Season 1 co-host Brian Dunkleman made a surprise appearance during the American Idol series finale – and he had a lot to say after the show.
“I definitely was hoping that they would ask and they contacted me about a month and a half ago,” Dunkleman told PEOPLE after the final Idol winner was revealed. “I actually wrote pretty much all that is said [on camera] tonight except for the opening line, which was written by their brilliant writer. It just couldn’t have been better. I’m very glad that they asked. It’s been a very, very cathartic evening for me.”
The reason the experience was so cathartic is that Dunkleman was very “bitter” after choosing to leave the reality singing competition after the first season.
“I think I beat them to the punch and I didn’t know,” Dunkleman said of leaving. “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.”
Dunkleman said he was never really told why he wasn’t going to be asked back, but he shoulders a lot of the blame.
“I didn’t do a good enough job and I don’t think I handled myself as professionally as I needed to back then,” he said. “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.”
For more on Idol, pick up PEOPLE’s The Best of American Idol collector’s edition issue, on sale now.
Dunkleman also admitted that he had not been in contact with Idol host Ryan Seacrest since he left the show in 2002.
“I wanted to see him before rehearsal in his dressing room,” Dunkleman said of his former cohost. “I walked in and he said hello and we shook hands. I said, ‘I have to get this out: 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.”
And Dunkleman holds no ill will towards Seacrest for continuing on without him.
“The show does work better with one host,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of pressure and I didn’t handle it very well. It’s a testament to how great a job [Ryan] does to have done 14 seasons. It’s incredibly gracious of him to include me tonight. It was a great gift.”