My 35 Favorite American Idol performances

A while ago, I posted my thoughts on Lyndsey Parker’s favorite Idol performances… and got a bunch of buzz on it. Some positive and some negative [unless I’m misinterpreting the sarcasm].

Now I’m finally posting my own list.
For the most part, these are performances that I remembered enjoying over the years. Some were here because I liked the songs and they were done well. Others, I didn’t like the songs and the Idols made me a fan. Others were songs I was hearing for the first time and never heard the same way since. Some are my favorite idols. Others are people I didn’t like, but these performances either made me fans or were ones that were so good I had to congratulate them on it.
And of course some were game-changing moments that went on to make winners.

I hope people who read appreciate this list and won’t eat me alive for forgetting their favorite Idols.
Most likely, any omissions were intentional- we can’t all have the same taste in music.

After counting all these, I realized I had 34 listed here… so to follow the lead of Lyndsey Parker and Michael Slezak, I added one more- a personal favorite, I’ll admit, I didn’t include because I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously. But considering some other “oversights” people will probably say I made, I’m making the decision not to care and include him anyway.

35. Lee Dewyze- Kiss from a rose

*This is a little selfish on my part- I love this song so when I heard he was doing it, I was excited. I don’t remember my reaction then, but comparing it to other performances of his, this was his strongest. This song has this mystique about it and he maintained that with a very solid vocal

34. Casey Abrams- Harder to Breathe

*I’m a tough critic when people cover Maroon 5 songs because they’re rarely as good as Adam Levine doing them originally. Casey did this really well [probably my favorite time anyone did Maroon 5 on “Idol”] and I loved the ending where he gave Jennifer that impromptu kiss

33. Haley Reinhart- You & I

*At the time she performed it, nobody knew this Gaga track. Revisiting it now, this is an amazing cover. Even though I didn’t like Haley during her run on Idol, the fact that she made this track even more suited to jazz than the original… that’s kind of a big deal. And I know the original really well and have heard multiple covers- this is the best time I’d heard any Idol cover it

32. Allison Iraheta- I can’t make you love me

*For some reason, this was the performance of Allison’s I always remembered… I don’t think I knew at the time that Prince did a cover of it. She just brought all the right things to this performance and gave this song a lot of heart and a soul. The emotion she brought to this was so on point.

31. [last minute addition] Anthony Fedorov- I’ve got you

*I loved Anthony from his first audition. Most likely because I was still getting over Clay Aiken not winning Season 2. Plus he was cute, plus he had a sob story, plus he graduated from my high school.
This was one of two performances I had saved to my computer at one point and watched multiple times. Going back to this one, I still absolutely love it. I’d never heard the original [something I should change, lol] but I just love him in this element. He made a bunch of odd song choices in his time on Idol, but this one worked amazingly. I don’t know why. Just loved the energy.

30. Katherine McPhee- black horse & cherry tree

*I’d never heard this song before she did it on the show, so I kinda spent a while thinking it was her on the radio whenever this song came on. That was not the case 😛 I think I was down on her the most because a lot of her performances were too pageanty- too perfect. She broke out of that pattern and showed a lot of sass with this number, just grooving with the band.

29. Skylar Laine- Stay with me

*This was the first time I really noticed Skylar and the first time I’d heard this song. She had a lot of fun on stage, so I had fun watching her. She did this so much sass and attitude- loved every minute of it.

28. Joey Cook- Fancy

*I don’t like Iggy Azalea or this song at all… so the fact Joey made it into something I loved- the staging, the arrangement, etc.- that was pretty huge. But of course the credit goes to Postmodern Jukebox (if they hadn’t recruited her by now, they’re doing something wrong)

27. Caleb Johnson- Dream On

*I’d been a fan of Caleb all this season, so many great performances. This was probably the best because nobody on “Idol” had been able to do this song better- especially that final note- WOW

26. Nick Fradiani- Beautiful Life

*I had three favorites on Season 14- Nick was the last person I expected to win. He started hitting his stride in the final 5 weeks. But him slipping into this song as easy as a comfortable jacket, it’s impossible not to take notice. It really felt like his original song and he owned every minute of it.

25. Qaasim Middleton- Come Together

*not the greatest vocal ever, but he made this performance unforgettable. I’ll never think of “Come Together” the same way again. He didn’t just make me smile, but made me laugh because it was so ridiculous but awesome at the same time.

