American Idol Finale Farewell

Farewell for Now, American Idol, and Thanks for All the Memories

Season 10 of American Idol. Top 4 results night. May 12, 2011.

I remember it vividly, joyfully — but not just because the exceptional Haley Reinhart (who’d been enduring egregious sabotage from judges Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson) improbably survived over rocker dude James Durbin. Mostly, the date is blazed into my memory because of a surprise delivery I’d received a few hours earlier from the New Jersey State Division of Youth and Family Services: Three-month-old foster twins, ridiculously cute boys whom my husband and I had only learned about earlier that morning.

With one or both of the little bundles zzzing on my lap or gulping down bottles of formula, I managed to watch (and take notes on) the unexpected continuation of Haley’s underdog run — then crank out a 1,162-word recap of the episode that included a lyrical parody of Jordin Sparks’ “This Is My Now” fueled by giddy adrenaline and the not-entirely-digested realization that our lives would never again be the same.

On the eve of Idol‘s series finale (tonight, 8/7c on Fox), as I reflect on what the show has meant to me, it’s astonishing how this admittedly cheesy, endlessly hopeful and sometimes infuriating reality competition series became inextricably linked to so many of my personal and professional milestones.

Even before I began recapping Idol for a living, I found myself freakishly obsessed with the show. I can recall throwing a viewing party for the Season 3 performance finale — with an invitation that sternly insisted on a prompt 7:30pm arrival time and total silence during Fantasia Barrino’s musical performances. (This was the pre-DVR era, after all!) When friends of friends had the audacity to arrive in the middle of ‘Tasia’s “All My Life,” I seriously contemplated murder — but then realized I probably wouldn’t be able to clean up the gore by the time the commercial break ended and my R&B goddess’ showdown with plucky Diana DeGarmo continued.

Carrie Underwood Wins American IdolSix months later, when I got hired by EW.com and learned there was an open slot to recap Fox’s ratings juggernaut, confetti rained down on my head, as “A Moment Like This” blared through unseen speakers.

That gig allowed me to find my voice as a writer. My tentative first stabs into first-person opinion — yes, folks, I still think Aloha Mischeaux* deserved a Top 12 berth based solely on her funky “Work It Out” — became bolder, my skin grew thicker and my fascination with food-based metaphors rose like dough flamed by the heat of passionate readers who braved the indignities of dial-up and hinky message-board technology to tell me why I was so boneheadedly wrong for insisting Bo Bice deserved the Season 4 crown over eventual global superstar Carrie Underwood. For the record, even with the gift of hindsight, I’d still have cast my vote for the shaggy-maned rocker… which is no knock on Carrie’s incredible development as an artist in the 11 years since. (*I implore you to check out Aloha’s new band The Knuckles. Their new music — especially “Love Potion” — is straight fire.)

Back in 2005, that critic/writer back-and-forth felt weird and exciting and sometimes a little scary (like that time a reader posted that I should have my throat slit with a dull, plastic blade), but it also made me realize how personally the Idoloonie nation took its duties. And that realization became even more clear to me in the age of Twitter and Facebook, and after I made the leap to my current home at TVLine in 2011.

RAY_49681_hires1With record labels and radio stations consolidating — investing more in Auto-Tune and taking fewer chances on outliers — Idol was our annual opportunity to wrestle back control of the process, to reward one tremendously talented kid with a life-changing opportunity. So, whether you were #TeamKris or #TeamAdam, fancied David Cook or David Archuleta, or spent six years frustratedly wondering “What’s a woman got to do to take home the title?”, there was something undeniably beautiful — and a little innocent — about the process… regardless of the way the show’s producers and judges increasingly tried to manipulate the process.

That celebration of talent over connections, the idea that hard work and creativity could transcend circumstance, appealed to this scrawny, gay kid who’d grown up in upstate New York obsessively tracking the Billboard singles charts and strategizing how I was going to survive gym class and go on to make a life for myself in the big city (any big city, really). That very same kid found his way to the surface during Idol: dancing on the living room couch, shouting at the judges in a blind rage and voting into the wee hours of the morning every season from Tamyra Gray through La’Porsha Renae. Oh, and he cried. A lot. Blubbering during David Cook’s “The World I Know.” Sobbing during Allison Iraheta’s exit rendition of “Cry Baby.” Weeping with some strange combination of joy, pride and release  during Candice Glover’s epic one-two punch of “Don’t Make Me Over” and “Lovesong”in Season 12.

