'American Idol' Farewell: Pundits and Bloggers Reflect on 15 Years of Covering the Show

Writers from all over the web remember how they turned from followers to fans.
Courtesy of FOX

In the years since American Idol's 2002 debut, the show has not only changed the lives of its contestants, but also of reporters, television critics and bloggers dedicated to covering its every note, critique and elimination on a weekly, if not daily, basis. 

In honor of the series' final farewell, which will play out over three nights on Fox this week, The Hollywood Reporter gathered a few of the veterans — MjsBigBlog editor MJ Santilli; Brian Mansfield, longtime Idol Chatter writer at USA Today; Richard Rushfield, editor-in-chief of Hitfix.com and author of American Idol: The Untold Story; Rodney Ho, Idol reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo Music editor, Reality Rocks columnist and host of The Day After; Rickey, founder of Rickey.org; and Eric Rueb, blogger for the website Dudes Review Idol — who have been covering the show since its inception for their memories, fond, funny and otherwise …

Your Favorite Season of Idol

MJ Santilli, editor of MjsBigBlog: Probably seasons five and eight. Season five was the apex as far as how many people were watching. Taylor Hicks sort of became a punchline for later but, at the time, he was enormously popular. Katharine McPhee had her own fans and then there was Chris Daughtry. There was just so much intensity out there. And season eight was Adam Lambert. I remember the precise moment when he sang “Mad World” and the fandom for him erupted. I would open up the comments and see five paragraph testimonials from people talking about how Adam Lambert changed their life. I have never seen anything like that before on the blog and it was just so passionate. 

Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold StorySeasons seven and eight were the golden age. It was a really special vibe of the show, and they were figuring out how to be entertaining every week and deliver surprises and twists and characters. You had performers doing all kinds of styles. It wasn’t just the balladeers hitting the big notes.

Brian Mansfield, former Idol writer for USA Today: Season eight was the first one that I covered … and the last great season.

Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo Music editor, Reality Rocks columnist and host of The Day After: Season eight was magical. Most people assume I say that because it featured my favorite contestant, Adam Lambert, but it was so much more than that. It had the most exciting finale ever (Kiss and Queen!), an amazing mix of contestants (Allison Iraheta, Megan Joy, Kris Allen … even the joke contestants like Norman Gentle and Tatiana Del Toro were memorable) and a real sense of suspense from week to week. I even liked the addition of Kara DioGuardi. She knew her stuff.

Rodney Ho, writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: In some ways, season one was my favorite because I had no preconceived notions and there was an innocence to the whole affair. Plus, we got Kelly Clarkson out of it. But in retrospect, it’s hard to deny the charms of season five, the most popular season in Idol history with a wacky cast of characters led by Kellie Pickler and the incomparable charms of Taylor Hicks. (Soul patrol!)

Rickey, founder of Rickey.org: Season three. I saw Fantasia on American Idol and started writing about her a Iot. I got an audience from that. 

Eric Rueb, Dudes Review Idol blogger: Season seven was awesome. David Cook was my first man crush. Then season 10 with Jacob Lusk. I loved that season because it was very competitive. Once we got in the top 10 every week, someone else did something great. 

Your Favorite Idol Judges' Panel:

Santilli: The original trio of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. What was great about them was Paula Abdul was the most famous of the three of them when the show started, so it wasn’t about having superstars on the panel, but rather, people who would be entertaining and good at critiquing the talent. I think that the three of them had good chemistry. The original trio will live in our hearts forever.

Rushfield: Only Simon. No one else compares.

Mansfield: The current one with Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez is my favorite. That said, I don’t think it would have been what it was without Simon, Paula and Randy. Simon did so much for the show that I think he was obviously a more important judge and that was a more important panel. But I know Keith, and I really admire Harry. So that’s my favorite.

Parker: Season eight — the original dream team plus Kara. It mixed things up just enough, without tampering with the formula.

Ho: I love the current judges’ panel of Harry Connick, Jr., Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez simply because they provide generally solid critiques, they get along and they have credibility as successful musicians. I understand the appeal of the original trio but they eventually wore out their welcome. Worst, of course, will always be the wreck that included Nicki Minaj and rambling Mariah Carey. After a while, in my recaps, I stopped referencing anything Carey would say, inserting: “blah blah blah blah” instead.

Rickey: Simon and Paula.

