‘American Idol’ leaves an enduring legacy and ends its historic 15-season run Thursday, April 7, on FOX

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“American Idol” has left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. The show exemplifies the rollicking, disruptive spirit that launched FOX Broadcasting Company in 1986 and continues to define its brand. It also underscores 21CF’s mission to create choice for audiences around the globe. After all, few in 1986 thought there was room for a fourth television network, let alone an appetite for pioneering shows like “The Simpsons,” “In Living Color” and “The X-Files”; and later, “Family Guy,” “Glee,” “Modern Family” and “American Idol.”

As the series wraps up its historic 15-season run, it will give viewers a chance to pay tribute to past contestants and crown its last fan-voted Idol. Last night, this season’s two finalists, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, were announced live from Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, and fans got their last chance to cast their “American Idol” votes. The series finale will air tonight on FOX at 8 p.m. EDT, with past winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood headlining a long list of “American Idol” winners and fan favorites, including Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks and many others. The last episode will end, of course, with host Ryan Seacrest’s customary announcement of this season’s “American Idol,” the show’s 15th and final winner.

The reality show, which first aired on June 11, 2002, stands as a cultural phenomenon that transformed the television, music and media landscapes, all while giving the masses the ultimate say over each season’s outcome. This “democracy” was one of the show’s most distinguishing and significant features, but it didn’t overshadow the personalities of the judges and contestants, who still have plenty to say about their experiences on “American Idol.”

To ensure that its inspiration for young musicians endures well beyond the announcement of this season’s winner, “American Idol” is partnering with 21CF and the Give a Note Foundation to support up to 20 underfunded music education programs in schools across the country. Since 2011, 21CF and Give a Note have donated more than $1 million to nearly 90 schools.

Here’s a look back at the finale for the first season of “American Idol” as well as some photos from the set last night:

Photo credit: Fox Broadcasting Company
Left to right: Co-host, Ryan Seacrest, Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini and co-host Brian Dunkleman.
 
Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX
Host Ryan Seacrest announces eliminated contestant Dalton Rapattoni.
 
Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX
Contestant Dalton Rapattoni performs on “American Idol” on Wednesday, April 6.
 
Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX
Contestant La’Porsha Renae performs on “American Idol” on Wednesday, April 6.
 
Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX
Contestant Trent Harmon performs on “American Idol” on Wednesday, April 6.
Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX
The final two “American Idol” contestants, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae.

The final episode of “American Idol” will air on FOX tonight at 8 p.m. EDT (tape-delayed for Pacific Daylight Time audiences).