Last night (April 7), what would have seemed unthinkable 10 years ago came to pass — American Idol aired its series finale. The one-time cultural juggernaut — which went from producing chart-topping runner-ups like Adam Lambert to crowning winners most people have still never heard of (see the last few years) — wrapped after 15 seasons.
Many of the major stars (Kelly Clarkson) and also-rans (William Hung) who dotted Idol’s storied history appeared on the two-hour finale, but for longtime viewers the absence of one former contestant was felt acutely — Michael Johns.
Johns — an Australian singer who was a top 10 finalist on the show’s seventh season — passed away at age 35 due to dilated cardiomyopathy in 2014. As a face from Season 7, when Idol was still a major cultural force, Johns’ sudden death surprised and saddened America. So why wasn’t he anywhere to be found in the Idol finale?
According to longtime Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe, they made the difficult decision not to include mention of his death as it opened up “a can of worms.”
When Billboard asked Lythgoe, ahead of the finale, if there was a tribute planned for Johns, he replied, “There isn’t. There isn’t to be honest with you. It’s a personal thing and I don’t think, yeah. Because there’s more than him and there’s other people that we don’t really know about… it opens up a can of worms.”
Watch Johns’ audition for Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson below.
Reporting by Fred Bronson.