With just weeks before American Idol’s farewell season begins, Fox has released a 20-minute documentary featuring highlights from the reality singing competition and interviews with Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest — who revealed he almost had another role on the show.
Idol creator and executive producer Simon Fuller said the show originally intended to have four judges but switched to three. They already had Simon Cowell — who Fuller said he knew was going to be a hit in America — and singer Paula Abdul but needed a third judge. Surprisingly, they offered it to Seacrest.
“I said to him, ‘Who’s the host?'” Seacrest recalled. “‘I think that might be a better role for me.'”
Fuller agreed to audition him as co-host, and the rest is history, as his partner Brian Dunkleman was out in the second season.
In the video, current judge Jennifer Lopez says she was “devastated” when season 5 contestant Chris Daughtry was eliminated, Abdul reveals that nobody loved to watch himself more on television than Cowell, and Cowell himself says he knew it was going to be a “funny show” right off the bat.
“There will be nothing ever like the first group,” Seacrest said. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t have a script.”
“It happened so quickly,” Cowell said. “One minute we were on the air, and then suddenly the whole country’s talking about the show.”
Billboard news director and The Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin backed up Cowell’s statement. “Out of nowhere comes this new show that we just had to cover,” she said. “It was summer 2002, pre-social media, pre-Facebook. It … really united the country together.”
Current judges Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. also reminisce about their favorite moments. For instance, Connick was in the audience for the first Idol finale between Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini (look carefully: Tori Spelling is sitting right behind him). Jackson said they knew the moment she opened her mouth, that “uh-oh, we got one,” and Cowell said it wouldn’t have been the same show without her.
“Kelly Clarkson during season 1, I think people were just really taken by the fact that she was a cocktail waitress in Texas, who just walked into this situation and walked out a star,” she said.
The show’s mission remained through more finales. Asked about their most memorable finales, Seacrest points to season 2 between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, while Lopez goes with Scotty McCreery (“if he becomes famous, we discovered him”), and Phillip Phillips. Connick and Cowell both picked season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino.
“Fantasia, one of my favorite people of all time,” said Cowell.
Urban said he was so into season 7’s David vs. David battle, he was irritated when his DVR cut out right as Seacrest was going to announce which one was the winner.
When Idol goes off the air, Seacrest says history will look back on it kindly.
“This is a part of Americana,” he said. “This is a part of American history. And that would be the history I hope we have.”