Although the main point of Thursday night's (May 26) "American Idol" finale was — in theory, at least — to crown a new champion, ever since Simon Cowell announced back in January that he'd be leaving the show at the end of season nine, fans had been wondering how the show would unfold.
Now we know. Cowell's departure was treated with equal parts humor and sadness, a mix of a Friars Club roast and a genuine, heartfelt tribute show. And, somewhat fittingly, it culminated in the single largest performance in "Idol" history.
Show producers poked fun at Cowell's notoriously prickly demeanor with a series of vignettes, titled "Simon Cowell: Uncovered," which featured some of his greatest put-downs and bust-ups, along with joking barbs from his soon-to-be former fellow "Idol" judges.
"I think Simon has an incredible poker face. He's got an ability to really hold back what he's feeling," Kara DioGuardi said, while a montage of Cowell cracking up during particularly odious auditions rolled. "He's very professional."
"Is Simon a flirt?" Paula Abdul asked with a laugh at one point. Abdul, of course, shared the judges' table for eight years with Cowell. "Yeah, if you're a mirror," she said.
There was also a song that sampled some of Cowell's greatest put-downs ("You sounded like a cat being thrown off a skyscraper"; "If you win this contest, we will have failed"; "You sounded like a background singer for a background singer," etc.). The ditty was performed by comedian Dane Cook, but oddly, it was interrupted by onetime Cowell sparring mate Ian Benardo, who swiped the mic and launched into a "Kanye moment," declaring, "Nobody cares, it's all about Ian Benardo tonight. I'm going to replace you tonight, Simon!"
The mic was quickly wrested away from Bernardo by none other than fellow "Idol" oddball Normund Gentle, as cameras pulled away and show producers cut to commercial break. And yet, for a guy who had spent nine seasons shooting down the dreams of "Idol" hopefuls, it was a strangely fitting tribute too.
Also jibing with the "oddball" category was Abdul's appearance. She appeared center-stage to pay homage to her friend and former colleague, but things quickly devolved, as she joked in her patented mumbled banter about leaving the show because she and Cowell had a love child.
Still, things quickly improved from there, as Cowell was serenaded by seven of the eight "Idol" champions, all of whom had been crowned under his watch (only David Cook was M.I.A.). Then a group of some of the show's other favorites from seasons past joined the seven, swelling the total number of performers to well over 30.
As the crowd cheered, host Ryan Seacrest beckoned Cowell onto the stage, and gave him the microphone. Standing center-stage, with some of the greatest "Idols" surrounding him, the man known for his massive ego seemed downright touched.
"I didn't think I was going to be this emotional, but I genuinely am. ... The show goes forward, it will be different, but I just want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the support, the fun, and your sense of humor," Cowell said. "You know what he truth is, when everyone asks who's going to replace me, who's going to be the next judge, the truth is, you guys are the judge of this show. And you've done an incredible job over the years ... it's been a blast."
And then he turned to Seacrest — his sparring partner of nine years — and, getting a bit choked up, said, "Even you ... I'm going to honestly, honestly miss you."
As the show cut to commercial, Cowell smiled and waved to the crowd ... it was genuinely touching. The end of an era. The beginning of the end. Both.
What did you think of the "Idol" farewell tribute to Simon? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.