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What a long, strange season it's been. We lost the quirky entertainment of judge Paula Abdul. We learned it was Simon Cowell's last time behind this particular judges' table. We got to know Ellen DeGeneres in a new context -- and mostly wished she had more substantive or amusing things to say. We continued to listen to Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi say mostly the same six or seven sentences with just a few alterations from episode to episode.

And why am I talking so much about the judges? Really, they've been the story this season, right? The contestants as a group have been so low key that there hasn't been that much to talk about. It became pretty clear early on that the most plausible finale would include Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, and indeed, here we are. 

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They're nice and all, and they're both probably going to do just fine in their post-Idol careers. But there's not a lot of excitement here.

Lee and Crystal come to the stage and chat with Ryan Seacrest for a bit. I'm really confused at first because they are in schoolboy and schoolgirl outfits. At first, I'm wondering if there is some Harry Potter something happening, but no. The Top 12 or so come out and sing "School's Out for Summer." Midway through, Alice Cooper joins them on stage, too.

Next up, Kris Allen performs. Remember him?

Then we get the first of what I am sure will be several goodbye-to-Simon bits. He's humble and kind, don'tcha know?

Then Siobhan Magnus and Aaron Kelly come to the stage and sing "How Deep Is Your Love," and midway through, a couple of the Bee Gees join them on stage to perform, too. (I'm sensing a theme! If anyone starts a song and the original artist doesn't join them midway through, we'll be so disappointed!)

Michael Lynche is next on stage, singing "Taking It to the Streets." Indeed, before long, Michael McDonald is on stage, too. For a minute, I actually thought it was going to be Taylor Hicks joining him.  But no.

Next Dane Cook comes out and performs a "song" of Simon's best insults. It would be funnier if someone besides Dane Cook was doing it. Anyway, a bunch of the characters Simon has insulted over the years come out on stage, too, including the woman who showed us the crazy dance she does to psych herself up to perform. One of the people, the guy who's had WAY too much plastic surgery -- I'm trying to find my recap from when he was on before, grabs the mike and starts going off about how this isn't about Simon and how he is going to replace Simon next year. Cut to commercial! That was ... odd. (Can't find it, sigh.)

After the break, we're just going to pretend that never happened, and the women from the Top 12 sing "Beautiful" and "Stronger." Don't worry: Christina Aguilera takes time out of her busy schedule of canceling her concert tour to perform with them for about two lines. That seemed like a waste, but then she gets to sing solo, too. Dang, even Christina is low key tonight. And in this particular case, by low key, I mean off key.

Ricky Gervais does a goofy little goodbye Simon segment.

Then Lee is on stage with the other guys from the Top 12, singing "I Can't Go for That," which turns into a Hall & Oates medley. This has some of the most awkward choreography ever seen on this show. And yes, Hall & Oates themselves are out next on stage.

Ryan approaches Crystal dad to talk with him for about 4 seconds before he introduces Crystal. She sings Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." Really? This song is pretty much a punch line. But she sounds great. Then she introduces Alanis herself, and together they sing "You Oughtta Know."

With all these guest stars, this should be a lot more fun, but it's really still kind of weird and blah. 

Carrie Underwood, who by the way, won the Idol title five years ago, comes out to sing her new song "Undo It," which she cowrote with Kara DioGuardi.

Kris Allen makes another cameo as we watch him give Lee and Crystal keys to Fords with their custom graphics they designed earlier in the season. They're totally surprised. Woo.

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Casey James is next, singing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Of course, shortly thereafter, recent Celebrity Apprentice winner Bret Michaels joins him to continue the song. They both look like they're having a blast. I kind of think Bret should be a mentor next season.

Chicago is the theme of the night since that's where Lee and Crystal both auditioned. So next, Lee performs with Chicago. Some moments are better than others.

The next goodbye segment is about how Simon is so flirty.

But what are we really waiting for? "Pants on the Ground"! Sadly, William Hung joins Gen. Larry Platt for this performance. 

This goodbye segment is pretty good: Paula reflecting on her and Simon's friendship. Then she is on stage! PAULA, WE MISS YOU!!! She tells the other three judges and Ryan how much she loves them all and how cute/adorable/beautiful they are. Then it gets awkward. She jokes about how she is going to talk about why she really left the show. She says that "there is a baby backstage with Simon's haircut, and it's your turn to feed him." Umm, heh. She goes on about how much fun and laughter they have had together and says the show won't be the same without him, but it will go on. Aww, she's so charmingly goofy. Then more montage of Simon moments.

Then things do start to get a little more exciting: Want to know what this show's impact has been? Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, Taylor Hicks and Kris Allen come out to perform together. Then more and more and more finalists from previous seasons come out on the stage, too. Where's David Cook? On tour, I think.

Simon is forced onto the stage. He says it's great to have "the small one back." He says he hasn't expected to be this emotional, but he is and he wants to say thank you. He says people ask him who is going to replace him, and he says the people are the real judges, and they have done a great job over the years, as is evidenced by all the people on stage. "It's been a blast," he closes. "Thank you!"

But soon, we're back to the pace of the rest of the episode: This season's finalists (minus Crystal and Lee) come out to sing and are shortly joined by Janet Jackson. She sings a ballad called "Nothing," and then it turns into a concert -- she does a dramatic wardrobe change and performs "Nasty Boys" with about 20 backup dancers.

Then we do a little flashback to Lee and Crystal's auditions. Amazingly, they were standing by each other during the initial auditions. Hmm, maybe they should form a group. That would be cool. Then on cue, they come out to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends" together. Joe Cocker joins them on stage, and I think Lee misses his cue because there is a big gap while Joe's putting his mike on the stand. But they all recover, although I'm not even sure Lee's mike is on. Something wacky is going on tonight. (Honestly, I didn't even realize that Joe Cocker was still alive until he came out on stage -- and um, I hate to say this, but I don't think he realized it, either.)

But why are we here again? The results! A guy hands certified (and possibly British) results to Ryan. Lee is already crying. And the winner is Lee DeWyze. I honestly could have seen it going either way. Crystal had a fantastic night last night, but he's been so popular the whole time. Lee is a wreck and just can't quite believe it and he's crying and freaking out.

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Then he has to sing "Beautiful Day." He gets it together and sings as lights, sparks, confetti fly everywhere.

Whew, and now it's over. What did you think?

(Photo courtesy of Fox)

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