With viewers abandoning American Idol in flash mobs, the future of the former ratings juggernaut is wrapped in turmoil and scotch-taped in uncertainty.

So it was tempting to watch Idol's finale the way Kremlinologists once pored over pictures of the Politburo, trying to deduce who was in and who was out.

Randy Jackson, the only original judge left on the show, was honored for 12 loud years of service with a video valediction. Unfortunately, it was framed in a Dogs Playing Poker package, with subtitled barks. Surely the man deserved a more dignified sendoff, despite a wardrobe that made TNT's Craig Sager look dapper.

Though it wasn't announced as such, Mariah Carey's overstaged, incredibly indulgent medley certainly looked like a final hurrah. Well, it actually looked more like a landlocked Esther Williams musical.

The point is, Mariah has to leave now. How do you possibly follow that act? Remember the old show biz adage: Leave them stupefied.

Examining the footage, it's safe to say Nicki Minaj will not be back next season. In fact, the atmosphere surrounding her was so frosty, she might not be allowed back on the lot.

The role of the judges was dramatically curtailed in the last two shows. I think they were just trying to keep Nicki away from a microphone.

Consider this: Carey got her extravaganza, which chewed up a good part of the two-hour finale. Keith Urban got to perform twice. Even Randy was given a few gratuitous shots to thump away on his bass on stage. Jennifer Lopez, who's not even on the show anymore, was awarded the night's prime slot - just before Candice Glover was declared the winner - for an aerobic rendition of "Live It Up" with Pitbull. (She actually did a better version of the song immediately after in a commercial for Kohl's.)

Minaj? Nada. How can we read this conspicuous neglect as anything other than punitive?

That leaves the Urban cowboy as the only judge who could conceivably be invited back. And he'll ride out for the hills a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' if he knows what's good for him.

Happy trails. Steve Carell's six-year run as Michael Scott on The Office may well have been the most riveting sustained performance TV has ever seen. And the show was significantly impoverished by his departure.

But this week's series finale was a crafty capstone to our time in Scranton. I loved, for instance, Angela's bridal processional: a chamber version of Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine." Likewise, when Jim used the bachelor party to reconcile the groom and Kevin. "I know Dwight missed Kevin," Jim said. "I saw him drawing his portrait with a Wooly Willy."

And Michael got in one last, "That's what she said."

A tale of the feet. On the season finale of New Girl, Taylor Swift popped up in a backhanded homage to The Graduate. (Her character was even named Elaine.) But when Shivrang left Cece at the altar to carry Swift out of the chapel Officer and a Gentleman-style, all I could think was, "Whoa, that gal has some big boats."

Loosely rapped. Among the new series announced for next season is Fox's Gang Related, featuring RZA. I hope the Wu-Tang Clan rapper is more like Sam (LL Cool J on NCIS: Los Angeles) and less like Detective Fin (Ice-T on Law & Order: SVU).

Is Ice the worst actor in primetime? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/daveondemand