While Season 18 of American Idol was filled with its challenges, the trek undoubtedly did what it has historically been known to do and made some stars on the side during its path to the official title.

One of these "tangential" stars kept popping up throughout the season, despite having been eliminated fairly early on in the game. As host Ryan Seacrest aptly described on the season finale Sunday (May 17), "We started our season back in February, with our first audition stop in Savannah, Georgia. Now, while we were there, we met a lovable garbage man by the name of Douglas Kiker, who won the hearts of the judges and of America.

"Since then, his audition has reached over 300 million people worldwide. Douglas came to Idol to prove to his daughter that dreams do happen. And that is the truth. Check it out."

This led to a phone call from judge Luke Bryan to Kiker, which was recorded for the show. "Man, you were so inspiring and so real on the show and you should be very proud of that, because you really spoke to a lot of people out there," Bryan noted to a silently listening Kiker on the other end. "America was just blown away by it. I'm sorry your American Idol journey ended a little prematurely, but it may not be altogether over with. Because we're going to have some fun with you," he teased.

"What you mean?" asked Kiker, looking confused.

Brayn was happy to explain: "We were so inspired hearing you sing 'Bless the Broken Road' in your audition, and everybody freaked out," he detailed. "Well, you're going to come back and perform 'Bless the Broken Road' with Rascal Flatts on the AI finale, is that cool?"

Kiker, apparently, uttered a word that couldn't be aired on television, followed by happy laughter.

The Garbage Man gave the best performance he's given to date on AI, delivering the song from his own house and not having any of the technical vocal issues that kept him from progressing past Hollywood. He was spliced in with the Flatts trio via split screen, and the trio allowed his vocals to meander charmingly in and out of their professional delivery. Indeed, Kiker (yes, flashing his new and very flattering smile) showed that if he'd had just a little more time to season his chops, he might have made it all the way to the finale.

The judges agreed. "That was so good," was the breathless consensus from Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

The season ended with contestant Just Sam taking home the title, followed by a lovely rendition of the classic charity song "We Are the World" led by judge Lionel Richie. He was joined by fellow judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, as well as past Idol contestants Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Laine Hardy, Gabby Barrett, and many others, with their faces represented on landmarks across the United States...from New York City, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, to the heartland, and beyond.

See American Idol Contestants Then and Now