The last time an "American Idol" finale had this few viewers, Justin and Kelly were contestants.
Just over 24 million people tuned in to watch last night's conclusion of season nine, the smallest audience for an "American Idol" season finale since season one in 2002, according to preliminary Neilsen numbers.
The first season of Fox's "American Idol" concluded with Kelly Clarkson winning the title over runner-up Justin Guarini. Since then, the show has created a small army of stars, not the least of which is judge Simon Cowell, who will not return for the show's 10th season.
While the season-nine finale bested the competition from other networks, its overall performance (which included the worst demographic scores in the show's history, Variety reported) is the latest blow to the pop-culture juggernaut after a season filled with critical groaning over everything from song selections to host Ryan Seacrest's behavior.
It was the first season to feature Ellen DeGeneres as a judge, the first without Paula Abdul and the second with Kara DioGuardi. Lee DeWyze took the crown Wednesday night, though his victory was largely overshadowed by Cowell's farewell.
Also taking center stage was a string of high-profile performances, including ones from Janet Jackson, who sang new ballad "Nothing" and got her groove on for "Nasty"; Christina Aguilera, who transitioned from "Fighter" to Bionic single "You Lost Me"; and Bret Michaels, who told MTV News backstage that he hadn't cleared his "Idol" duet with third-place finisher Casey James on "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with his doctors.
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