Simon Cowell judges for the final time on Idol tonight as a shadow of his former self

Tonight’s final episode of American Idol 9 isn’t really a big deal, but it will represent Simon Cowell’s final opportunity to judge contestants’ performances before he leaves the show for good after tomorrow night. Of course, he’ll be back on Fox next year doing basically the same thing on X Factor, so it’s not like, say, losing Lost or Jack Bauer. It’s the end of an era, but really, we’re just getting a break.

Simon got bored in recent seasons and played with Paula’s genitalia instead of paying attention, at least when he wasn’t flirting with Ryan Seacrest. That’s turned him into a shadow of who he once was: the feared, brutally honest judge. Now the stupid nitwits in the studio audience boo him out of habit rather than based on what he says.

Because of this, it’s easy to forget that Simon is not only the person who co-created the show that quickly became the most-popular TV show in the country, never mind the way he caused people to tune in. Remember back to 2002 when those previews showed Simon slamming bad singers, and how completely shocking that was? And remember how many desperate producers and networks have tried and continue to try to duplicate him with pretty much no success at all? It’s been a long eight years, but he was largely responsible for making American Idol what it once was.

Here’s the first part of the very first, pre-HD episode, in which Simon Cowell previews the “brutality of auditions” which will be “a shock to the American public,” although what’s most shocking now is how young everyone looks and how big their hair is:

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