I’m pretty sure if you’ve made it this far into this blog post — I can hear Simon Cowell’s voice in my head, snarking that it’s “utterly indulgent” — you not only understand my myriad emotional responses to the show through the years, but you’ve experienced them yourself.

For me, Idol was never about the cruelty of the auditions — they were something to be endured, rather than celebrated — or the faces who appeared on the judges’ panel. (Nevertheless, Simon’s tart honesty ranks him at No. 1 on my list, while the arrival of Ellen DeGeneres in Season 9 signaled producers’ fatal miscalculation that bigger celebrities could/should be the cornerstone of The House That Kelly Clarkson Built.)

Kelly Clarkson wins IdolUltimately, Idol‘s hundreds of finalists and semifinalists — and even those undeniably talented young’uns who disappeared without explanation during Hollywood Week and the Green Mile episodes — are responsible for the show becoming a pop-culture phenomenon. Kelly Clarkson’s transformation from goofball to goddess in the summer of 2002. The nail-biting dread of Season 4’s Top 4 results show. Gentle Brooke White flubbing her intro to “You Must Love Me” in Season 7. (Oh, do check out her post-show tunes, too, please!) Wednesday night’s jaw-dropping singoff between Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae. (Can the farewell season maybe end in a draw?) Those who never watched Idol or dismissed it as reality garbage knew not what they missed: It was great TV.

I’ll miss Ryan Seacrest’s cheerful, effortless hosting. I’ll miss drumming up misplaced optimism — and then getting disappointed all over again — by the producers’ anemic lists of song choices. I’ll miss that rush of blood to the head when you hear the first few notes from a sensational singer who’s just made you a fan for life. I’ll miss taping Reality Check with “Season 6 standout Melinda Doolittle” — a vocalist so sublimely talented, I will never stop believing she’ll be the show’s next Jennifer Hudson-esque, “Oh, America really did mess that one up!” breakout success story.

Of course, just because Kieran will permanently dim the lights in the Idoldome tonight doesn’t mean my work here at TVLine is done. I’m still recapping The Voice and Chasing Destiny and So You Think You Can Dance and a boatload of scripted series, too. It’s just that, to paraphrase a rock classic covered by Carrie, Haley, Jax and Kree — and even Asia’h Epperson — Idol took a piece of my heart (and is hours away from breaking it, too.)

MLB_8145_hires1Still, someday, when Fox or another network (or the mobile device that’s going to be implanted in all our noggins) revives the format, I hope my own boys won’t yet be grown and off to college, that they’ll plunk down on the couch with their hopelessly uncool papa and let themselves succumb to Idol‘s singular, silly charms. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like that. I’ll start the countdown clock Friday morning.



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108 Comments
  1. DreamRose311 says:

    That was quite lovely :)

    I’m finding myself more sad that it’ll end than I expected. I blame Tuesday’s ‘farewell’ episode, it was quite the trip down memory lane.

    As with almost every finale, I’ll be happy with either of them winning, they’ve both been great. It’s weird how much they shortened this season. I give the edge to Trent, just because I want to make sure that his ‘Single if winner’ song, is the one that works out. One of the very few times I’ve really liked the ‘this will be your first single’ songs.

  2. Dora says:

    I only watched one season (4?), the spring of 2005. It was an escape while my husband was stuck in the hospital during his cancer treatments. I’d stay late so we could watch together. And that’s how I always remember the dates of Bo’s and Carrie’s performances. But this was beautifully written and I wish there’d been an option in the survey to vote for Michael Slezak as who should win Idol.

  3. Clint says:

    Michael, I appreciate how much effort, energy, joy, frustration, all the feels…you’ve put into your Idol recaps and Reality Checks all these years. I followed you over from EW.com even on the seasons I quit watching Idol just to hear and read your thoughts on it. Sure am glad I came back to Idol for this final season. Will miss your and “Season 6 standout Melinda Doolittle”’s thoughts on Idol every week very much! Thanks for all your work!

