Kelly Clarkson’s Tear-Jerking Performance On “American Idol”

Kellie Freeze
Ray Mickshaw/ FOX.

In Thursday night’s episode of American Idol, the aging reality series showed why it’s a shell of what it once was.

Top 10 contestants (Top row L-R:) La'Porsha Renae, MacKenzie Bourg, Tristan McIntosh, Trent Harmon, Olivia Rox, Gianna Isabella, Sonika Vaid, (L-R Front Row) Dalton Rapattoni, Avalon Young and Lee Jean. Ray Mickshaw/ FOX.
Top 10 contestants (Top row L-R) La’Porsha Renae, MacKenzie Bourg, Tristan McIntosh, Trent Harmon, Olivia Rox, Gianna Isabella, Sonika Vaid 
(Front row L-R) Dalton Rapattoni, Avalon Young and Lee Jean
Ray Mickshaw/ FOX.

The series announced the final 10 contestants in its final season: MacKenzie Bourg, Trent Harmon, Gianna Isabella, Lee Jean, Tristan McIntosh, Dalton Rapattoni, La’Porsha Renae, Olivia Rox, Sonika Vaid and Avalon Young. Four of the contestants were unanimously chosen by the judges last night — Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. — and the remaining six were chosen by America’s votes.

But the best moment of the night was when Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson brought America to tears with her emotional new single, “Piece by Piece.” It reminds me of Clarkson’s emotional performance of “A Moment Like This” when she won the first season of American Idol. Now she’s back on the same (-ish) stage, pregnant with her second child, happily married and a three-time Grammy winner. Her success is matched by few other Idol contestants, and we picked her. She is us, and we are her. She is the impossibility of stardom, made possible.

I admit I haven’t watched American Idol in many seasons; I stopped watching about the time when people started voting for people who had no possible future as marketable entertainers. But Clarkson’s performance reminded us of a time when a young unknown could steal our hearts and rise from obscurity from small-town girl to big-time star.

I don’t blame the death of American Idol on the series or its producers. Is it cliché to blame the Internet? Platforms like YouTube and even MySpace are the new places to find burgeoning talent. Performers like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes prove that you don’t have to compete on TV to find success — all you need are three chords, a catchy song (or just sing covers) and a YouTube channel. If the tween girls can find you, you can have a career that crosses over to the mainstream.

That’s not to say that American Idol doesn’t still have its place. It fills three hours of FOX’s programming block, it’s one of the few primetime shows that families can still watch together, and it’s still more profitable for FOX than some of its other series (Minority Report? World’s Funniest?). But I’m sure the network is anxiously awaiting the return of Empire, which will return from hiatus shortly before the Idol series finale on April 7.

I almost wonder if American Idol could live on in the form of an online channel, where wannabes can submit videos and compete against others virtually. It would require very little on the part of the producers and it’d be using the franchise’s name to serve as a collector and collective for new musical talent. That way, AI’s nets may still catch some of the musical minnows that have turned into the sharks that have eaten into the recording market.

American Idol still serves as a place for existing artists to premiere new music to its target audience of young TV watchers. Late-night talk shows and SNL are great, but tweens with disposable income and iTunes gift cards aren’t watching at 11:30pm on a school night. Next week, Thursday, March 3 (8:00-10:00pm ET live /PT tape-delayed), viewers can tune in to see the finalists perform and to see which two of the Top 10 will be sent home. And in addition, Idol judge Harry Connick Jr. will perform the song “(I Do) Like We Do” from his new CD, That Would Be Me, and Demi Lovato will perform her hit single “Stone Cold,” as well as sing “Confident” with this season’s Top 10 finalists.

What did you think of Kelly Clarkson’s performance? Are you buying music from the American Idol winners from Seasons 13 and 14? Would you buy music from whoever wins Season 15? Who is your favorite contestant from American Idol?

All images © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

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