Wednesday, January 16, 2013

American Idol: 30 All-Time Best American Idol Performances

11 Seasons. 11 Winners. Kelly. Ruben. Fantasia. Carrie. Taylor. David. Kris. Lee. Scotty. Phillip. These people may have won the title, but turning in one of the show’s most memorable performances is a different story entirely.

And with American Idol Season 12 premiering tomorrow, I scoured my files and the internet and re-watched dozens of performances to come up with a definitive list of the All-Time Greatest American Idol Performances.

DISCLAIMER: I am no expert, but this is my opinion - to each his own - and yours will be in the comments below! Haha.

Check it out!

30. The Scientist
Katelyn Epperly

Season: 9
Week: Top 20
Theme: NONE

Three words: GIANT WHITE PIANO! Ha. This performance was both breathtaking and beautiful. I'm not sure what pitch problems Randy Jackson heared during the performance, or why Ellen DeGeneres was so mockingly dismissive of the tempo change, or how exactly Simon Cowell found it to be corny, but Katelyn's version of this heartbreaking Coldplay ditty was beyond stellar! Not only was her final glory note perfectly in tune, her interpretation was also thoroughly believable and virtually unmatched in Season 9. To me, her rendition of The Scientist was beautiful and haunting that, undeniably, just turned her into a force on this program - or maybe NOT since she was eliminated the week after! Seriously. What's wrong with you America? Sigh.

29. I Who Have Nothing
Jordin Sparks

Season: 6
Week: Top 11
Theme: British Invasion

Ever since her audition, Jordin Sparks was already tagged - specifically by Simon - as someone very “sugary and cutesy”, probably because of her age. But her rendition of this OLD song was downright revelatory as she managed to discard her usual bubbly image to something very serious - a threat in the competition. Her emotions while singing was breathtaking. It was pretty moving and that incredible glory note at the end was a pleasant surprise. 

28. Foolish Things
Paris Bennet

Season: 5
Week: Top 7
Theme: Great American Songbook

Classics are classics and when I heard of the theme during that week, I had a feeling two of the remaining girls that season would seriously excel and one of them was Paris Bennett. Her vocals here was practically flawless. Her interpretation was sublime, the vocal dynamics were exquisite and that tone to her voice was a perfect fit for this genre. She touched all the rights areas and showed that she would be an absolute powerhouse if she could just be more consistent of what she wants to be as an artist, and I have no doubt that she was born to do Standards. 

27. I Have Nothing
Vonzell Solomon

Season: 4
Week: Top 10
Theme: 1990's

She was undeniably the queen of fun performances. She already illustrated her ability to work the crowd with her infectious energy prior to this week. But when she decided to tackle a Whitney Houston classic, she became a serious contender for the title. For everyone's information, this Whitney Houston song is one of the most performed songs on American Idol history - it's as if this song was already compulsory every season - but among all the renditions done on the show, I prefer Vonzell's. I like the nuances in her vocals and the control and power was spot on. Not too loud (Jennifer Hudson) but not too weak almost cracking (Katharine McPhee), not too bland and predictable (Trenyce and Jessica Sanchez) but not too over-the-top (Lakisha Jones) and certainly not shaky and off pitch (Leah LaBelle and Shannon Magraine). Her version was just right and probably the best.

26. Moody's Mood For Love
Elliott Yamin

Season: 5
Week: Top 20
Theme: None

I really thought that he was just another cannon fodder during his season. He got zero exposure during the auditions and was barely noticed during the Hollywood Week. Fortunately, he was able to showcase his phenomenal soulful vocals when he did this James Moody song. The modulation and certain key changes were just insane but he was still able to remain on pitch the whole song. He performed it exceptionally well. I actually thought that this was, by far, one of the hardest songs covered in Idol History. He was definitely the ultimate dark horse during that season.

25. Whole Lotta Love
Elise Testone

Season: 11
Week: Top 9
Theme: Personal Idol

Who knew someone like Elise Testone was actually a manlier rocker than Colton Dixon? Haha. I didn't think she'd pull this performance off, but this was FANTASTIC! Heck, I even prefer this version much better than Adam Lambert's. Sue me. The grit and tone to her voice suited the song quite nicely, her vocals were exceedingly strong, and that screeching note was ridiculously awesome! It sounded like a catfight. Haha. Yes, this, to me, was brilliant! And yes, that's all I have to say.  

24. In A Dream
Bo Bice

Season: 4
Week: Top 3
Theme: Personal Song Choice

I was never a fan of Bo Bice, but when he took a huge risk of singing a capella on a live performance show, I couldn't help myself but admire the guy. He took In A Dream and transformed it into something we have never seen before. It was beautiful, haunting and possibly one of the most inspired performances on the show. Bo had a game plan, and for the most part it worked in his advantage.

