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*Fox has decided to do the humane thing and put “American Idol” out of its misery.

The network announced today that its once dominant singing competition series will be cancelled after its 15th and final season next spring. The cast from the past few seasons, with Ryan Seacrest as host and Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. as judges, will return for a season-long celebration of the show’s history.

“It was not an easy decision. ‘American Idol’ has been such a vital part of Fox for its run,” said Gary Newman, Fox Television Group chairman and CEO. He promised a season-long celebration that matches the show’s significance, with the suggestion that its big-name contestants and past judges may be involved.

Dana Walden, co-chairman and CEO of the Fox Television Group, described it as a “pretty emotional decision” to end “American Idol.”

Fox and the show’s producers were discussing how the series would continue, but ultimately “we all arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show to an end,” said Newman. “But we wanted to do it in a way that was special and celebratory.”

“Idol” was a quick hit, with fans following contestants who sought the prized “yellow ticket” to Hollywood and a chance at stardom. In the early years, “American Idol” also showed many of the cringe-worthy auditions of contestants with no hope of winning, but has generally resisted those recently.

Under original judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, “Idol” gave the world such household names as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Clay Aiken, a track record of producing stars that has been unmatched.

Walden said there are no specific plans yet, but that several former contestants and judges have already expressed “a lot of enthusiasm” for coming back and celebrating the show’s legacy in its final year.

“We’re going to deliver a really special season next year,” Newman said.

The series averaged 12.69 million viewers during its initial run in 2002, but exploded quickly thereafter, reaching a peak average of more than 30 million viewers each episode in 2006, according to Nielsen. It continued averaging more than 20 million viewers an episode through the 2011 season, and that’s when the deteriorating in its popularity accelerated.

Its star at Fox was eclipsed this season by the music-based soap opera “Empire,” which will launch its second season in the fall. So far this year, “American Idol” is averaging 9.15 million viewers per episode, Nielsen said.

The show will run in a similar format next season as it has this year, airing Wednesday and Thursday nights starting in January for the beginning stages, then once a week on Thursday for the second part of the season, Fox said.