Simon Cowell Celebrated on 'American Idol' Finale
Simon Cowell Getty

It took leaving "American Idol" for Simon Cowell to show his softer side.

On Wednesday's season finale - his final appearance on the hit Fox show - Cowell got emotional, warmly thanking his colleagues and fans.

"I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support, the fun and your sense of humor," he said. "That's what's been the best part."

"It's been a blast," he continued. "Thank you."

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The caustic judge was feted in film and in song during the star-studded show, which saw shy paint clerk Lee DeWyze take the "Idol" title.

There was a montage of Cowell's meanest insults ("It sounded like cats jumping off the Empire State Building ... just before they hit the floor") and memorable exchanges with fellow judge Paula Abdul.

She returned to the show to pay respects to the departing judge, saying their work together "brought me immeasurable joy."

"I love all the fun we had together, I love all the laughter we shared together," she said, adding that the show "is not going to be the same without you, but as only I can tell you, it will go on."

Comedian Dane Cook offered a musical tribute, melding Cowell's quips into a song.

"You have the honesty of Abe Lincoln and the charm of the guy who shot him," Cook said.

Cowell was a man of few words as an "American Idol" judge, but they were choice.

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What he said helped turn a singing contest into a pop-culture force that dominates TV, even in its ninth season and with sliding viewership - and whose future is clouded by his departure.

He was so colorful and biting in his criticism that it felt like a bracing slap in the face of the performers, viewers and social convention. Brits such as Cowell may be accustomed to candor but Americans tend to err on the side of cheery positive reinforcement (exhibit A: most utterances by Abdul) and fluff (Randy Jackson's repetitive "Yo!").