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'American Idol' Finale Recap: A Show's Legacy Celebrated with 2-Hour Extravaganza & a Winner

by Carolyn Menyes   Apr 7, 2016 22:41 PM EDT

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American Idol has a legacy almost beyond any other show in television. And, on Thursday night (April 7), it threw one of the biggest parties to celebrate. Featuring a two-hour extravaganza unlike anything on TV in quite some time, Idol celebrated its past while sort of looking at its present, and hinting at its future.

Oh, and Trent Harmon won.

During this show that frankly can't be recapped and needs to just be watched, America got so many crazy cameos. There was the sort of bitter but also genuinely sort of funny intro from season 1 host Brian Dunkleman, the "Pants on the Ground Guy" (who was mashed together brilliantly with Meghan Trainor's "No") and multiple appearances from Sanjaya, each time rocking a different hairstyle. Just thank goodness he didn't actually have to sing!

We also got various spots and visits from former judges. Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DiGuardi all bid their adieus (notably absent: Mariah Carey). But, the most tender hello - and goodbye - came courtesy of the original three: Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell, the latter of whom even surprised the usually unshakable Ryan Seacrest.

It was also a night full of musical throwbacks. Trent and La'Porsha Renae's finalist duet was "It Takes Two," which made its first Idol appearance when Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini sang it all those years ago.

But, the best music moments came courtesy of the - it had to be - 100 finalists who returned to the Idol stage. We got beyond stunning performances from Jessica Sanchez, Clay Aiken, Pia Toscano, Tamyra Gray, Jennifer Hudson, Joshua Ledet and Chris Daughtry, just to name a few. Oh, and none of those people even WON this damn show.

Now THAT is an impact that you simply cannot ignore. You can hear how much money Idol has contributed to the music industry or think about the boost it's given to its various judges, but the musical impact - what this show was always about more than any other competition out there - is pretty endless.

The biggest showcase of that impact, of course, came courtesy of the show's two biggest winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. The former pre-taped a segment about six weeks ago when she appeared on the show. As Kelly ran through her hits (song after song after song), it was hard not to feel her power through her discography. Carrie also made two notable appearances, first dueting with Keith Urban and later she offered up a stunning, emotional performance of one of her standout hits, "Something in the Water."

That's not to say the two-hour show wasn't without its hiccups. There was no mention of season 7 contestant Michael Johns, who passed away in 2014. Jennifer Lopez also got way too long of a segment to promote her slightly problematic new single "Ain't Your Mama," and her ::ahem:: assets got more screentime than some of this show's biggest and brightest stars from years past.

There was also William Hung... just kidding. That was awesome.

Another fatal flaw, of course, is just how little the season 15 finalists had to do, even La'Porsha and Trent. Yes, they opened up the show (along with every other finalist in attendance) and they got to play background singers/dancers for the soul portion of the two-hour long Idol medley. But, every time they cut to Trent and La'Porsha in the audience - YES THEY SAT IN THE AUDIENCE - it was like, oh yeah, we have to crown a winner, too.

It was pretty much just a reminder that season 15, which was announced as the "farewell season" before auditions even began, was almost just a platform for which this two-hour extravaganza could take place. There was the rushed timeline and elimination pattern, the cancelled North American tour and just the general feeling that this competition wasn't always in America's voting hands, with all those judges' picks making it through week after week.

As this evening proved, you remember people who finished in the top 10 of any given season... You could never forget your Bo Bices and Lauren Alainas and Kellie Picklers and Melinda Doolittles, because you had the time to know and love them, despite their finishing rank. But, will you remember Lee Jean? Or Avalon Young? How about Olivia Rox or Tristan McIntosh or Gianna Isabella? Yeah... we didn't think so.

And so, yeah... Trent won the show, in a major upset from season-long frontrunner La'Porsha. Did it feel like she was robbed? Absolutely. But, like that White Guy With Guitar David Bowie tribute proved (with performances from Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, David Cook, Kris Allen and Nick Fradiani), bros have been besting oftentimes more talented singers on American Idol pretty regularly since season 5. It's almost perfectly fitting that a WGWG wins the show for it's final time... for now.

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