I Will Remember You: A Look Back on American Idol

As soon as the final season of American Idol was announced, I knew I wanted to write something about the show. This show had an enormous impact on pop culture and gave FOX several years of incredible ratings. It gave them a platform to launch new shows, it inspired several similar competition shows, and while it didn’t make as strong of an impact on the music industry as it may have liked, it did launch the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, and many more. From that perspective alone, the fact that the show is ending is a big deal, even if it doesn’t draw the same attention it used to. But while I love it from a TV history perspective, that not why I needed to write about the show. In fact, the reason I needed to write about it has little to do with the show itself. Instead, in honor of its finale, I want to talk about what one season in particular brought to me as an individual.

It seems that most American Idol fans have one season they love just a little more than the rest. Maybe it was the first they watched. Maybe it was the one in which their favorite won. Maybe it was the one that had the best vocalists. Maybe it was the only one they watched. For me, that season is season 8. It’s not the first I watched (that would be the first season) and honestly, I didn’t even watch all of season 8. But it was the one that will forever be a part of my heart and an important part of my personal history.

As has been the case of most of the media I hold close to my heart, season 8 of American Idol came to me at the start of a transitional time in my life. I was getting ready to start the process of applying to graduate school and deciding whether I wanted to pursue psychology or pop culture studies. I was in the process of defining my own identity and beliefs distinct from the one that had been taught to me through 13 years of religious schooling. I was still struggling with the loss of a few old friendships and was very hesitant to let new people into my life. Then in blazed Adam Lambert.

My mom has been a fan of the show for as long as it has been airing so I would often hear pieces of songs when I went to get a drink of water or ask her a question. If I’m remembering correctly, I wandered through during Adam’s performance of “Ring of Fire” and I was intrigued by him. Then I happened to be back next week for “Mad World” and I was hooked. If I didn’t see an episode, I asked her how he did. There were other contestants I liked but he was my favorite. While both Kris and Adam had strong final performance nights (except for “No Boundaries”, congratulations AI, you found a song that fit neither of their strengths), my prior love for Adam won out and I voted for a performer for the first time since season one. He didn’t win, but I wasn’t concerned. I’d been aware enough of the show and the success (or lack thereof) of the winners to know that the top 3-4 was usually guaranteed to release at least one album. For any other season and any other time, my interest probably would have stopped there. I might have enjoyed a song on the radio by a contestant and that would be it.

But once again, it was Adam that kept me invested. His Rolling Stone cover got so much press, both the fact that it was the runner-up on the cover and not the winner as well as the admission of his crush on Kris. At some point that summer, I stumbled across a Livejournal post celebrating Adam and Kris’s friendship, which led to a fan community, which led to a year I won’t ever forget. 

I spent the summer of 2009 lurking through news posts and excitement and truly terrible cellcasts. I finally got up the courage to join in two weeks before the group tour ended (I am nothing if not perpetually late to fandoms) and I have never regretted that decision. In that community, I found new friends, new things to love, and a place to belong.

It’s a difficult year to describe. It was a ridiculous number of Twitter trends, Wolfgang, and bubble tweets (which looking back were a really weird idea). It was raising an incredible amount of money for DonorsChoose, Heifer International and UNICEF. It was staying up too late or waking up too early to talk to friends in different time zones. It was icon shopping and over-analysis of everyone’s first post-Idol music.  It was disappointment in a terrible AMA performance and excitement over an adorable day with Good Morning America. It was headphone splitters, feathers, and a special kind of ring. It was love posts, anon posts, mod election drama and whole lot of other drama. It was intense and distracting and obsessive but it was also a sanctuary and home for all of us who needed what it had to offer. It was the best and the worst of fandom. It was mine.

This was the place I really began to become the person I am today. The people this fandom brought to me were exactly the people I needed. I needed the people I only saw in passing but never spoke to, the ones I would casually talk to in the off-topic posts, the ones I talked to regularly, and the ones I’ve kept with me since we met 6+ years ago. They made me laugh, gave me the freedom to redefine myself, opened my eyes to new perspectives and experiences with things, provided a supportive presence when I needed advice or comfort, and they wanted the love and friendship I wanted to share with them. It was an experience that was so much a part of my life that I truly cannot imagine where I’d be without it.

So to my fellow fans – thank you for spending that year and your lives with me.

To Kris, Adam, Danny, Allison, Matt, Anoop, Lil, Scott, Michael, and Megan – thank you for your music and the friendship you shared with each other that brought me to new friends of my own.