23. A House Is Not A Home
Tamyra Gray

Season: 1
Week: Top 5
Theme: Burt Bacharach Love Song

Yes, Tamyra Gray maybe your typical diva, but she's possibly one of the more vocally talented people to ever come out of American Idol. She had a couple of incredibly solid performances during her season, but her soaring version of A House Is Not A Home was her defining moment. Her voice was pristine, she belted those high notes flawlessly, and her vocal control was fantastic. Such a shame that Tamyra got eliminated a week after this performance, because she would've given Kelly Clarkson a run for her money.

22. What A Wonderful World
Anwar Robinson

Season: 4
Week: Top 16
Theme: None

I’ve already heard so many versions of this song, but this one stuck out. Anwar's rendition was pretty superb. He managed to give this old song a new arrangement that I surprisingly loved, the vocals were spot on and his range was unbelievable. I thought that this was his best performance on American Idol. It was such a shame that he just wasn’t able to top this one as his performances went downhill after this week. Technically, he’s one of the best male vocalists to ever graced the Idol stage.

21. It's A Man's Man's World
Joshua Ledet

Season: 11
Week: Top 4
Theme: Wish You Wrote

This performance garnered another obligatory standing ovation from the judge that at some point, I thought to myself, we can all stop watching the show now since Joshua has given the most definitively awesome performance ever in the history of the world and universe that will never be matched ever. Haha. Kidding aside, this was seriously awesome and actually deserved that standing ovation. I'm not exactly a big fan of Joshua and his over-the-top hollering and whatnot, but the passion he put into this performance was something I couldn't understand myself. The way he imbued every single note with emotion was unbelievable and the things he could do with his voice were unreal. I didn't even mind the over-the-top growling and screaming, because it added to the ridiculous dynamics of the performance.

20. I'll Stand By You
Pia Toscano

Season: 10
Week: Top 24
Theme: None

Pia Toscano was just like any other cannon-fodder when she entered the Final 24. We never saw her during the auditions and we only had one or two clips of her singing during the Hollywood and Las Vegas round. So, obviously, I was incredibly shocked that the biggest surprise of the semifinals round in Season 10 ended up being the beautiful Pia Toscano. So nuanced, so flawless. I loved how restrained her verses were and then just went all the way towards the end. Lovely phrasing. Impressive control. Great range. Gorgeous girl. What's more to ask? A little personality maybe? But that criticism of not having a strong personality was the same thing that has often been said about Carrie Underwood. So, whatever.

19. Hemorrhage (In My Hands)
Chris Daughtry

Season: 5
Week: Top 20
Theme: None

I never doubted his talent, but this performance seriously gave me a glimpse of the future star Chris Daughtry would become. He was overwhelmingly charismatic, his tone had enough grit and rasp that's very distinct and worked well with the song, his pitch was spot on and his voice was convincingly radio-ready and had a studio quality magic, especially during the chorus.Oh, and I thought he showcased here how relevant he can be - and yes, the rest is history.

18. Hallelujah
Jason Castro

Season: 7
Week: Top 16
Theme: 1980s

Jason Castro wasn't the best singer on American Idol, but he proved that he's more of an artist than a vocalist and this hauntingly beautiful version of Hallelujah proved it. In fact, after he performed this on the show, this Leonard Cohen ditty suddenly became an instant go-to song of contestants that are determined for a "moment". From Lee Dewyze to Tim Urban to Alexandra Burke and a couple of unknown contestants from the Voice, everyone covered it, but nothing compares to the ridiculously raw and earnest version of Jason Castro's. In a show where belting and big notes are usually preferred prior to his season, this was a refreshing change - flaws and all.

17. Volcano
Phillip Phillips

Season: 11
Week: Top 4
Theme: Wish You Wrote

This was gorgeous and possibly the first time I truly and genuinely enjoyed Phillip Phillips' performance. I loved everything about it from the emotional connection he had with the material to the perfect staging. I even thought the background singer singing harmony with him was pretty clever. His tone was just bliss, the liberties he took with the melody were spot on and I liked the subtlety to the whole number. No ticks or vocal shudders; we simply heard him and that’s all I ever wanted from Phillip. In hindsight, this performance actually secured his place in the Finale and possibly the win. It was easily his best performance of the season and one of the best in Season 11. 

