After the ads, Ryan is still the only dude at the judges' table, as he introduces a clip of the contestants talking about the judges. It starts with Mariah and her "dahling" and overblown vocabulary, Keith's t-shirt and notorious listening-face, Randy's needless yelling and catchphrases, and Nicki's hard-ass-ness and tonsorial style, which they mock by wearing various wigs And -- with a shot of Devin at the end -- her ass. Keep it classy, Idol.
Ryan interviews Kree's sister in the audience, then introduces Kree herself to sing "Where the Blacktop Ends," with Keith on guitar, Randy on bass and Travis Barker playing drums, because why not? And Ray Chew playing keys, I guess. Yikes, man, everyone else in the top five got a way better duet deal than this. Kree and Keith make a duet out of it, and as a bassist myself, I take no issue with Randy's bass playing. Even though it's also too loud and repeats itself a lot. Actually, that explains a great deal.
The judges are finally reassembled back at the table after the ads -- all in new outfits -- and Ryan says it's the end of an era with the departure of Randy Jackson. The tribute clip has a framing device of talking dawgs that I refuse to pay attention to, and a whole montage of Randy's greatest moments of the last twelve seasons. Which, naturally, are almost entirely filler. After the clip, Randy gets to give a gracious farewell speech and thanks everyone. Don't feel obligated to stick around for the rest of the night, Randy.
Ryan gets Aretha Franklin on the big screen via a live feed from New York, but not to say goodbye to Randy. There seems to be a bit of a delay as she's talking to Ryan, but they're going to make her sing live with the top five anyway. The six of them do a medley starting with "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and going on to "Respect" and "Think," with Aretha and her band playing in a studio while the top five are relegated to being her backup singers (which, we should all be so lucky) and the full horn section plays along in L.A. On a technical level, that was actually pretty amazing. If The X Factor tried that we'd still be waiting for them to figure it out.
After a rerun of the big clip calling for auditions for next year, Ryan says they're opening online auditions right after the show. And then he presents Kree and Candice with keys to their new Ford Escapes, and cues the retrospective clip of the season set to "Gone Gone Gone." Unlike in the weekly farewell reels, the sing plays in its entirety this time, so we know this is going to take a while. Which it surely enough does, starting with Kez Ban and proceeding to more nutjobs and some people who made it to Hollywood and the top twenty and the top ten, all the way down to the top two. And every time they do this I feel like I got as much out of the last three minutes as I did out of the last four months. "Went by quickly, didn't it?" Ryan has the unmitigated nerve to say.