Some people wait a lifetime for moments like the ones I had during what was, without a doubt, the time of my life in Los Angeles last week (all of which I am still processing – please, don’t pinch me just yet).
Thanks to the good luck of being in the right place at the right time to meet the right people (and extremely kind people at that), I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the two American Idol finale shows at the Dolby Theatre during the final farewell week of the series on April 6th and 7th.
This was sandwiched in between seeing Castro (a family band consisting of Texan siblings Jason, Michael, and Jackie Castro) perform an acoustic set at the legendary Hotel Cafe on the 5th and venturing into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios with my good friend Zoey on the 9th, both experiences (becoming introduced to American Idol Season 7 finalist Jason Castro‘s family music project and meeting up with Zoey, who I had originally befriended due to our mutual interest in Season 7) which would not have happened had it not been for my being an avid follower of Idol.
It has been on my bucket list to be in the live audience for a televised entertainment event, and what better way to check that item off of my list than by seeing the final episodes of my favourite singing competition series? From watching Idol at home for years to being in Hollywood to witness the television magic happen live in person (for the very last time), it was a pipe dream come true to be attending the Season 15 Top 2 finale performance show and the big series finale.
As 1 in a crowd of 3500, I was able to experience the American Idol magic from a different perspective. The anything goes, fast-paced, go-go-go nature of producing a live broadcast, the charged atmosphere driven by the unbridled enthusiasm and energy of the fans, the wonderment of seeing the contestants you’ve been rooting for and voting for for months singing for their lives right in front of you, watching superhost Ryan Seacrest in action and living up to his reputation as one of the hardest working men in showbiz (mad props, man)… those are surreal sensations you can only experience in person, and was I ever grateful to have had the chance to do so.
If I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed enough on Night 1, the Top 2 finalists took things to the next level. La’Porsha Renae vs. Trent Harmon was one monster of a final two match-up with two soulful, masterclass vocalists battling it out for the top honour of becoming the next (and last) American Idol. No matter the outcome of the final results, both La’Porsha and Trent could walk away knowing they gave it their all (and then some). After the show, I got to see and meet some of the contestants from the final 15th season (Dalton Rapattoni, MacKenzie Bourg, Sonika Vaid, Tristan McIntosh, Avalon Young, Lee Jean, Olivia Rox, and Gianna Isabella), knowing that this would be the last time I’d have a chance to meet and greet a group of Top 10 American Idol finalists.
The grand series finale was a fond final farewell, celebrating fifteen years of Idol memories. Joining the current judging panel of Keith Urban, Harry Connick, Jr., and Jennifer Lopez to say goodbye to Idol were video shoutouts from past judges Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj, and Ellen DeGeneres, a live performance from Kara DioGuardi, and a reunion of the original trio, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell. Other appearances from personalities from Idol history were a playfully bitter Brian Dunkleman (Seacrest’s co-host during the inaugural season) and audition legends Larry Platt (“Pants on the Ground”) and William Hung (“She Bangs”) to relive their fifteen minutes of fame and glory.
The jam-packed two-hour spectacle of musical performances and tributes involved over 50+ Idol alums from the fifteen seasons. All the winners were present, except for the Queen of Idol, Kelly Clarkson, who pre-taped a medley of her greatest hits from “Miss Independent” to “Invincible”, and wrapping with “A Moment Like This” (and it was very bit remarkable as one would expect). Winners Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery, Phillip Phillips, Candice Glover, Caleb Johnson, and Nick Fradiani all had their moments in the Idol spotlight, reminding the audience of why viewers fell in love with them in the first place. Many fan favourites were also in attendance, including Colton Dixon, Justin Guarini, Kimberley Locke, Tamyra Gray, Allison Iraheta, Pia Toscano, Bo Bice, Constantine Maroulis, James Durbin, Chris Daughtry, Diana DeGarmo, Skylar Laine, Kree Harrison, Bucky Covington, Ace Young, Lauren Alaina, Kellie Pickler, Katharine McPhee, Casey James, Carly Smithson, Clay Aiken, Amber Holcomb, Jessica Sanchez, Jennifer Hudson, LaToya London, Brandon Rogers, Clark Beckham, George Huff, Danny Gokey, Elliott Yamin, Joshua Ledet, and Melinda Doolittle. Through medleys of musical genres such as pop, rock, country, acoustic, and soul, group performances from R&B divas and guys with guitars, and various reprisals of iconic Idol performances (such as Sanchez’s “The Prayer” and Ledet’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”), the performances were a rock-solid showcase that represented the diverse singers the show has discovered over the years. The Idols always talk about how, because of their mutual ties to the show, they form a special bond (an Idol family, if you will) that transcends across the seasons, which you don’t quite understand until you see them coming together on stage, interacting with each other and uniting in song and dance (and pointy poses). It’s quite electric, endearing, and emotionally stirring to witness.
And of course, closing out the show were the final results to determine the last Idol winner and the last Idol runner-up of the series. When Seacrest asked Kieran to dim the lights once last time and announced Trent Harmon as the winner of American Idol 2016, the audience went wild. Trent truly earned the title of The American Idol and is a deserving bookend winner to the franchise. He has the work ethic, charisma, and talent to go very far in the music industry. Watching Trent perform his coronation single, “Falling” through a mix of tears and joy before the room full of elated fans and his loving and proud family and friends, while all of the Idols gathered on stage to congratulate him on his victory, all as a confetti shower rained down from the ceiling… that’s a scene I will never forget.
Idol’s impact on pop culture is undeniable. It’s more than just a show where singers perform covers in hopes of landing a coveted record deal. It is the best platform for aspiring artists to have their voice heard, to make a connection with their audiences, to launch their careers in entertainment, and to turn their dreams into realities. Idol has found stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson, and many more Idol alums have graduated and pursued careers in avenues like music, acting, and Broadway, earning multiple Grammy nominations and wins and charting on the Billboard charts. My support for all of the Idols will not end, but I will miss the excitement of uncovering new talent every year through this platform, and watching them work hard and prosper to become full-fledged artists in their rights.
What I never anticipated when I became a hardcore Idol fan in 2008 were the lasting connections I would make with people from all around the world who all shared one thing in common – a love for music. From meeting fans at concerts to chatting with them online, the community that formed around my Idol experiences led me to meeting some of the greatest friends I have been blessed with, and all of whom have influenced and inspired me in some way over the last eight years. A few of these friends have written reflections on how Idol has shaped their lives, and I fully echo their sentiments. Like my friend Karen, American Idol shaped my adult life and career aspirations. The show came to encapsulate my journey of self-discovery from adolescent to adulthood. Like my big sis Tania, American Idol inspired me to express myself, share my talents and passions, and chase my hopes and dreams, no matter what. We even created The Hudsucker together with three of our other friends we’ve met because of that Idol connection. Like my pal Megan, American Idol helped me feel not so alone after all. All in all, this show has had an incredible impact on who I am today.
It’s weird to be finished with this very significant chapter of my life. I’m so grateful that the stars aligned perfectly enough for me to find closure by attending the finale shows. I will carry my memories from those two days, along with all of the memories from the last fifteen years, with me for the rest of time. Thank you American Idol for opening my eyes, ears, emotions, heart, and soul to the wonderful world of music and the people who make this world so wonderful.