16. Circle Of Life
Jennifer Hudson

Season: 3
Week: Top 9
Theme: Elton John

During her season, I thought that her personality and powerful vocals got her into the Final 12 - though technically it was Randy Jackson since he gave her a wildcard pass. But despite delivering vocally pleasing performances week after week, she never truly met the judges approval until she began to belt the ballads out, including this one. I thought her big voice suited the song and she delivered it with so much passion that her rendition was goose bump inducing. It was emotional, flawless, and perfect down to the last note. It was just heartbreaking to see her go home the week after this performance.

15. Let It Be
Brooke White

Season: 7
Week: Top 12
Theme: Lenon/McCartney Week

What separated her from the rest of the finalists during her season was her distinct sound coupled with her undeniable exuberance, which she unquestionably showed through this performance. It was solid, unforgettable and very heartfelt. During this week, it gave me chills watching her perform this big song, which was definitely a tall order, in piano and giving the right emotions to provide justice to it. She definitely may not be the strongest vocalist in the group but her success in the competition was tied primarily to the passion she puts into her performances.

14. I Believe
Fantasia Barrino

Season: 3
Week: Top 2
Theme: Finale

This was the only coronation song which I thought was worthy of being part of the list. She completely owned the song during her season. Even her Finale rival, Diana DeGarmo, paled in comparison to her version. I Believe is already a property of Fantasia that the idea of tackling this booming anthem on the show - Lakisha Jones, Syesha Mercado and Joshua Ledet- should not even be considered. Her rendition of then soon-to-be-released-single was pretty emotional that if this encore performance didn't make you cry or at least be affected, nothing will.

13. My Funny Valentine
Melinda Doolittle

Season: 6
Week: Top 20
Theme: None

Arguably, Melinda Doolittle was the most consistent finalist on American Idol EVER. I actually thought that she performed too well for the show. Haha. Every song she sang in Season 6 was unbelievably great, especially this one. She showed that she could sing any song, from any genre, and make it completely her own. Her take was on a different league. I thought that her lower register was incredibly good and so were her higher notes. Her phrasing was flawless and also her modulation. Sublime!

12. Imagine
David Archuleta

Season: 7
Week: Top 20
Theme: 70's

This was the week where this kid sealed his front-runner status and reigned supreme during Season 7. He was able to prove to the other contestants that he really was, indeed, the one to beat at that moment. It was ridiculously unbelievable. The vocals were right on pitch and the tone of his voice was lovely. I also loved the fact that he managed to put a spin to the melody in order to give the song a new take. The runs at the end were just flawless. The performance was heartfelt and emotional.

11. Alone
Carrie Underwood

Season: 4
Week: Top 11
Theme: Billboard Number Ones

I was never really a fan of Carrie during her stint on American Idol. I thought that she was too safe with her performances and to some extent, stiff and almost robotic. But I was pleasantly stunned when she broke out of her usual comfort zone - country music - and rocked it out. Although I wasn't crazy about her hair during that week, the vocals made the performance quite memorable. Her vocal control was amazing and her voice just soared. It was actually the first time she impressed me and ultimately made her mark.

10. Mad World
Adam Lambert

Season: 8
Week: Top 8
Theme: Birth Year

He proved his versatility with this stunning, stripped down performance, eliciting Simon's first standing ovation on a performance night on American Idol. Well, how can one NOT love this performance? Haunting. Beautiful. Ethereal. All those words pretty much sum up his rendition of the song. His vocals were spot on, and it was quite refreshing to just hear him sing without all the vocal affectations he usually put on. His interpretation was lovely, the staging worked well and the lighting was just overwhelming, which somehow enhanced the "moment".

09. And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going
Jessica Sanchez

Season: 11
Week: Top 4
Theme: Wish You Wrote

INTENSE! I'm still not sure how this happened, but Jessica Sanchez possibly had the BEST version I've heard of this song on American Idol. She connected with this song like she wanted to punch someone in the face, her vocals were outstanding, and that breath control was just incredibly unbelievable. She managed to perfectly blend her pitch perfection, her vocal bombast and that swagger that's completely her own. In other words, she just killed it and ran it over so many times.

08. A Song For You
Elliott Yamin

Season: 5
Week: Top 6
Theme: Love Songs

Elliott Yamin was probably an one of the most underrated finalists on American Idol who no one thought would even get a remote chance of advancing to the next round or even winning the whole lot. But with his modest demeanor and a flawless set of vocal pipes that was arguably one of the greatest male voices the competition has ever heard, he managed to prove everyone wrong. His rendition of this Donnie Hathaway's classic was sensational with great modulation and fantastic vocal dynamics. As per Simon, it was a vocal masterclass. His flawless vocals had so much heart that it made Paula Abdul, again, cry.

