After 15 years, American Idol is coming to a close. The singing competition launched the careers of stars like Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. It set a new precedent for the capabilities of a reality series, legitimizing a form of entertainment that had been looked down upon by the rest of the industry.
"I feel so fortunate and a tremendous sense of gratitude that I got to be a part of something from day one that's leaving an incredible legacy," former judge Paula Abdul tells Rolling Stone. She had remained on the show for eight seasons and was the first of the original trio of judges — which included Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell — to leave. "The incredible stars and the rare talent that we got to see — not just from the winners — were so brilliant and part of something so big. We got to see them go on and achieve world success and win some of the most coveted, prestigious awards in the entertainment business."
For Abdul, what they experienced during the first half of AI's run not only special for what it did for its contestants but for what it did for the viewers as well. "It was incredible that it brought families together," she says. "It didn't matter what socioeconomic background. It didn't matter if there were troubles or adversity. It's the one show that brought everyone together."
Though her time with AI came to a contentious close following contract negotiations that ended poorly, she still admires the series. "I'm still a fan. I'll always be a fan," she continues. "I had some of the best of times and the worst of times and everything in between, but all in all, I can't even imagine it not being a part of my life."
Abdul's fellow So You Think You Can Dance judge, Nigel Lythgoe, will serve as the American Idol finale's executive producer and is equally complimentary of the show's legacy and for what it allowed with shows like SYTYCD. "When A&R started to disappear from record companies, the thing that took over were programs like American Idol," he tells RS. "I know that Kelly Clarkson had been in Los Angeles for three months, wandering around, and she'd gone home. She came on the program and stole America's heart."
As for the finale, the producer will be encompassing all 15 years of the show's mark on America and the industry, bringing back familiar faces while also crowning the final winner. "And then I'll probably turn the lights out and sweep the stage."