Rueb: Simon. Because he didn't give a f---. He told you what needed to be told and when he praised you, that was legit. I also liked Kara a lot. She was underrated and got her point across without playing a character. Randy and Paula were terrific until Randy turned into a character and started calling everyone "dawg" and dressing like the Easter Bunny threw up on him. Paula was great until she caught a case of the crazy.

Your Favorite Moment Covering Idol:

Santilli: The conspiracy theories about what the producers are really doing behind the scenes — like whether they're trying to throw this contestant under the bus — I always found that a lot of fun. We had entire threads devoted to them. 

Rushfield: At a taping before the Idol season-eight summer tour, I taped [the finalists] singing [Journey's] “Don’t Stop Believin'," put it up on the L.A. Times website and, in minutes, it exploded in traffic. People were looking for every tidbit.

Mansfield: There were a couple of times when Ryan Seacrest said something on the show that I knew came from one of my stories. He never named me, but it was more of this thing where it was sort of an "in" comment.

Parker: The day I was invited to hang out and watch the season-eight Idol tour rehearsals for a whole day. They sang "Don't Stop Believin'" a foot from my face at this studio in Burbank and it was surreal. But there are so many moments. Maybe the time Adam Lambert's publicist invited me to hear his debut album and I guessed within 10 seconds that "Music Again" was written by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. I was proud of that! The time when Norman Gentle serenaded me on camera with "Amazing Grace" (but he changed it to "Amazing Lyndsey") was also pretty awesome. And, of course, getting to have dinner with the show's creator, Simon Fuller, and pick his brain about the show and discuss our favorite moments — that was just full circle.

Ho: Covering the show from Atlanta, I only made it to the Dolby Theatre for one season finale: season three, when Georgia native Diana DeGarmo competed against Fantasia. Though DeGarmo was the hometown favorite, I was privately rooting for Fantasia, who brought such sincere emotion to the stage. And watching her sing “I Believe” live as the confetti fell was a moment I will never forget. 

Rickey: Fantasia tweeted me a few weeks ago thanking me for all the support I gave her for the last 13 years since she's been on Idol. To me, that's worth everything. The bonds the show created between the fans and the contestants over the years is what made Idol so special.

Rueb: When they came to Providence, Jax hooked me up with meet-and-greet passes and I'll never forget saying, "Hey, you're probably wondering why this old guy wants to meet you …" And she stopped me and said "You're Dudes Review Idol!" Had a great talk with her, Rayvon, Nick and, even after expressing a bro-crush on him all season, Clark wasn't afraid of me. Probably the highlight of me covering the show.

What You Will Miss About Covering Idol

Santilli: The excitement of the live shows. I think the most fun I had was on show nights and there would be hundreds of people following along with me. It was such a community event. I felt connected to everybody. The community of bloggers online when Twitter came along and those nights became even stronger. I think I am going to miss that. We had that somewhat with other shows, but there was really nothing like American Idol when it came to that kind of excitement.

Rushfield: There were so many great stories every season. At the base of it you had a dozen people who, by and large, didn’t come from any special entertainment background and sang for crowds no larger than their church or school. Obviously, there was a lot of heartbreak along with the amazing success story, but every year, at the core of it, those dozens of stories — which you can’t manufacture — was a powerful thing to watch, and you were lucky to watch it up so close. 

Mansfield: The relationships. I’ve talked to every finalist from season eight through 14. There are a lot of people in terms of people on the show and were fans of the show that I developed relationships. And the writers I developed relationships with in ways that never happened in any other area. I think that is what I am going to miss. What I found out of the show were the relationships on the show, covering the show and readers that became friends.

Parker: Shooting my The Day After show with [season-six finalist] Brandon Rogers, where we'd hash out the previous night's episode. It was always one of my favorite parts of the week. I need to get him to start watching The Voice!

Ho: The show has been part of me for 14 years. I covered the show when the TV writers wanted nothing to do it with and, in 2005, I ended up covering TV full time in part because of it. I’ve recapped every episode going back to season four and built a loyal audience of readers, many who have stayed with me for years. I’ve even become friends with some of them. It was a magical experience being part of (however small) the biggest TV phenomenon of the 2000s. Heck, I still own the original VHS tapes Fox sent the newspaper in 2002 of the first two episodes!

Rickey: I have been missing it for a while. After Season 12, fans were leaving in droves. The intense fan interactions and arguments don't happen anymore.

Rueb: For me, it's watching the competition.You have to come up with a big song because you are bottom two last week, and then boom! Someone hits it out of the park.  

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