Last night marked the end of this season of American Idol, with the showdown between finalists Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze with Lee becoming the surprise winner over the heavily favored Crystal. However, in a season that had viewership down almost 10%, a low not reached since season one, the two hour season finale had to pull out all the stops to deliver the kind of send off the show’s biggest star, Simon Cowell, deserved.

As in seasons past, the finale brought back its fair share of Idol alumni, but never to the magnitude of last night’s tribute to the show’s most beloved judge. Nearly all of the show’s winners, save David Cook, took the stage together led by Kelly Clarkson to sing the emotional “Together We Are One.” Solid Simon, with special returning guest and personal friend Paula Abdul on his lap, even cracked a smile, and dare we say a tear or two as his most successful proteges crooned him into AI retirement.

The show seemed devoted to the cause of Cowell’s send-off, bringing celebrity testimonies throughout the broadcast, like personal friend Ricky Gervais who appeared via satellite from down the street, and a live performance of a song of Cowell’s best one-liners by comedian Dane Cook.

In a less emotional but equally memorable appearance, General Larry Platt of audition times’ “Pants on the Ground” fame took advantage of his 15 minutes with a hilarious rendition of the fan favorite, joined by surprise audition favorite William Hung for a moment that had viewers in stitches.

Of course the show also brought back this season’s finalists, who each performed group and duet performances with a slew of celebrities, notably Joe Cocker, Alanis Morissette, Christina Aguilera, Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson, and the seemingly invincible Bret Michales just to name a few.

Cowell, leaving the show to give his attention to bringing his UK TV show X-Factor to the States, has yet to be replaced, but Idol execs plan to go forward with the show without the beloved Brit for another season as of this time. –

Last night’s show ran 5 minutes over, but you can watch those missed moments of glory, and Lee’s performance of his first single (a cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day”), below. –JOE GALBO

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