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As umpteen A-listers (including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood) return for one final song on the show’s three-night finale (April 5-7), THR gathers some of the pivotal players behind the phenomenon for a group photo, from Ryan Seacrest to Nigel Lythgoe.

This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Picture this: Two TV execs are huddled in a booth at an IHOP in Encino one Saturday in 2002. They’re drafting a budget for a midsummer replacement show on Fox called American Idol. “I projected [it running] for three years, and my boss told me I was overly optimistic,” recalls exec producer and FremantleMedia Group CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz. But the numbers she and executive in charge of production Wylleen May came up with were “completely undercooked — we had no idea.”

Indeed, a show that drew only 65 people to its first auditions in Miami grew into a pop-culture phenomenon that, within a year, filled arenas for tryouts as viewership skyrocketed past 30 million. It made an equally huge impact locally, employing 150 L.A.-based crewmembers — some of whom, such as stage manager Debbie Williams, senior supervising producer Patrick Lynn and lighting director Kieran Healy, have worked on Idol all 15 seasons — and the staffs at creator Simon Fuller’s companies XIX and 19 Entertainment.

And by enlisting outside vendors to house contestants (Loews Hollywood, Sunset Marquis and Redbury hosted finalists and bookings), cast audiences (Burbank’s On Camera Audiences), handle security (The Boschetti Group) and tend to strained vocal cords (Beverly Hills-based Dr. Shawn Nasseri), Idol expanded its economic might far beyond CBS Television City.

For the team now, it’s on to the next gig: Associate musical director Michael Orland will work with Kristin Chenoweth, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe returns to Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, and Healy helms lights on the NBC hit Little Big Shots. Even for Idol, there’s life after Idol. Says Frot-Coutaz, “You want to leave while the party’s still going … but I hope it will have a second iteration at some point.”

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