While Season 18 of American Idol was filled with challenges, the TV singing competition still did what it has historically been known to do: made some stars on the side during the path to crowning a winner. One of those "tangential" stars, Doug Kiker, kept popping up throughout the season -- including during Sunday night's (May 17) finale -- despite having been eliminated fairly early on in the game.

According to AI host Ryan Seacrest, Kiker's original American Idol audition, from the show's first audition stop, in Savannah, Ga., in February, has now reached over 300 million people worldwide. "Douglas came to Idol to prove to his daughter that dreams do happen. And that is the truth," Seacrest added, before footage of a phone call between Idol judge Luke Bryan and Kiker.

"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. "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."

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

"We were so inspired hearing you sing "Bless the Broken Road" in your audition, and everybody freaked out," Bryan 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 uttered a word that can't be aired on television, followed by happy laughter.

A garbage man by day, Kiker gave the best performance he's given to date on AI on Sunday night, delivering the song from his house and without any of the technical vocal issues that kept him from progressing past the show's Hollywood round. His performance was spliced in with the Flatts' footage via split screen, as they allowed his vocals to meander charmingly in and out of their professional delivery.

Kiker (flashing his new and very flattering smile, of course) 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 -- and the judges agreed. "That was so good," was the breathless consensus from Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

The 18th season of American Idol 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 Perry and Bryan, as well as past Idol contestants Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Laine Hardy, Gabby Barrett and many others.

LOOK: American Idol Contestants, Then and Now