'American Idol': Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood & Adam Lambert to Lead Parade of Alumni for Last Season?

Getty Images
American Idol alums Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson and Phillip Phillips.

According to sources, the Fox show will take one last trip down memory lane, saving the A-list bookings for the 2016 grand finale.

In its ratings heyday, American Idol played a key role in building momentum for such artists as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber by offering prime performance slots during the season. But as the Fox show has eliminated a night-two reveal altogether, guest performances by established acts have also gone by the wayside and, for its 15th run, will barely register.

According to sources, Idol’s final bow will feature only alumni of the show, saving the A-list bookings for the grand finale, scheduled for May 2016. "We will be bringing Idols back in a way that’s organic," says Trish Kinane, president of entertainment programming at FremantleMedia North America and Idol showrunner, stopping short of confirming the plan. "We’re going to be reflecting on the huge successes and amazing moments from the past 14 years." Says another insider: “It is too far out from the season” to speak definitively about guest spots.

Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr., and Keith Urban Brace for 'Idol' Farewell

Certainly returning graduates like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Phillip Phillips are bound to draw viewers (Idol’s 14th season averaged a 2.9 rating, or about 11 million viewers, according to Nielsen), but that still leaves weeks of live slots to fill, and not all Idol alums look back fondly on their alma mater. Says one rep of a top 10 finalist: "Unless your name is Adam Lambert, the show’s selective memory has left some non-winners feeling burned." 

To hear Kinane tell it, success isn’t always judged by album sales or radio hits. Season five’s Kellie Pickler, for example, won Dancing With the Stars in 2013, and season two’s Clay Aiken ran for Congress in 2014, extending their 15 minutes by years. As for season eight's Lambert, his new single, “Ghost Town,” is gaining momentum at radio. 

But even finalists who never made it to the top 12 have done well. Consider Tori Kelly, who’s currently riding a second pop smash at radio -- she was eliminated on season nine, a year after Todrick Hall, now starring in his own MTV show and managed by Scooter Braun, was also given the top 24 boot.

Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Fantasia Barrino and beyond, they all represent "classic Cinderella stories that are the very heart of Idol," says Kinane, no matter the ratings. "This show has changed lives."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.