07. Stuff Like That There
Kelly Clarkson

Season: 1
Week: Top 6
Theme: Big Band

I was utterly oblivious of this reality show during the first two seasons. But I was aware of Kelly Clarkson's presence, which made me watch her performances on American Idol during Season 1. Everything else considered, I thought that this was her best performance on the show. Like Carrie Underwood, she somehow went out of her comfort zone - belting out R&B and pop ballads - and proved that she could do sexy, subtle, and saucy all at once. Her performance during this Big Band Night was sassy with style and a vocal control, which was pretty outstanding. She even transformed this dusty old song to something fresh and relatively modern.

06. House Of The Rising Sun
Haley Reinhart

Season: 10
Week: Top 5
Theme: Then

Haley Reinhart was lambasted by the judges during her season, but she was a fighter and she kept on delivering the absolute hell out of most of her performances. So while she had a couple of outstanding moments, her breakout performance was her rendition of The Animals classic. Her phrasing was lovely, she showcased great musicality and her vocals were sensational. Even the a capella bit was like watching a vocal masterclass. But what I actually loved about this was the look she had in her eyes during her performance because if only eyes could kill, Randy Jackson's dead now! HAHA.

05. Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Katharine McPhee

Season: 5
Week: Top 3
Theme: Simon Cowell's Song Choice

After a series of underwhelming performances, Katharine finally brought her A-game back amidst heavy competition from Taylor Hicks and Elliot Yamin - thanks to Simon's song choice. That week, she was actually doomed to leave the competition after Chris Daughtry got eliminated instead of her. Then, she pulled this one out of nowhere and clinched her way to the Finale. In this quiet, part a capella showstopper, she put an original spin on a nearly 70-year-old classic and made it sound fresh and contemporary. She showed brilliant vocal control, some beautiful little touches and great phrasing.

04. Heartless
Kris Allen

Season: 8
Week: Top 3
Theme: Personal Song Choice

This performance was one of the biggest showstoppers of Season 8 and will probably end up on many Top 10 lists for years to come. This was actually the first time a hip-hop song has ever been done on American Idol, thus worthy to be ranked right up there with Billie Jean and You Give Love A Bad Name when it comes to taking bold risks. Here, he was able to prove three things: he was the most contemporary and current recording artist left in the competition during the Top 3 performance show as both Adam Lambert and Danny Gokey were obviously trying to sing their faces off with older songs during that week; he was an amazing musician, and great with rearranging songs; and that he has excellent phrasing, which was one of the things that made him the most musically gifted contestant of the season.

03. Billie Jean
David Cook

Season: 7
Week: Top 10
Theme: Year They Were Born

After a string of daring and superb performances from the Big David during that season, he clinched his way to the top ousting David Archuleta - who's been nothing but ordinary with his recent performances, including that week. His rendition of this Mariah Carey classic was brave and brilliant. The arrangement worked well in his favor, his vocals were exceptional, and that glory note at the end caught me off guard and was fantastic.

02. You Give Love A Bad Name
Blake Lewis

Season: 6
Week: Top 5
Theme: Bon Jovi

Yes, Blake maybe the weakest vocalist to ever reach the Finale - or was it Lee DeWyze? - but he was definitely one of the best "performers" on the show's history. He took a huge risk by reworking Bon Jovi's hit song with his trademark beatboxing and techno-electronica backbeats. It was thrilling, wholly original and took everyone completely by surprise. This performance undeniably paid off, and was considered as possibly the bravest on American Idol's history and one, arguably, of the most memorable performances on the show.

01. Summertime
Fantasia Barrino

Season: 3
Week: Top 8
Theme: Movie Soundtrack

Magic. That's what sets this performance apart from the others. Prior to this, the eventual winner of Season 3 was actually losing steam for being all swagger and no softness or vulnerability. Then she sat down on stage singing her breathtaking version of this song with genuine emotion and rasp that reminded me of Aretha Franklin. With this performance, she eventually solidified her status as the one to beat during that season. The performance was overwhelmingly touching that Randy Jackson called it the best performance in the history of the show.. and eight seasons later he's still right. It was indeed a moment of true musical magic.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ooh.. Love seeing Katelyn Epperly's The Scientist in the list. That performance was so underrated. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Are you mixing up the comment on David Cook's "Billie Jean" with "Always be My Baby"? Because you mentioned "...this Mariah Carey classic...".

Emiliano Soto said...

when are you updating this list?

Anonymous said...

Where the heck is Lovesong or I (Who Have Nothing) from Candice?! These two performances should be at least in the Top 5 of that list, not mentioning that Lovesong is still Idol's number 1 performance until now!

DAM said...

You do realize that this was posted in Jan 2013 right before Candice's season. I will be updating this soon. Relax.

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