  4. Keith says:

    Great tribute to the show and the ebbs and flows of the viewing audience’s of it as well! I will certainly miss your re-caps — for me, they were part of the Idol experience too.

  5. Mark says:

    FYI: You are the Kelly Clarkson of recappers (and thank you for being that – for us).

  6. Mary hodgins says:

    Michael. ….all the feels….carry on

  7. iHeart says:

    Bo and Carrie final 2 was season 4 not season 2

  8. Streets ahead says:

    What a fantastic reflection, Michael! Thank you so much for entertaining us with your wit and insight over the past several years. I have loved that your words and experiences have been such a big part of my Idol experience, and I am honored that you have shared them with us. (I have eagerly awaited your fantastic turns of phrases and food-based metaphors like double chocolate chip cookies rising in the oven after a long week of salads.) “Self indulgent” or not, you have articulated so well what the show has meant to many of us: the opportunity to connect to the contestants or friends/family we view them with or even TVLine bloggers on many, many levels.

    • Meg says:

      Thank you Michael for so much fun over the Idol years. I think I have always been a little in love with you! Love your way with words and your wicked sense of humor but most of all the appreciation you have for great music and great talent.

  9. Lisa B says:

    That was a beautiful article, Michael. I’ve been reading your recaps ever since you first started writing them, and have always appreciated your excitement, your passion, and even your sense of outrage, even when I didn’t agree. I used to think recaps were just for when you didn’t get to watch the show, but you and your ex-colleagues Jeff Jensen and Dalton Ross showed me differently and made my lunch breaks worth counting the seconds for. I will confess to shedding a tear or two reading your heartfelt farewell, and I’m sure I will shed more tonight. Thank you so much for all these years of sharing this experience with us! (PS -Whatever they’re paying you isn’t enough!)

    • missing it already says:

      I wholeheartedly agree :)

    • Kwise says:

      I agree as well! We must follow the same people: Slezak, Jensen, and Ross completely changed the TV-viewing experience for me, for the better. SO many lunch hours spent devouring their reviews (and reader comments).

      Thanks for everything, Slezak.

  10. What a great recap! Now I’m crying again! Loved Tuesday nights show, it was wonderful. I really enjoyed the behind the scenes take from contestants and people involved in all aspects of the production! Made me miss the original judging panel. Started watching in season 7 because I was into Kelly Clarksons music and LOVED Daughtry. And how amazing is Carrie Underwood now! We watched as a family at my house, we had our favorites, picked some winners over the seasons, been to Idol Tours seasons 8,10 & 11, and created a decent song set over the years. And i have been a fan of you Michael Slezak for years! I’ve been following since the days with Kristen Baldwin and “the glasses”. Your interaction with the FAB Melinda and lets not forget Jason Averret, are some of the best recaps! I am sad it’s coming to an end, but it’s time! As far as a winner goes tonight, I’m calling Trent, but it really could go either way. They both are fantastic. Could there be a tie??? I’m calling a reboot or a spin off by 2018!

  11. chris says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the ways you have enhanced by enjoyment of American Idol. I loved your recaps, musings, snark, videos, but most of all, your enthusiastic support for all the young singers that made Idol such a pleasure to watch. When Lost ended, I mourned more for Jeff Jensen’s excellent essays than for the show itself. I now feel exactly the same way about the loss of Reality Check. You provided a safe haven for all of us obsessed with this show where we could discuss AI to our heart’s content without fear of boring anyone. Hopefully something else will come along that we can all share. Once again, thank you.

  12. John says:

    I may not have life-changing events tied to the show, but even when I said I was done four or five times, I kept coming back. From one upstate NY chart kid to another, thanks for the dedication to the show and for giving voice to all of us that only had a phone or an Internet connection. I’m going to miss the forum as much (and maybe more) than I will the show itself.

  13. Rob says:

    Michael Slezak, that gave me chills. Thank you for sharing how much this show means to you and for allowing us to be invited into your life. You have two very lucky sons to have you as their dad :)

  14. Marta says:

    Thanks for your passion and hard work over the years, Michael. Been a long time reader and viewer of yours since the EW days– and had a moment of fan glory as a talking head co-host the year you did that on Idoloonies (I think it was season 10?) Thanks for the memories, Slezak!

