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Why Is ‘American Idol’ Abandoning Last Year’s Winner?

Where's Maddie Poppe? Fans are wondering and openly questioning on social media.

The season finale of “American Idol,” scheduled for May 19 on ABC, is fast approaching, which means another star-studded performance show to usher in a new winner. Among those already announced to appear is “Idol” season 8 runner-up and Queen frontman Adam Lambert.

For much of its 17-year life as a television phenomenon, “Idol” made efforts to support its previous winner, be it David Cook (season 7) or Fantasia (season 3) with much coveted airtime. So why has the show seemingly broken from tradition this year in practically ignoring its previous victor, Maddie Poppe? “Idol” viewers are wondering and openly questioning on social media.

Although Poppe and her boyfriend, fellow season 16 finalist and runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson, did appear on a Disney-themed episode on April 21 to perform an abbreviated duet of Aladdin’s “A Whole New World,” there was no mention of her forthcoming Hollywood Records debut, “Whirlwind,” due on May 17 (the label is a subsidiary of Disney).

One week after her April 28 “Idol” Top 10 appearance, Poppe tweeted her frustration, writing, “Was waiting for ‘ALSO from last week, our Season 16 winner has an album coming out May 17th.'” She later added: “Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to perform for the finale.”

An “Idol” insider tells Variety that Poppe was under the impression that, following her duet with Hutchinson, she would be making a “big plug” for her new album with host Ryan Seacrest, “but the show ran out of time.”

To contrast, third place finalist Gabby Barrett returned to the “Idol” stage on May 5 to perform her new single, “I Hope.” Barrett also announced on the show that she recently signed with Warner Brothers Nashville. The look infuriated the Poppe posse. As one viewer put it: “They’re … acting like Maddie didn’t even exist on the show. That’s BS.” Fellow finalist Ada Vox also wondered, noting that Poppe’s album is “dropping just days before the finale.”

“There has never been an ‘Idol’ finale without the previous season’s winner,” says the source. “They have always been so supportive of past seasons.”

When Poppe reached out to production to see if she would be invited back to perform her new single, “Made You Miss,”  she was told that the three-hour finale was “already booked,” and was “devastated,” as the album release date was timed with the show’s finale, adds the insider.

Did “Idol” wrong Poppe? A spokesperson for the show tells Variety: “It was not always a hard and fast rule to have the previous year’s winner at the finale.” That said, the rep assures that Poppe will “indeed be a part of the season finale.”

What form that will take is unclear, but bringing Poppe back would support comments made last May by Disney Music Group president Ken Bunt. “Something I was pretty emphatic about, that always felt like a miss for the show, was that we have to continue telling the story of the winner,” the executive told Variety, emphasizing repeatedly that the show would be completely invested in the winners for the year following their season.

“By tapping into built-in Disney assets, the label can tell that story in a variety of ways. More opportunities with ABC, when you think of the specials they have; what we could be doing with the parks; maybe a TV show on Freeform,” he continued. “Previous ‘Idols’ never did that. We want to keep the talent from the show at top-of-mind for the rest of the year.”

Famous last words? Time will tell…

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