Not since American Idol’s supposed “series finale” in 2016 — when Fox canceled the long-running and much-loved talent show, only for ABC to swoop in and reboot it just two years later — had there been such a bring-all-the-feels nostalgia night as Monday’s “Great Idol Reunion” 20th anniversary special.
We had Ryan Seacrest in a circa-2002 streaked-‘n’-tipped rooster wig, joined by noticeably less hirsute Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini. We had O.G. Idol panelists Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson stealing newbie judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan’s seats, while Paula broke into happy tears upon seeing her “babies” — alumni like Tamyra Gray, Brooke White, Pia Toscano, Anthony Federov, Elliott Yamin, and Brandon Rogers — hanging out in the side-stage VIP lounge.
And then, just when we thought Ryan was about to bring out “the man synonymous with American Idol” to kick Katy Perry out of her center judging chair, instead of Simon Cowell, out sprinted William Hung — the joke contestant who went viral before “going viral” was even a thing — for a spirited reprise of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” William has done all right for himself after Idol, first working as a statistical analyst for the Los Angeles County’s Sheriff Department and now as a motivational speaker telling people, “I believe everybody has the right to try something new without being ridiculed!” — a statement he made Monday that was met with loving applause.
However the early viral stars who were ridiculed back in the day, but really stole the “Great Idol Reunion” show Monday, were the four Archies — as in, David Archuleta superfans — whose video of them sobbing uncontrollably over Archuleta’s loss to David Cook in Season 7’s “David vs. David” finale made the internet rounds in 2008. Last year on the 13th anniversary of that famous final showdown, Archuleta tweeted a video of the tweens’ living room meltdown, saying, “Thinking about these girls. Hope they’re doing fine, wherever they are!” And this week, he found out they are in fact doing just fine, when all four fans — older, wiser, and much calmer, but still proudly wearing their Archie iron-on T-shirts and listening to his music — showed up onstage.
Archuleta, now age 31, didn’t perform on Fox’s 2016’s farewell show because his booking was too last-minute to rehearse, and sadly, he wasn’t able to sing on this week’s “Great Idol Reunion” because he has been recovering from vocal surgery for the past two months. But when he appeared onstage with a new peroxided hairdo and a talkbox to surprise the all-grown-up crying Archie girls (Natalie Blanock, Madison Shemansky, Kellie Duffey, and Natalie Burchesky, ages 24-25), they were all smiles. “Thanks for creating such a fun and memorable moment for me and everyone else,” he told them through his smartphone’s vocal-assistance app. “Sorry I didn’t win!”
David Cook was actually in the house Monday, but it seems all was forgiven and there were no hard feelings. Cook dueted with his fellow WGWG champ and recent tourmate, a very glowed-up Season 8 winner Kris Allen, on a lovely duet of the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” This was one of several nostalgic alumni pairings, as Ryan (now back to wearing his regular, flatter, darker hair) announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the history of American Idol is on this stage!”
Season 2/Season 6 winners Ruben Studdard and Jordin Sparks teamed for a pure-class performance of “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” after which we saw an adorable flashback from when Ruben’s “Alabama brother,” Lionel Richie himself, guested on Season 2 and praised Ruben’s skills. Season 10’s top two finalists, bona fide country stars Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, proved they’ve come a long way since their green teen years with their sophisticated take on “When You Say Nothing at All.” Last year’s fan favorites Willie Spence and Grace Kinstler blended their powerhouse vocals for a rousing cover of Clean Bandit’s electropop banger “Rather Be.” And the most adorable duet was a Carter/Cash-like rendition of “Islands in the Stream” by 2018 winner Maddie Poppe and runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson, who came out as real-life romantic couple on the Season 16 finale and are still going strong.
Also performing were Season 17 winner Laine Hardy and his fellow country-crooning castmate Laci Kaye Booth, even though Laine made headlines just days ago when he was arrested on charges of allegedly planting a recording device in his ex-girlfriend’s Louisiana State University dorm room. (An Idol source clarified to Yahoo Entertainment that the “Great Idol Reunion” special was taped more than a month ago, before these accusations came to light. It’s worth noting that while Laine and Laci’s performance wasn’t edited out of the broadcast, it wasn’t mentioned in social media posts promoting the special or uploaded to the show’s official YouTube channel.)
While the disturbing Laine news could have cast a pall on Monday’s feel-good festivities, Laine and Laci’s raw, rootsy cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was enchanting, and Laci deserved this moment to shine and prove just what a rising star she is. “I never in one day of my entire my ever doubted you,” raved Laci’s biggest fan, Katy.
Anyway, as Ryan said at the end of this all-too-brief special presentation, the “Idol legacy lives on Sunday,” when the current top seven finalists — one of which will be crowned the Season 20 champion in just three weeks’ time — perform again for America’s votes. With such a competitive season, there may be a few Archie-esque tears shed on that finale night as well.
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