What can we say about you, American Idol, other than you’ve been a close and constant companion these past eight years. Toward the end, you became sick — very sick — and lost most of what made you great. When Simon Cowell deserted you after the conclusion of season nine, you tried to muster up the courage to continue. You fought bravely, but soon, you simply became too weak to go on.
Your illness had actually taken hold years earlier in a series of events that left you wan, feeble, and a shell of your former self. We all knew something wasn’t right when David Cook and David Archuleta advanced to the finals at the end of season 7. Adam Lambert kept your strength up for much of season 8, but when Paula Abdul left, it was almost too much for you to bear. Your twilight years, beginning with season 9, were ones filled with boring contestants, eroded ratings (heck, Dancing With The Stars started beating you), and Ellen DeGeneres’s sad clown struggle to try to seem relevant behind the judges table.
But we don’t want to dwell on the negative. Instead, let us celebrate the great moments that made you one of the highest-rated television shows in history.
1. Simon Cowell
Our pathetically American everybody’s-a-winner mentality was shaken up when you introduced us to the linchpin of what made you must-see TV: Simon Cowell. Frank, and sometimes cruel, Simon’s deadpan way of ripping apart the contestants was a glorious breath of fresh air. He gave a voice to our viewing id – and kept us coming back to see what he’d say next.
2. Winners that actually matter
During your glory days, you introduced us to contestants that would go on to become major power players in the music industry. Kelly Clarkson, your first big triumph, has sold over 20 million albums worldwide and garnered industry respect with two Grammy wins. Carrie Underwood, your other success story, is responsible for the biggest debut album sales of any country artist in history and is currently the youngest member of Nashville’s respected Grand Ole Opry.
3. Le scandale!
Yes, there were scandals that rocked your world, but, in the end, they only served to broaden your popular appeal. Remember when those topless photos of Frenchie Davis surfaced? Bo Bice’s drug habit? Or when a then 22-year-old Corey Clark was kicked off the show for being arrested and claimed he had a three-month-long sexual relationship with Paula Abdul. (Never mind that he’d previously been arrested for beating his sister.) You rose to the occasion and used these would-be setbacks to your advantage, garnering edgy buzz for a show that was starting to seem a little too vanilla.
4. Amazing guest performances
In your day, you gave us some strong live performances from legendary performers like Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, and Dolly Parton. For performers who were just starting out, you offered a platform for them to prove themselves (see Lady Gaga’s career-defining performance last season).
5. The best of the worst
One of your best features was the way you were able to solidify a place in the pop culture zeitgeist for the endless parade of talentless wack-jobs that crossed your path. William Hung had an unlikely hit single with his almost unintelligible version of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” More recently, it was General Larry Platt’s stirring original composition, “Pants on the Ground, “which caught America’s eye. But the list goes on: Bikini Girl, Norman Gentle, Sanjaya Malakar, Keith Like A Virgin Beukelaer and on and on….
6. Paula’s (insert mind-altering substance of your choice here) antics
You lost a great woman when you lost Paula Abdul. Did she always make sense? No. Did it always seem as if she was speaking English? No. Were her crazy ramblings always entertaining? YES. You were able to pluck a washed-up has-been and direct her back to the spotlight and, for that, we’ll always be grateful.