Chad’s Top Ten “American Idol” Performances [Video]
I may have mentioned this on the air before and I realize it may make me a total couch potato, but I love American Idol. In fact, I think I have seen every single episode of every single season. Because of that, I have been along for the entire bumpy ride. I have heard every single sour note sung, but I have also been there to witness the incredible performances that make the show what it was originally designed to be . . . a way to uncover untapped talent and find, from the depths of oscurity, America’s next great singing superstars. I decided, since we are well into Season 11 of Idol, to comb back through my memory bank and present to you . . . the Top Ten American Idol Performances of All-Time!
#10- Frenchie Davis- “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”
While Frenchie was kicked off the show before she ever really got on it, she still managed to find time to knock her audition out of the park. There’s no arguing that, after the audition circuit, Frenchie was a Season Two front-runner. I personally have no doubts that, if she hadn’t had a pesky Internet scandal to contend with, that she would have shaken up the Ruben/Clay dynasty.
#9- David Cook- “Always Be My Baby”
David Cook made an Idol career out of “flipping” songs. He put hIs signature twist on such classics as Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” But it was his performance of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” that proved he was a musical genius. He took a song that made millions want to stab out their eardrums with ice picks and refashioned it as a powerful rock anthem. David’s creativity took him to the Season 7 title.
While David Cook may have beaten another David for the Season 7 title, the best performance of that season belongs to David Archuleta. In the semifinal round, he gave a pitch-perfect rendition of “Imagine” that, I believe, truly carried him through to the finale. This was the single best moment of American Idol Season 7. Simply terrific.
#7- Jordin Sparks- ”I Who Have Nothing”
For much of Season 6, it appeared that the Idol crown was Blake Lewis’ to take. For a few weeks that year, Americans had fallen back in love with beatboxing and Blake fired on all cylinders. But, each week of the finals, a young lady named Jordin Sparks gained more confidence and grew stronger and stronger vocally. It all culminated with this . . . a soaring and haunting interpretation of the devastating “I Who Have Nothing.” Jordin ended up with something after all. She won the Season 6 title and she did it on the pure strength and conviction of this performance.
#6- Clay Aiken- Bridge Over Troubled Water
Clay actually laid out a Neil Sedaka song during Season Two of Idol, but it was his performance of “Solitaire” (as a Season Three special guest) that is actually my favorite version of that song. So, I didn’t include it on this list. Instead, I opted for this vocal showcase from the Season Two finale. I hold all sorts of conspiracy theories about that season’s end result. In fact, I don’t believe for a second that Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken. (For the record, I have chatted with another finalist from that season who doesn’t think so either). Clay owns a monster tenor and it’s on full display in this performance. In fact, it was THIS performance that prompted Simon Cowell to prematurely declare Clay the winner. See, he thought he was too.
#5- Joshua Ledet- When A Man Loves A Woman
Season 11 has been full of some amazing performances so far. In fact, Jessica Sanchez’ version of “I Will Always Love You” easily could have made this list. But, we’ll hold out for Jessica a little longer because I have a hunch she could actually become the first female since Jordin Sparks to take the Idol crown. I think she has even better performances in her. This guy has NO chance of winning the title. Now, I say that not to discount his talent. On the contrary! I think Joshua is amazing, but his gospel-tinged style is too polarizing for the masses. Some people (like me) will love it. Some others (like some Facebook friends of mine who think the “gospel guy needs to go”) will hate it. But no one can hate this performance. Joshua laid out the Percy Sledge classic. And just when you thought he had sung the biggest note he could, he took off his jacket and kicked that song’s ass even harder.
The King of Scream should have won Season 8 of Idol. But, mainstream America decided to throw its votes behind the more clean-cut and traditional Kris Allen. While I liked Kris too, Adam was the true vocal acrobat and his range was ridonkulous and unparalled in the Idol kingdom. But, it was his performance of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” that truly showed Lambert’s gifts as a singer. Subtle and moving, this performance even made Simon get out of his chair to applaud. And that just rarely happened on the show. Well-earned Adam.
#3- Jennifer Hudson- Weekend in New England
Jennifer Hudson was always a fish out of water on American Idol. She had a HUGE voice and she knew it. But, for some reason, she was shy to let it out at first. That is until Elton John got to mentor her for a performance of “The Circle of Life.” Elton fell in love with Jennifer’s voice because he had gotten to hear it, exploding like a 4th of July celebration as she practiced his song. A couple of weeks later, WE finally got to hear it as she tore into Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England.” This performance showed the world what Jennifer had to offer. Oddly enough, we weren’t ready to full understand or appreciate her gifts. This performance got her voted off the show. But she showed us by singing her behind off en route to an Academy Award for Dreamgirls.
#2- Kelly Clarkson- Without You
American Idol loves its “Judges’ Choice” weeks. Unfortunately, they almost always get them wrong. In fact, in Season 4, I am convinced the judges used lame choices to get rid of Vonzell Solomon to make way for a Carrie Underwood/Bo Bice finale. Convinced. But, in Idol’s inaugural season, they actually got one right when they paired Kelly Clarkson with Nilsson/Mariah Carey ballad, “Without You.” Kelly had already established herself as Season One’s best voice and resident belter. In this performance, she made it clear no one was going to beat her for the title. This is vintage Kelly (though an argument can be made that her rendition of “Stuff Like That There” was actually the game-changer for her). Amazing pitch, an insane range, and tremendous phrasing and interpretation. Love it. Love her.
#1- Katherine McPhee- Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Taylor Hicks may have won Season Five (still trying to figure that one out!), but Katherine McPhee gave us that season’s stand-out performance . . . and she did it twice. While Katherine gave us a reprise of ”Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the finale, it was her first performance of the song that was the true highlight of the season. Katherine is now featured on the hit NBC series Smash and we are again getting to hear just how good her voice is. It honestly was never better than it is here. While Idol frequently drives its contestants down Bombast Street . . . this was an exercise is subtlety and restraint. For me, this is the best performance EVER on American Idol. Though it didn’t propel Katherine McPhee to the Idol title, it thrust her into the show’s elite ranks. This is music in its purest form.
So, there you have it. My ten favorite American Idol performances of all-time. I pondered this list for weeks before I actually sat down to right this blog. I realize Chris Daughtry didn’t make the cut (though I am a huge fan). I acknowledge that Carrie Underwood didn’t make the list (though, honestly, she was always a little pitchy on the show). Fantasia was superb at times. I loved her versions of ‘Summertime” and Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”, but both just narrowly missed the cut. Despite all my rationale, I am certain that GREAT performances have missed this list because I simply forgot them. So, I would love to know . . . what is YOUR all-time favorite Idol performance. Hit me up below using the Facebook comment feature.