When I heard a commercial promoting American Idol’s final season, my initial reaction was, “That’s still on?” I am sure I am not the only person who felt that way as it has been a really long time since American Idol was must-see TV for my family.
Yet, hearing that the show was ending brought me back to when it began on June 11, 2002. My mother was the first person to mention that she was really enjoying this new singing show on FOX. I decided to tune in with my daughters, then ages 8 and 5 years old. We were immediately hooked and watched the show all summer long. It was fun to listen to the contestants sing and we waited anxiously all week long to see who would make it to the next round.
It was a show a family of all ages could watch together. On a vacation at the beach with our cousins, we all decided to order dinner in so we wouldn’t miss that week’s episode. My parents enjoyed discussing the show with the kids — it bridged generations in a way so few shows do.
Looking back, I cannot believe we were actually surprised to see Kelly Clarkson take the title of American Idol in the season finale that September. I mean really, was there even a comparison in their voices? Yes, Justin Guarini had great hair and an infectious smile, but this was a singing competition! I remember tearing up listening to Kelly sing, “A Moment Like This” after being crowned the winner. How appropriate were those lyrics! Her life was about to change and the exact moment of this metamorphosis was happening on live television, in front of millions of viewers.
My daughters and I continued to be Idol obsessed throughout that year. We road tripped with other friends to Atlantic City in the fall to see the top 10 contestants perform live in concert. It was an overzealous plan on my part. My younger daughter fell asleep before it started and kept dozing even though I tried several times to wake her for Kelly’s performance. In June 2003, we all went to see the movie, From Justin to Kelly — arguably one of the worst musical movies ever made, but they loved it. (They even watched it a few times when it premiered on OnDemand.)
We welcomed the new contestants into our living room when season two premiered. Our favorites were the Velvet Teddy Bear, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. We laughed at some of the contestants’ auditions (William Hung), we cried at some of their incredible journeys and we applauded the ones who made it to Hollywood week. We even took a turn as contestants — in our basement — with the American Idol game for the Wii.
Idol was a springboard for many amazing musical artists. It also made stars out of judge Simon Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest. As it comes to an end, I can’t say we will miss American Idol since it exited our lives before it exited its television time slot. But I do miss those early days. Now, my daughters are all grown up, one already in college and one off in the fall. Idol was a big part in helping our family create great memories of being together and listening to music together that we’ll carry long after its finale.