Earlier this week, American Idol announced that they will air their final season next year. Just at the right time, if you ask me.
The show had begun to lose some of its spark in recent years, but it continued to pop some truly memorable singing. Being a huge fan who has watched every single performance (and skipped most of the inane judges’ comments), I compiled a list of Top 40 best American Idol performances on Pinterest.
…which should really be a Top 100 actually, given the show’s strong repertoire. It was difficult to narrow down to 40, and even more painful to cut some A++ performances from the Top 10. But we ain’t got all day to turn this blog into an Idol encyclopedia, so here are 10 of my most favorite American Idol “moments” in chronological order:
Kelly Clarkson – A Natural Woman (Season 1)
Okay, technically Stuff Like That There is her (if not the) best Idol performance. But I have a soft spot for this Aretha Franklin cover, which is Idol’s first true showstopper. Here’s this little nobody girl from Texas coming up to the stage in a suit, a tie… and an unbelievable set of vocal pipes! And of course, there is THAT NOTE—the highest ever graced on the show—which is basically God’s way of saying that a bonafide superstar has arrived.
Clay Aiken – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Season 2)
Having been done wrong by voters in his first week, Clay Aiken came back hard during Wild Card week with this goosebump-worthy Elton John classic. Not only did he prove the voters wrong and made it all the way to runner-up, he also showcased that he is still the best pure male vocalist that the franchise has ever had.
Fantasia Barrino – Summertime (Season 3)
When I think of Summertime, this is the version that comes to my mind. Fantasia OWNS this song—her dirty gospel vocal serenaded this song with a touch of class and grit. A truly unique performance that few people, both inside and outside Idol, has ever matched.
Bo Bice – In A Dream (Season 4)
I remember the night this Southern rocker dimmed the lights and decided to sing an obscure song by an unknown band… 100% A CAPPELLA (a first and only time for the show). It’s the single biggest risk a reality TV singing performer has ever taken, and seeing how powerful this anthem remains 10 years later, I guess the f*cking gamble totally paid off.
Katharine McPhee – Over The Rainbow (Season 5)
Season 5 was a year full of stand-out vocals with jazzy Broadway leanings. McPhee alone contributed three such masterpieces before, yet she managed to lead the cream of the crop with the most beautiful song which suit her beautiful voice to a tee. Probably the best song choice ever hand-picked to a contestant by Simon Cowell himself.
Melinda Doolittle – My Funny Valentine (Season 6)
Let’s be real. Melinda Doolittle is the most consistently great vocalist throughout the show’s history. I had to limit my Top 40 list to maximum 2 performances from each contestant, and only 1 is allowed for Top 10—otherwise it would turn into a massive Melinda-fest. The phrasing, the nuance, the dynamic, the power… it doesn’t get any more impeccable than this.
Blake Lewis – You Give Love A Bad Name (Season 6)
Beatbox. Bon Jovi. Drum solo. What the hell is happening to American Idol? Though not a traditionally strong vocalist, Blake shut the naysayers up with this imaginative re-arrangement. So game-changing it was that beginning from Season 7, the show’s magical word has turned from “singers” to “artists”.
David Cook – Billie Jean (Season 7)
The first and the best of the WGWG (White Guy With Guitar) winners, David Cook one-upped the game and reinterpreted Michael Jackson as an emo-rock masterclass. He may or may not have copped the arrangement from Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, but the incredible stage presence and THAT VOICE… still gives me chills.
Adam Lambert – Mad World (Season 8)
Let me start by bursting the myth: No, Adam didn’t blow the Season 8 competition by miles. The Adam, Kris and Allison trio were all equally competent artists deserving of victory. Glamberts can rejoice though, knowing that Adam did have the season’s most celebrated performance. Despite being famous for his theatrical high-pitched belting though, Adam’s at his best when he exercised restraint to pull off this haunting Tears For Fears tune.
Haley Reinhart – Bennie And The Jets (Season 10)
Beloved Haley Reinhart is Idol’s biggest underdog. The Powers That Be has tried to bus her several times, but her string of stellar performances kept her all the way to third place. Technically she peaked with House Of The Rising Sun, but her soulful growling on Bennie And The Jets hold the most nostalgia and replay value in the long run.
PS. Some of you may ask why Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson are missing—for me, they did great during the show but most of their (well-deserved) achievements come from their post-Idol works. Don’t worry though, both of them made it to my Top 40 list.
Agree or disagree? Which performances would make your list?