This was posted on Wednesday, December 27, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
I know. It’s weird to keep writing about a show that ended its 15 year run in April but hey, someone has to keep the flame alive, right?
Here are some of the biggest stories of the year related to “American Idol” and its alum:
The end actually happened: For “American Idol” fans, the show did end with a flourish, courtesy of original executive producer Nigel Lythgoe balancing nostalgia, pathos and joy into one neat two-hour package. There was an opener with everyone wearing white, evoking the “Idol Gives Back” season six episode with the song “One Voice.” Dozens of former “Idol” singers showed up, from David Archuleta to Constantine Maroulis to Diana DeGarmo. There were medleys galore featuring everyone from Tamyra Gray to Colton Dixon. And yes, Pants on the Ground dude Larry Pratt even popped in, along with Mr. Faux Hawk Sanjaya. There was a pre-taped medley by the original “Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson (too pregnant to show up live). The original judges made an appearance. Carrie Underwood performed twice. It felt just right. And then Ryan Seacrest, after naming the winner, said, “We say to you from Hollywood goodnight America…. for now.”
When will “Idol” be back? Creator Simon Fuller said it will certainly come back in some way, shape or form but he wasn’t sure when or how. My guess is some form of “Idol” will return sooner rather than later, probably within five years.
How was season 15 anyway? In the haze of focusing on the past, “Idol” actually had a decent season. While this wasn’t the most talented crew the show has ever had, it was certainly better than average. Too bad for the singers, most fans had moved on to “The Voice” and the buzz was gone. Ratings were modest. Even the finale drew just 13.3 million overnight viewers, a far cry from its peak days of 30 million plus.
How will the winner do? Trent Harmon, a sincere soulful singer with a tinge of theatrics, was a solid victor but given the difficulties recent “Idol” winners have had getting their careers going, he is facing similar headwinds of indifference. Scott Borchetta, the record label mentor this season, has his work cut out for him. He decided to pitch Harmon to his strength: country music. “There’s a Girl” peaked at No. 26 on the Mediabase 24/7 country chart earlier this month. La’Porsha Renae, the R&B diva runner up, has a single “Good Woman” at No. 15. It’s too early to say if either will be able to land that big “Home”-style hit that will help their career get off the ground.
Ricky Smith dies: Lovable season two singer Ricky Smith died in a car accident in May outside Oklahoma City. A drunk driver crashed into his vehicle. Smith was 36. He was the second “American Idol” finalist to pass away. Michael Johns died in 2014.
Simon Cowell’s new American home: Cowell, who created “America’s Got Talent” a decade ago, finally placed himself in the judge’s seat this season, replacing Howard Stern. All in all, it was a success. Ratings were up and the winner Grace VanderWaal has a bright future ahead of her. Cowell wasn’t remotely the rancid, “nasty” judge of yore. He’s mellowed with age and was far kinder to the contestants than he was on “Idol.”
Kelly Clarkson has second child: Her son Remington was born in April, soon after the “Idol” series finale. And while she preps a new album in 2017 with a new label, she continued to wow people with cool covers just because she can. For example, the “Hamilton” song “It’s Quiet Upstairs.”
Most buzzworthy moment on “Idol” was courtesy of Kelly: The only time “Idol” got any real notice outside of our bubble was when Kelly teared up singing “Piece by Piece.”
Carrie Underwood has another banner year: Carrie, who has never looked better, kept on piling up country hits (“Heartbeat,” “Church Bells,” “Dirty Laundry”). She hosted the CMA Awards again and won female vocalist of the year for the fourth time and first time since 2008. She won favorite country album on the AMAs. She took home CMT performance of the year for “Smoke Break” and favorite female country performer on the People’s Choice Awards. And her “Storyteller” tour was a massive success, seen by more than a million people. I regret missing her when she came to Infinite Energy Arena earlier this year. Read my colleague Melissa Ruggieri’s review.
Christian pop star: Season 8’s Danny Gokey dabbled in country but has found real success in the Christian world. He had two big hits in 2015 and three more in 2016. He came to Atlanta earlier this year for AtlantaFest. And he has a new album set to come out in 2017 as well.
That OTHER show: Sundance Head, who made it into the top 16 season six, won “The Voice” earlier this month nine years later. He matured into a more self-assured, focused performer and singer.
More alum updates: Katharine McPhee continues to ride high with CBS’s “Scorpion,” in its third season. Kellie Pickler‘s “I Love Kelly Pickler” reality show on CMT aired its second season. Season 9’s Katie Stevens landed a lead role in a new Freeform pilot “Issues” in 2017. Justin Guarini is on Broadway in “In Transit.” Tamyra Gray came to the Fox Theatre in the play “If/Then” earlier this year. Adam Lambert split time between his solo tour and Queen, coming to the Tabernacle in March. Plus, he judged “The X Factor” in Australia. Jennifer Hudson played a super cool Motormouth Maybelle in the live version of “Hairspray” on NBC. Fantasia toured all year and generated more R&B hits, with an Emmy nomination to boot. Lauren Alaina landed a top 20 country hit with “A Road Less Traveled.” And Clay Aiken is back to singing again!