  15. ktbanks says:

    Whoever’s chopping onions needs to cut it out.

    Seriously though…I always looked forward to your recaps every morning and Reality Check/Idology/Idoloonies every week, as well as contestant interviews you did! (I even did an episode of Idoloonies back in the day in S10!) Your ability to go beyond the surface of the show and dig deeper was always so enjoyable and entertaining. I’m REALLY going to miss your Idol coverage!

    Can’t wait for the premiere of Wall of Shade! ;)

  16. Larc says:

    Thanks for that. I unexpectedly found my eyes watering just a bit. Must be my pollen allergies. ;)

  17. gale1001 says:

    Thank you for your essay. I remember the moment in season 4 that got me hooked. I was dusting furniture in the family room and Bo happened to me singing “I’ll Be”. I had never watched the show before, but that was it. I started setting the VCR. Like you, I wanted Bo to win!

  18. ann says:

    Michael, you really sum it up so well. “AI” was a fixture, a reliable constant (even the reliability of the irritations!) in your, all regular & invested viewers’ lives for such a long time.
    And in 15 years, it became intertwined with so many aspects of each of our day-to-day realities, happy and sad, and in between.
    I/we did not see the first season, as were personally still deeply in shock and reeling from 9/11 attacks, in which Andrea, my 25 y/o niece, was killed. (I really appreciated Paula’s mention of this in the “American Dream” retrospective on Tuesday.) And that shock didn’t recede for years and years, but somehow, but Season 2 and thereafter, my husband and I tuned in. I am a long ago and far away ‘singer,’ and the idea of a weekly show like this was appealing, comforting — recognizable — in the aftermath of 9/11 and at the start of the what the world looked like and become afterwards.
    Cheesy, corny, homespun — maybe that was part of the draw?
    During Adam’s season (2009?), my husband became ill, and it was a very scary and uncertain time. Part of his illness (since recovered from) manifested in such a way that he couldn’t watch tense or ‘unknown’ programs, anything that would add to adrenaline or anxiety. So, I would tape it, and watched much of that season on my own, late at night, as I was also researching my husband’s condition. So there, then, it was a personally comforting ‘bridge’ of normalcy.
    For all these fundamental reasons, and for the many and incomparable, unexpected and improbably “Idol” moments, from the sublime performances to the many laughs and such … I will miss this show deeply.
    To all … enjoy this evening. To the finalists, I’ll be following your careers, and all the best.
    (Dora, I hope you husband also recovered from the season 4 challenges he and you faced together. God bless.)

  19. gltrgrrl says:

    I have never commented before but I really want to say how much I have appreciated your Idol recaps and videos over the years. I will miss Idol but I might miss you and Melinda talking about Idol more!

  20. Mike-Idoloonie says:

    Keep this classic alive! Sign this petition and prove to FOX execs that TALENT is what drives this show and nothing else. Change.org https://www.change.org/p/dana-walden-and-gary-newman-ahead-of-finale-keep-american-idol-on-the-air-ratings-are-up-keep-this-classic-around
    Share it as well!

  21. Jeanna says:

    Michael, one of the best things about Idol over the past several years is reading your recaps! Thank you so much for your dedication. Please find a way to continue Reality Check! You and Melinda are pure gold!

  22. Gailer says:

    michael,
    Do you think Simon fuller is real when he says idol will return?

  23. KHS says:

    Well now I’m crying. I’ve watched Idol since season 1 and have been reading your recaps since Kris/Adam. Thanks for the memories and many laughs.

    Please continue to update us on our favorite former idols!

  24. Thebest says:

    Beautiful and perfectly put. Thanks Michael

  25. Kathy V. says:

    I’ve enjoyed the journey with you from EW to TVLine, you made it more fun! Thank you both! I especially loved the moments on Idol when someone just knocked it out of the park and how exhilarating it was. The first time was David Cook sang, “Billie Jean”. When he slowed it down and then hit that high extended note, I was hooked.
    Or when Jena Irene sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” or Kris Allen did “Heartless” or Haley did “Bennie and the Jets” or Caleb Johnson sang “Skyfall”. Such fun moments. This season watching Trent sing, “Sharp Dressed Man” and seeing the transformation from the beginning of the season was stunning. It was a ton of fun!

