NEW YORK (AP) — An estimated 13.3 million people caught glimpses of Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood, Paula Abdul and other stars of "American Idol" on the show's apparent finale, its biggest audience in two years.
In an all-Mississippi contest Thursday night, Trent Harmon beat La'Porsha Renae to become the 15th idol.
At its peak in 2006, "American Idol" averaged 30 million viewers a season and dominated popular culture. It was television's most popular program for nine straight seasons before fading in recent years. Still, its average of 11.1 million viewers this season was enough to regularly place it among the Nielsen company's top 20 shows most weeks.
It was the series' most-watched episode since February 2014 and well above last season's finale, which had 8 million viewers.
Fox announced last year that this would be the last season of "Idol," setting up a nostalgia-drenched victory lap.
But lately its producers have been making noises that the show might survive in some form. As "Idol" ended Thursday, host Ryan Seacrest said, "Good night, America," before adding mysteriously, "For now."
The final show brought back many of the performers who got their start on "Idol," including Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Hicks, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard and Jordin Sparks.
The show debuted as a summer series in 2002, and became an instant hit. Viewers loved the struggling wanna-bes as much as the future stars, and waited to hear Cowell's acerbic evaluations. He had a love-hate relationship with fellow judge Abdul, with the amiable Randy Jackson sometimes caught in the middle.
All three came back for a cameo Thursday night. The show's current judges, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban each also performed on the last show.