Kelly Clarkson is headed back to American Idol! The currently pregnant pop star is returning to the show that made her a household name for the first live show of Idol's 15th and final season, executive producer Trish Kinane announced at a panel for the series at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
"We've invited her to be part of this season and she's really happy to be," Kinane revealed. "She will be a guest judge on our first live top 10 show and she'll also perform."
While timing might not work out for the first American Idol to perform on the last finale, they're trying to work out a way to bring her back for that, too.
You'll also see other familiar faces on the show before it wraps up. "We're talking to everybody who's made a huge contribution to the show, and we'd love to have them come back," Kinane revealed. Obviously scheduling and contracts will play a role in who they'll be able to get (everyone from Brian Dunkleman to Simon Cowell is fair game), but "we'll have an amazing finale" with "key" people from over the years.
Cowell, who is judging on the upcoming season of America's Got Talent, will be the most difficult person to work out, but Kinane confirms that he'll likely be back for the finale. "Yes, I appreciate Simon's part in the history of the show and [it's] a very important part," she said, adding, "I think the most we can expect is for Simon to be at the finale."
Teased host extraordinaire Ryan Seacrest, "Simon's hung up on his lighting. We did speak and I think you'll see the original faces back on the show before it's over."
That includes former Idol winners and finalists, who will not only work with the current contestants in the middle rounds of this season, but will also duet with them.
One person you might not see? Clay Aiken, who eviscerated the current judging panel on Twitter the night of the season premiere. "I know what Clay was saying about the original panel, Simon, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, a fantastic panel," said Kinane. "These guys are a fantastic panel. Idol is about the contestants, of whom Clay was one...that's all I really want to say."
Seacrest also reminisced about his season one cohost, and how he came to be the one left standing. "He was hired before I was. I had to audition," he said. "It was initially determined that it would be a carbon copy of Pop Idol in the UK, and the original notion was to recreate the magic that was there...the show, it's a live circus. It became apparent that it would be easier to steer with someone at the helm, and I got it."
Although this season of Idol is being promoted as the "farewell season," that doesn't mean it's really the end. "I think the Eagles have had at least three farewell tours," joked Keith Urban.
Added Jennifer Lopez, "You never know with a format like this, it could work any time. It's possible. At the end of the day, you never know. This is an amazing journey to watch."
Said Seacrest, "The network has been extremely supporting of this brand and franchise throughout the years. It's been such a blessing...the numbers look great this season, I think they we're all pleased that people are watching and some are coming back to watch that maybe didn't watch the show the last couple of years...does that mean it's the end? I'm not so sure."
He later added, "This show is like a family member to me."