [the public] gets it right more than the industry.” Connick deemed the show a “trendsetter,” and Studdard shared how he’s “full of emotion.” Lambert said, “At the time, ‘Idol’ was my best shot, and they gave me a blast-off.'”
With footage of Clarkson’s emotional performance of “Piece By Piece” from earlier this season playing, Tyler said everyone was hanging on her every note. Guarini said she is the “story” of “Idol,” and she acknowledged, “At the time I had no idea this would happen.” Abdul said at the end that “Idol” represents the “hope of the American dream, and the dream is still alive, because we’ve been able to witness it over and over again.” The special ended with Fuller teasing a future revamped “Idol,” something he said in an interview earlier this week, as Gossip Cop highlighted.
As Gossip Cop has reported, the finale festivities will continue on Wednesday with the final competition performances from the season 15 finalists. Then, on Thursday, the farewell season will come to a close with the return of “Idol” alumni and the crowning of the last winner. Stick with Gossip Cop for full coverage!