Abdul and Jackson first took the stage without Cowell on Thursday to congratulate host Ryan Seacrest for being the only personality to stick with Idol through all 15 seasons. As a reward they presented him with a giant "American Idol" neon sign that Seacrest admitted he had no idea what he'd do with.
After presenting the unique parting gift, the group was "surprised" by the 56-year-old acerbic Brit who walked out from behind them to complete the triumvirate while the crowd cheered.
Without skipping a beat, Cowell immediately struck up his love-hate relationship with Abdul once again, by giving her the "opportunity" to apologize for "being so mean to the contestants when we were trying to be nurturing and helpful."
"You were really horrible and now I think is the time to apologize to America," he continued.
With Cowell showing off his signature snark, Abdul looking increasingly annoyed and Jackson laughed uncomfortably while standing off to the side, it felt like fans had been transported back to the very first season of Idol all over again.
But before things could get too awkward, Cowell changed course and shared a message of heartfelt appreciation.
"On behalf of us, thank you, America, for inviting us into your homes," Cowell said with his arm around Abdul's shoulders. "Thank you to the contestants, and to Fox, for actually put us on the air."