  26. jerrired says:

    I loved this, Michael. Thank you for recapping the series every week. It has been a joy to read these recaps. And I have adored watching Melinda and you every week on Reality Check. I will miss Idol, because like you said, we all have our own stories with the series. I will also surely miss these recaps. There are a lot of recaps that I just go on the site to rant on the comment section, but I always read your Idol recaps to read your witty, thoughtful, and passionate commentary on Idol. It’ll be a sad night for Idol fans but I’m glad for the journey with other fans and Idol recappers and writers.

  27. girl_3 says:

    Michael, I have an equally vivid memory of a date two weeks later, May 26, 2011. I found myself missing the Idol finale because my husband and I were meeting our younger son in southeastern Siberia for the first time. Thankfully our gracious coordinator’s apartment for adoptive parents was furnished with the Internet so I at least got to read your hilarious (as always) recap of Baby Lock Them Doors’ inevitable march to the confetti shower. I’ve been reading you since the EW days and of all the recappers I’ve read, you’ve always offered the appropriate balance of genuine affection for the show and its contestants, biting sarcasm, and righteous outrage over those wronged by the Idol machine. The videos, from Idolatry with Kristin Baldwin (with and without glasses) to Reality Check with Idol goddess Melinda Doolittle, were always a welcome way to goof off at work (and I was delighted to find out Jason Avrett followed you to TV Line!). I will continue to read your other recaps, but without Idol it won’t quite be the same. I wish you and your family all the best.

  28. Michael Fan says:

    Hi Michael! Thank you very much for being with us during American Idol journey. I followed your recaps always. You’re the best! Thank you :-)

  29. Doug H. says:

    Great tribute, Michael! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your recaps and Idol-related reports over the years, both at EW and at TV Line. Thanks so much!

  30. Flicker says:

    Thanks for sharing, Slezak. What an amazing piece to share with us, your readers. I’ve followed you For nearly a decade now. Reading your words were cathartic in some ways as the Idol journey comes to an end.

  31. CK says:

    Well done Michael. I’ll miss you and this show very much.

  32. angellillie says:

    Well that made me cry…read the whole thing and agree completely with what the show meant to you and me!!!
    Thank you for the excellent coverage of AI over the years!!! I will miss reading your thoughts and scores!

  33. Cristy says:

    Beautifully summed up. I can’t even brig myself to watch last night’s episode yet because I want to hold on just a little bit longer.

  34. marygrace says:

    Beautiful comments. I began at the on the last show that crowned Reuben Studdard. …..and I was hooked. Have been loving the show ever since. I am not a ‘young’ viewer so would get frustrated when I saw teen heartthrobs would continue over talent. I jumped, danced, cried like all the rest of the fans…..could not wait for your comments and Realty Check….I will miss AI…

  35. Cheryl says:

    I’ve been reading your columns and watching idolatry, now Reality Check since the beginning and I honestly think I will be missing our ‘weekly get togethers’ almost as much as I’ll miss Idol. Thank you for the wonderful, hilarious and spot on critiques and comments Michael (and Melinda, Jason, Kristen Baldwin etc…..) – now will someone please pass me a tissue??

  36. Holly says:

    Very well said. As much as I’ll miss Idol and getting (sometimes) irrationally mad at the producers and their blatant attempts to influence the results I’ll definitely miss your commentary even more. There were many seasons that I only kept up with Idol so I would have context for Reality Check and Idolatry. Thank you for all the years of entertainment you have provided for so many of us. If you and Melinda decide to make ‘The Wall of Shade’ a new weekly segment I will definitely tune in.

  37. Debbie says:

    Thank you Michael for all the years of recaps, Reality Check, tweets, etc. They are a huge part of what made American Idol so much fun for me.

  38. Allie says:

    Michael Slezack – I have to say: I don’t care who wins tonight. They are both talented and deserving. But YOU have made a difference in my life. I remember nursing my babies watching Idol and getting WAY to caught up in the blogs & commenting on your posts. I recall moving to a different state and feeling so lonely – but when I read your posts and commented I felt like I had friends. I remember when my parents died and I was so very down….but I often was amused by your posts. I lost interest these past few seasons but I will always hold Idol and YOU fondly in my heart. Thank you. Much love. .

