By Todd W., Visual Merchandiser and Event Liaison at Bookmans Mesa

It was the Summer of 2002. Some may remember it as when the Euro became the official currency of twelve of the European Union’s Members. Some may remember it as the year Brazil wins the World Cup. I remember this as the year Kelly Clarkson came out of Burleson, Texas to become the first to win a singing competition known as American Idol.

The Rise and Fall of American Idol

American Idol is a televised singing competition created by Simon Fuller based on the British series Pop Idol, produced by 19 Entertainment and distributed by FremantleMedia North America. It began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, and ended on April 7, 2016. The series became one of the most successful shows in the history of American television and resulted in top-selling solo recording artists.

The original judges consisted of music executive Simon Cowell, pop artist and dancer Paula Abdul and record producer Randy Jackson, all three with a knack for picking out raw talent. This trio, although musically different, worked well together, though final winners were determined by viewers who voted over the phone, Internet and SMS. Winners include artists you hear on the radio, such as: Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks and Arizona’s own Jordin Sparks.

The biggest changes over the years occurred in the judging panel. These changes include:
* Season 8 (2008) saw the first major change to the judging panel, a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, was introduced. This was the last season for Abdul.
* In 2009, the upheaval at the judging panel continued. Ellen DeGeneres joined as a judge to replace Abdul at the start of Hollywood Week.
* Season 10 saw the exit of both DioGuardi and Degeneres as Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler join original judge Jackson, who was at the helm. Both Lopez and Tyler stay on for two seasons.
* Season 11’s judging panel consisted of Jackson along with Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. Toward the end of the season, Jackson announced it would be his last.
* Seacrest returned to host in Season 14, while Lopez, Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. returned for their respective fourth, third and second seasons as judges and stayed for the next two seasons.

Season 15 was hailed as American Idol’s last season. I was unsure how to process this news as the show had begun to falter in its last 3-4 years. Something was missing from the original excitement. Was it the judges? Was it the contestants? Was it the song choices? I couldn’t put my finger on it, however, for the sake of nostalgia I tried to watch with the excitement I once had. Sure, there were no longer hilarious put-downs from Cowell, no “What is she talking abouts?” from Abdul and no “Dawg Pounds” from Jackson, but this last season had something special. There were many outstanding performances, including but not limited to La’Porsha Renae’s cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” Mackenzie Bourg’s “Hallelujah”, and Trent Harmon’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, that brought back the excitement related to what this show was about, which is to provide a spotlight for the best singers from the middle of nowhere.

In this last season, both the judges and the voters did their job well. Trent Harmon’s version of Sia’s “Chandelier” was delivered so vocally perfect it would forever cement his Season 15’s win and perfectly bookend Clarkson’s winning performance.

In the last stages of her pregnancy, Clarkson returned as a guest judge for a week and came full circle performing “Piece By Piece”, a song she wrote about being abandoned by her father and her own love for her own child. She also surprised in the finale with a pre-taped medley of her greatest hits including her Idol single, “A Moment Like This”.

For the longest time, American Idol was my guilty pleasure. I looked forward to hearing that opening theme song every week and seeing someone totally bomb their audition or a diamond in the rough get that chance. I was wholly brought back into the love of Idol with its final Season. I don’t think much could have been done to have made this last season an incredible journey much more than it was. I would have loved to have seen the return of Season 7’s David Hernandez (who, like Sparks, is from Arizona), but we cant have everything. Although sad, I was happy to see Idol return to its former glory in its last season.

Keep chasing those dreams everyone! As Ryan said at the end of every show, “Seacrest Out.”