It’s not easy being an American Idol fan in 2015. Even here at EW, where obsessions run deep, us Idol loyalists are rare. It can be a lonely existence. And as much as I love the 14-year-old competition, I understand why most of its onetime 36 million viewers have moved on: In recent seasons, it lost its luster, it failed to produce any true pop stars a la Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, and it shuffled the judges so much that viewers were left with whiplash.
Which is why season 14 has been an incredible moment of redemption for those of us who have stuck by the show. The returning combination of judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. was comforting, and they were a truly unified team this year, determined to find kids that have vocal talent and stage presence rather than the sleepy coffeehouse singers that filled (and killed) season 13. Season 14 has instead been packed with more gifted, surprising contestants than we’ve seen in years. The bulk of them are quirky, confident, artistic, and relatable as hell, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve been downloading their music on iTunes and Spotify.
And that’s what makes today’s news—that season 15 will be Idol’s last—particularly depressing. After years spent being quietly ashamed of my obsession with the show, I’m once again proud to be the weirdly enthusiastic viewer who sends videos of the best performances to my friends—even if they don’t watch the series. Sure, they’re probably deleting my emails, but if they ever actually click on the links, they’ll see that I’m not, in fact, an insane person, and that this show is full of talent. Jax singing Dido’s “White Flag”? Flawless. Clark taking on Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble With Love”? Impeccable. And I dare you to watch Qaasim’s cover of “Uptown Funk” without smiling.
Of course, American Idol is about so much more than the past four months. This is a show that gave us Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia, Jordin Sparks, Phillip Phillips. Hell, it gave us the best part of Dreamgirls. It gave us NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! (For better or worse.) It gave us passive-aggressive fights between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. It gave us the Jason Derulo/Jordin Sparks romance! (RIP.) It led to basically every talent-based reality competition on television—including the ones that poached its fans.
So as you continue tuning in to The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars and even America’s Got Talent (really, guys?), remember: It all started here. And that makes you as much of a fan of American Idol as us weirdos who have watched it for 14 years.