  39. Guy says:

    I would have been sadder about American Idol ending had this final season been better. It’s a shame really. While we did get two great finalists (I can’t knock Trent and La’Porsha, they are both excellent singers and I’m glad voters got it right), this season left so much to be desired. Far too many mediocre or flat-out bad contestants in the final 10, put there by the lousy judging panel and producers. Too much manipulation from judges and producers, just like the last several seasons. Clunky formatting with the shortened season. Idol should’ve gone out with a bang. Instead it’s going out with a sad whimper with only hints of how great it used to be. At least we’ll have a worthy winner (either of our final two) to help the show end with a bit of redemption for this poor season. I’ll miss this show. But thing is, I have already been missing it for years now.

    • Guy says:

      Though I should add a big thanks to Michael Slezak for making the ride, as frustrating as it often was, incredibly entertaining. I followed your Idol commentary here from EW. I still remember howling with laughter at your season 8 videos, often the ones with Kristen Baldwin, that were super snarky about Danny Gokey. “Put the Go in Gokey!” #savetherocker

  40. Heather says:

    I loved this! I’ve been reading your recaps since ew.com and followed you to tvline, i’ve obsessively watched for a new installment of reality check, I’ve been watching Idol since day one. It’s the end of era. Tonight I’ll be ugly crying on the couch if you need me…

  41. Db says:

    Good job bud.

  42. Long-timer says:

    I have also experienced righteous outrage over the shows twists, turns, manipulations, inept handling and critiques of young talent at times, but also kept coming back – thanks for your work on critiquing the show over the years.

  43. Tusk says:

    I was an internet noob before I became a full blown, full time Supporter of Haley Reinhart, participating in forums, starting social media accounts etc… and have not look back. It was Season 10 and TVLine’s Michael Slezak and Jason Averett who introduced, who shaped what I saw into dramatic entertainment I could not get enough of. Season 10 and your Idoloonies was as much “Must See” as what was playing out on my TV screen each week on Fox’s AI…. how often did I check to see if MIchael had posted the latest chapter of Season 10 Mad Hattery? Let’s just say more than healthily adviseable ;)

    Five years later, I am still at it, still having fun at it, and sometimes, even looking back at the articles and postings of S10 to relive the thrill of “Haley’s American Idol Journey”…. It’s been a heck of a journey, I doff my cap to you, Michael, Jason and all the Behind the Scenes actors that made this facet of American Idol not just writings and opinions, but truly an experience…. Thank you :)

  44. Poppetawoppet says:

    Your recaps on EW led to my spiraling into the best friends I’ve ever had and I’m so glad to be a small part of this crazy wonderful fandom.

  45. Chris says:

    F@ck me, that was a beautiful and poignant piece of what this show has brought us viewers for 15 wonderful years. Brava, Michael Slezak, and thank you for the laughs and occasional frustrating criticisms you’ve given.

  46. KathyF says:

    Thank you for all these years of recapping American Idol, and for your delightful videos including “Reality Check.” I started reading your columns at EW.com, followed you over to TVLine.com, and I don’t think I missed a AI single column you wrote, or video you produced, at either site. You made watching American Idol even more fun than it would have been without you; you felt like my best buddy with whom I could discuss American Idol in every exhausting detail and who didn’t think I was nuts. Yeah, I didn’t always agree with you, and you never responded to my end of the conversation, but that was OK, I thoroughly enjoyed the listen!

  47. CK says:

    I’m going to miss your reviews and recaps with Melinda. I was right there on my couch cheering along with you for many years! Look forward to reading your final recap later. Please pass the Kleenex and a glass of Chardonnay….

  48. Meghan says:

    Thank you Slezak for your recaps all these years! I started reading TVLine because of you – following you over from EW. Reality Check has been a source of laughs, emotion, and thought and I’ve hardly missed an episode. Your writing has challenged me to be a better writer!

  49. Kathy says:

    And at 7:48, the tears begin. And they’ll continue for the next 2 1-2 hours. At least. Thank you, Michael, for allowing your Idolloonieness into our lives.

  50. Dana says:

    That was wonderfully written. I’ll miss your weekly updates and the Reality Check recaps that I have grown to love. My only regret is that I didn’t start following you sooner. Thanks for the ride.