Brian Dunkleman, American Idol

Fox

For Brian Dunkleman, the American Idol series finale was just the homecoming he needed.

"I definitely was hoping that they would ask and they contacted me about a month and a half ago. I actually wrote pretty much all I said tonight except for the opening line which was written by their brilliant writer and it just couldn't have been better," he told E! News after he appeared on stage with host Ryan Seacrest. "I'm very glad that they asked. It's been a very, very cathartic evening for me."

Dunkleman served as co-host for the first season of the Fox singing competition series, leaving after Kelly Clarkson was crowned winner.

"Was I bitter? For a while. I think so and it took me a long time to get over that, and to be able to come back is just really a full circle kind of thing for me. It's definitely been an emotional 14 years," he said. Dunkleman also admitted there were nerves before stepping out in front of millions once again.

Brian Dunkleman, Kelly Clarkson, Ryan Seacrest, American Idol

Kevin Winter/ImageDirect/FOX

"I held it together all day. I was most nervous about seeing Ryan. I hadn't seen Ryan in 14 years and it was just so amazing and just really healing for me. You know what I mean? And I kept it together the whole time until I got off stage and then it just hit me and I was like, 'Alright you can't start crying because you won't stop.' I'll probably do that later," he told us.

Dunkleman, who is also an actor and appeared in shows such as Friends and Ghost Whisperer, said departing American Idol, then returning, was liberating. "I left the show but from what I gather they weren't going to have me back anyway. So it's kind of a big load off my shoulders. I guess I didn't make a mistake. The mistake that I made was I just didn't do a good enough job and I don't think I handled myself as professionally as I needed to back then. In retrospect, I really just didn't have the wisdom I needed to handle what was going on. I like to say I was just young and stupid, but I really wasn't that young. I was 30 years old. But it's been kind of a relief. It's been a long time of not knowing what the truth was."

Brian Dunkleman, American Idol

Fox

After 14 years apart, Dunkleman said he had an off-camera interaction with Seacrest where he cleared the air. "He was completely great. I wanted to see him before rehearsal in his dressing room, I walked in and he said hello and we shook hands. I said, ‘I have to get this out but, I want to apologize to you for all the times we didn't get along back then.' I told him that I wished I could go back and change that but I can't. I wished him only the best for him and his family! It was a really great moment and he was so gracious! Maybe I can get a selfie with him and he can tweet it and I can get more than 3000 followers on Instagram," he said with a laugh.

Still, it's been 14 years of American Idol everywhere, whether it's the show or its contestants skyrocketing to fame. The show was a pop culture force inescapable for many, including Dunkleman, which he admitted bothered him "a little bit."

"You know they would talk about it on ESPN, and presidential debates! Like eight years ago you can't watch television or listen to the radio or go online without hearing about American Idol," he said. "It was a painful experience and I have grown so much and I am a totally different person and being here tonight is a really big gift!"

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