Glee, Cory Monteith, Lea Michele

Carin Baer/FOX

Not gonna lie, the end of Glee is making me feel all kinds of emotions. And most of them fall somewhere between slightly teary to full on snotty-nosed, heave-y ugly cry. Those of us who have loved this show since the very beginning know this: Glee wasn't a TV show. It was a feeling.  And more than that, it changed lives.

Before this starts sounding overly sappy, please note I'm well aware the final seasons were not perfect. The writers seemed to spend much of the final year poking fun at themselves, and some of the plot holes and ridiculous things that happened certainly made McKinley feel less real (I'll probably never stop laughing at Artie diving into the pool in his wheelchair for the synchronized swim routine Will constructed to propose to Emma. Sorry but...truth).

But really, does any of that actually matter now? Glee's legacy was its unabashed hopefulness, its ability to inspire and inform millions of viewers around the globe about some important issues that matter. When Glee was at its best, there was no better, more socially relevant or INSPIRING TV show around. Period.

The first mainstream TV character on a huge network series to have a fully fleshed out coming out story? That was Glee. The first hit show to take a fierce and unwaivering stance against bullying, in all forms? Glee. And that's just a sliver of what was accomplished through this brave, wonderful, strange little show.

Tonight's series finale catapults us all back to 2009, when the show first began, and that one quintessential Glee moment that no show can ever replicate. Do you remember the feeling of first watching Glee? When we first fell in love with this merry band of misfits, and this new TV world in which being different wasn't just tolerated, but embraced and applauded?


Adam Rose/FOX

I do. I will never forget watching the pilot in May 2009, as it premiered after American Idol, and, no joke, leaping off my couch when they got to "Don't Stop Believin'"— and waking up my first newborn son in the process, and thinking it was totally worth it. #MomOfTheYear

It took watching the first hour of Glee's finale tonight for me to realize: Glee's greatest strength is also the reason it simply couldn't be the same in its later seasons. What we loved most from the beginning was this sense of rooting for the Slushied-upon, the outcasts, the loners. Believing in characters who didn't yet fully believe in themselves. Then, of course, the actors became super famous (as they should) and the characters grew (as they should) and the fans had a hard time accepting new high schoolers, so really…What were the writers to do? They got creative, moved the show to New York for a more "adult" season, tried bringing in new New Directioners, jumped ahead in the future, moved the core cast back to Lima, and tonight...They jumped ahead again.  But the root-for-the-underdog theme is always what was most important, at least to me. And that's why tonight's finale is such a perfect reminder of what Glee gave us from day one. The message that everyone is special in his or her own way. And that CONFORMITY BLOWS.

It's also a reminder, of course, that the loss of Cory Monteith was devastating and beyond tragic, and the show never quite felt the same after he was gone. RIP, dearest Cory. We still miss you like crazy.

I will never forget the first time I went on the Glee set, in season one, 2009, right after the show was nominated for its first ever major award: a Golden Globe. I quite honestly have never been on a set filled with more positive energy, utter joy and love. The cast was so out-of-their-minds GLEE-ful. I'd avoid the pun, but it's the only way to describe it, so deal with it. They seemed the best of friends and so intensely grateful for this show, and how it had changed every single one of their lives.

We dug up a little of that 2009 footage, and you can see some of it below, in which Lea Michele professes that "Rachel's heart is with Finn."(Remember when the Puck-Rachel-Finn triangle was a thing?)

And here, below, we have for you my very last interview with the Glee cast, shot exactly one week ago, in which I asked them all what message they have for you fans, and what they hope you never stop believing in. You should watch it…It's very sweet.

Like any relationships, mine with Glee has had its ups and downs, but it is without a doubt one of the greatest TV love affairs of my life.

Thank you, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan and the Glee cast for six memorable seasons.

Now everyone go and do what they said: NEVER stop believing in you. Glee is gone, but the resilience of Gleeks everywhere shall prevail.

TWITTER: Follow @kristindsantos

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