Simon Cowell Makes Surprise Return for American Idol Finale – and Finally Offers a Tiny Apology for Being So Mean

04/08/2016 AT 09:00 AM EDT



Simon Cowell made a surprise return on the American Idol finale, after all – and the show's legendary bad-boy finally offered up a little contrition for all the mean things he said to contestants over the years.

Simon Cowell Makes Surprise Return for American Idol Finale – and Finally Offers a Tiny Apology for Being So Mean| American Idol, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackso

FOX via Getty Images



The TV judge was expected to be out of the country for the finale of the show's fifteenth season, according to E! News. But Cowell, 56, surprised his fellow original co-hosts Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson – along with the rest of America – when he took to the stage during Thursday's show.

"I just thought this would be a good [opportunity] on behalf of myself, Randy, Ryan – for Paula to apologize, over the years, for being so mean to the contestants," Cowell joked.

Simon Cowell Makes Surprise Return for American Idol Finale – and Finally Offers a Tiny Apology for Being So Mean| American Idol, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell

From left: Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images



"When we trying to be nurturing, helpful, you were really horrible and I think now is the time to apologize to America."



Abdul responded: "Guilty. Not!"

Taking a more serious tone, Cowell offered thanks to fans for letting him and the other judges "into your homes."

Simon Cowell Makes Surprise Return for American Idol Finale – and Finally Offers a Tiny Apology for Being So Mean| American Idol, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell

From left: Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images





For more on Idol, pick up PEOPLE's The Best of American Idol collector's edition issue, on sale now.

Simon Cowell Makes Surprise Return for American Idol Finale – and Finally Offers a Tiny Apology for Being So Mean| American Idol, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell



"Thank you to the contestants, to Fox for actually putting us on air, to you guys for actually being my best friends now, and I am going to miss you," Cowell told Abdul and Jackson.

He added that he was "feeling quite emotional."

The original judges shared hugs and kisses amid a round of applause from the audience before leaving the stage.
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