To American Idol – thank you for being the mechanism that allowed that particular group of singers to come together at that particular time. I, and many others, found friendship and joy because of the show and its contestants and to me, that is your best legacy.

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6 thoughts on “I Will Remember You: A Look Back on American Idol

  1. I was right in my prediction that this would make me cry, and you were right in saying it would make me laugh, too. That summer was crazy and intense and exactly what so many of us needed at huge points of transition in our lives.

    It’s amazing how things that happened almost seven years ago can still make me smile. Just the mention of that GMA morning brought back such happy memories of staying up way too late getting excited for it and then waking up way too early to watch it live.

    Certain seasons of TV shows can actually change your life—not just your life as a fangirl but literally everything about who you are and how you see the world. Season Two of Alias, Season Four of Castle, Season One of Once Upon a Time, Seasons Four and Five of Parks and Rec, and Season Eight of American Idol—these are the seasons that shaped me as a person in ways I never could have imagined. And that season of AI did it by giving me a community in which I found my voice in so many ways, a community that didn’t last for long but gave me friends who stayed with me and helped me keep my voice strong long after the voice stopped talking about Adam and Kris.

    That season of AI gave me you. It was the spark of connection all great friendships need in order to grow. And no matter how many years pass, I will always be thankful to that show and that season for being the connecting piece between two young women on opposite ends of the country who were always meant to be friends. ❤

    1. You keep making me cry today!

      I love what you said about certain seasons of TV changing our lives and more than anything, I love what it says about you as a person that you are so upfront about that fact. You let the media you love move and touch you deeply and it was that fact that was one of the earliest parts of our friendship.

      No matter what else happens, I will love this season and Kris and Adam in particular for what they brought into my life. It’s a different love than it was in 2009, it’s much more about what they represent to me, but it’s the love that still puts a smile on my face if one of their songs comes on the radio.

      They brought me friendships that have changed and enriched my life for the better. They brought me my Leslie. You’re right, we were always meant to find each other and I’ll always be thankful that this gave us that opportunity.

  2. Laughing over this “(except for “No Boundaries”, congratulations AI, you found a song that fit neither of their strengths)” because SO TRUE. They had two amazing singers and couldn’t make a song that worked well for either of them, oh man. At least the rest of the songs those two did that night worked well.

    I was late to the AI fandom as well, since apparently I’m late to basically all fandoms, so I don’t think I had really joined the fans online until around the time the tour started. I had been in fandoms before (Gilmore Girls and Bones), but nothing like this, where the fans found every interview, every picture, every performance, and just geeked out over it together. I was in my senior year of high school so I was also at a transitional period of my life, and having something fun to distract me from all the stress that comes with college applications and deciding where to go for the next 4 years of my life was a good thing.

    While AI is definitely not my favorite show I’ve seen over the past 10 years, it is one of the most important to me. AI8 changed my life in the best way possible because it led me to Katie, Nikki, and you, and I will forever be grateful for that. ❤

    1. I’m so glad you had something to distract you from the stress that is choosing a college!

      I love that you reblogged my link to this on tumblr and tagged it as “friendship” because that was really what we all took away. The experience was great and fun and distracting when we needed it but the best part was the friendships that came out of it. That’s the part that changed our lives and I’m so grateful that this fandom brought us together (even if it was a couple years after the fact) and that our flawless little quartet found each other ❤

  3. I may not have been there but I’m joining this party. Heather I love this. I love it because I grew up in a time that didn’t have social media to connect me to people like it does today. But can absolutely calibrate my life to iconic moments. The series finale of MASH, the annual ritual of movies that aired on TV, the original Degrassi, the angst of My So Called Life and the utopian joy of when Friends arrived.

    I too have memories associated to AI my season was David Cook’s who literally had me at Hello. But more than that Mondays became a FOX ritual night. 6 of my friends who lived in the neighborhood would come over, we’d order take out. They would rotate doing laundry (because I had the fancy apartment with laundry in the building in Manhattan). We would watch AI with running commentary and then sit in silence watching 24. It is one of my favorite memories and a bonding amongst friends.

    TV and online fandoms have connected me to so many wonderful people, you included. The joys by which we bond and commiserate around the media we love is one of my great joys especially in a world and a life that sometimes consumes the smile in my heart I gain from these friendships are sacred.

    1. I love this comment and I’m so happy you joined in.

      First of all, the American Idol-takeout-laundry night story is wonderful. That sort of ritual around a TV show is always fun and leads to amazing memories.

      Second, I can’t agree more about the joy that comes with connecting with and sharing the highs and lows of being a TV fan with others. I am so grateful to have you as part of my online fan experience.

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