LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paula Abdul sat on his lap, and his best insults were turned into a song as a softer Simon Cowell took center stage on Wednesday in his last appearance as a judge on “American Idol”.
The British music executive may have become a household name in the United States by trashing wannabe singers, but his send-off on Wednesday was a love fest.
The season finale was scattered with video clips of memorable Cowell faces, humorous tributes from fellow judges and a song that strung his most famous one-liners together.
Ex-judge Abdul teased Cowell about his haircut and recalled a love-hate relationship on screen that she said made them “America’s most dysfunctional family” before she quit the show last year.
“My darling Simon, I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, hot cheerleaders, big movie stars, world famous recording artists, even a cartoon cat. But if I’m being truly honest, none of them holds a candle to you, my friend,” Abdul said in a surprise live appearance.
She then perched on his lap on the judges’ podium as seven former “Idol” champions and more than 15 past contestants serenaded him.
Cowell, dragged on stage shortly before the actual 2010 “American Idol” was announced, admitted to feeling emotional.
“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,” Cowell said, indicating the viewers and voters.
“And you’ve done an incredible job over the years,” he added.
Cowell is leaving “Idol” to bring a version of his British talent show “The X Factor” to the United States next year, leaving producers to find a replacement for him on the top-rated Fox singing show.
“I think they need Darth Vader to take his place or possibly Hannibal Lecter,” rock singer Alice Cooper told reporters before performing on Wednesday, referring to some of the movie world’s most famous villains.
Former “American Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe compared Cowell’s departure to when actor Sean Connery left the “James Bond” movie franchise. The movies carried on with a new Bond.
“It’s not just about Simon. It’s about the young talent and I think we’ve just got to stop talking about the judges, which we’ve seem to have done for the last two years, and worry about the talent,” Lythgoe said.
Cowell said during one video clip played on Wednesday that his nine years on “Idol” had been the best of his life.
“I think he personifies what separates this show from...a lot of other shows that have come before it,” singer Michael McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers, told reporters.
“I can’t imagine a show capturing the imagination of the public like this show has for a long, long time,” he said.
Editing by Jill Serjeant