“American Idol” marked its 20th birthday on Monday night with “The Great Idol Reunion,” a one-hour special featuring past “Idol” contestants and judges and celebrating the show’s history, both during its years on Fox and its current home on ABC.
“Tonight we are opening the Idol yearbook,” said host Ryan Seacrest as he revealed the “Idol” VIP area, which included such familiar faces as Tamyra Gray, Pia Toscano, Anthony Federov, Brooke White, Justin Guarini, William Hung, and Seacrest’s unforgettable frosted hair.
Wasting no time getting to Hung, whose name is “synonymous with ‘American Idol,’” noted Seacrest, he returned to the stage to reprise his epic Ricky Martin performance of “She Bangs” as former judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson felt right at home alongside the current panel of Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie.
In classic Abdul form, she kicked into Paula-speak, which fans surely fondly remember.
“I am most proud ,most humbled by having the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “And being able to see it continue to grow and do well and see — I’m crying seeing all of the contestants who are like my babies. … We see all this talent out here. … We did something right.”
The show featured duets with Season 7 and 8 winners David Cook and Kris Allen; Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks with Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard; Season 10 winner and runner-up Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina; Season 19 winner and runner-up Willie Spence and third place finisher Grace Kintsler; and Season 16 winner Maddie Poppe and runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson.
Season 17 winner Laine Hardy, who was recently arrested for planting a recording device in his ex-girlfriend’s residence on the LSU campus, participated as well via a performance with fifth place alum Laci Kaye Booth. The two sang the Stevie Nicks-Tom Petty duet “Stop Draggin My Heart Around,” with Booth — who released an EP with Big Machine Records last August — wrapped her vocals around the lyrics with a country twist.
Perry declared that the show still produces “superstars.” (The judge, as it turns out, was in two places at once — attending the Met Gala in New York City while also appearing on “Idol”).
Following the performance, Hardy took the judges by surprise when he emerged with his guitar. Talking about his career since winning in 2019, Seacrest remarked about “making ‘Idol’ so proud,” which made for an awkward comment given recent events.
Jordin Sparks, who said she’s written about 130 songs since her time on the show, and Studdard came together for a polished duet of George Michael and Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” which elicited tears from Abdul. A flashback of Richie sitting at the judges table for the start of Studdard’s “Idol” journey, and Jackson recalling first meeting Sparks, followed.
Poppe and Hutchinson are among the couples to emerge from the competition, and the chemistry between them was palpable as they paired for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream.”
Archuleta, who was runner-up to Cook in Season 7, returned to surprise four of his fans who famously cried over his loss that year. Sporting platinum-blond hair, Archuleta, who was not able sing due to recent vocal surgery, spoke through a voice app on his phone, and apologized for “not winning the show.”
Cook and Allen then joined for a historic first ever duet on the show for a rendition of The Cranberries “Dreams.” The two were perfectly in sync, thanks to touring together overseas. Cook and Allen both took a moment to promote new music — Cook’s single, “TABOS” and Allen’s recent releases, “Hello, Mr. Right Next Door,” and “Different Bridges, Same River.”
Kintsler and Spence brought youthful energy to the show with a fun performance of Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynn’s “Rather Be.” Spence reached another of his trademark high notes, after which Kintsler revealed she’s been invited by Queen Elizabeth to sing the National Anthem in the U.K.
Guarini finished the show with a revelation that he will return to Broadway for a seventh production, before bringing on McCreery and Alaina, who were only teenagers when they auditioned for the show and are now both shining stars in Country music.
“‘Idol’ prepared me for everything,” said Alaina. McCreery, humble as ever, revealed in his aw-shucks way that he’s had four No. 1 hits since “Idol.” The two came together for a gorgeous rendition of the Alison Krauss and Union Station song “When You Say Nothing At All.”
And, of course, no “Idol” reunion would be complete without Seacrest closing the show with his old catchphrase, “Seacrest, Out!” If only someone would have told him that back in the early aughts about his chosen hair style.