24. Bo Bice- In a Dream

*It’s hard to forget a performance like this one. Bo choosing to do this accapella… just him and that spotlight. He looked like a star with that stage presence. #WOW

23. Jessica Sanchez- I will always love you

*Considering we’d just lost Whitney, this was a really poignant moment. That year, it was Idol’s viral moment that had everyone checking this performance on YouTube. There is no better cover of this and nobody else should even try. Technically, this was handled amazingly. Even as someone who was a detractor because she was too perfect, I had to take notice.

22. Clay Aiken- Solitaire

*Clay just has one of those really special voices. I have no words really beyond that. And this performance in particular really sums him up as an artist. I’m watching it for the first time in maybe a decade and it still hits me in my gut and makes me smile

21. Jessica Sierra- total eclipse of the heart

*this was a powerfully emotional vocal that still drives me crazy- in a good way. My ranking isn’t as high because she flubbed a bunch of lyrics, putting them in places where they don’t quite go.

20. Alex Preston- Story of my life

*I loved how Alex flipped songs every week. You never knew what to expect, but most of the time, it was pretty awesome. This was such a popular song at the time and I never heard quite like this. He made it fit for him as an artist and I stlll love that note at the end

19. Clark Beckham- Every breath you take

*This was the song that started to convert me to being a fan of Clark’s. I’d heard many versions. I’d been partial to the version performed on “Ally McBeal” for a couple years and Clark made me forget all about it. He brought a lot of vulnerability to this performance that I found myself slowly falling in love with him… a trend that would continue for weeks.

18. Jason Castro- hallelujah

*7 years later, I am so fucking sick of this song- cannot go a season of “American Idol” or “The Voice” without hearing someone do it once… but Jason Castro originated it on the reality singing show circuit, so he deserves to at least acknowledged for doing the best karaoke version of it that’s been done. Everyone else put their spin on it with their unique styles, but Jason stuck with the original and made it so great that it didn’t deserve to be ruined by doing overdone

17. Constantine Maroulis- My Funny Valentine

*Constantine might not be the best technical singer, but I felt sparks fly when he did “My Funny Valentine”… rewatching this now, I just melted in a pool of warm fuzzy goo and smiles. My mom and I loved this performance

16. Quentin Alexander-In the air tonight

*Quentin is one of the most interesting Idol contestants ever. Always looked forward to seeing what he’d do each week. From the song choice alone, I knew this would be something special. I wasn’t just mesmerized, but I was literally going crazy. I couldn’t shake of the chills for several minutes afterwards.

15. Jax- Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

*I loved Jax so much this season that it was hard to pick one performance. Finally, I settled on this because it embodies everything she brought the Idol stage as an artist. She can be very delicate one minute and the next, she’ll be rocking out and running around the entire stage. This performance struck the best balance between both sides of her personality

14. Jessica Meuse- Blue-eyed Lie

*This was the first time an Idol performed their own song on a non-finale night, so already this was huge. Even better was that I loved this song since her audition and hearing it with the production and the band and how much better it’d gotten. Plus the fact it sums up everything I love about Jessica as an artist

13. Colton Dixon- Piano Man

*Colton had a lot of great performances that it was hard to pick just one for him as well… but this was the one I remembered the most. He was at the piano, which was his comfort zone. I liked the feel of this song without the harmonica (which I never liked in the Billy Joel original- it just annoys me). I liked it so much that I got the studio version as well.

12. Carrie Understood- Alone

*The one Carrie Underwood performance that really stood out to me was this song. It’s been a favorite of mine as far back as I can remember. She rocked it out and did a great vocal. Of course, she was nowhere as good as she became after getting signed and doing her own music. [I’d nominate “See you again” but that was a performance as a guest, not part of the actual competition]

11. Blake Lewis- You Give Love a Bad Name

*The first time I really remember someone changing a song around from the original arrangement. I remember this being a polarizing performance- I love me some Bon Jovi and loved what he did with the song. My dad hated it… but considering how karaoke this show still was, that was an amazing change of pace. Almost too cool to really offer any comment

10. Elise Testone- Whole Lotta Love

*I damn near lost my mind with this performance. I knew Elise was a rocker chick, but I never heard anything quite like this from her. She lived and breathed every second of it and the adrenaline rush was absolutely insane. Still is, actually.

9. Angie Miller- bring me to life

*I did not watch this season until the top 7 and I stuck around because Angie was getting a lot of buzz on Twitter. She owned this song and handled its power with such ease. It gives me goosebumps and makes me tear up- it’s that good.

8. Chris Daughtry- Walk the line

*The funny thing with Chris Daughtry- watching some of his performances, he feels like he’s much bigger than the Idol stage- to the point where there is no competition, it was his to lose.
as of that time, I’d never heard “Walk the Line” before, so I had nothing to compare it to. If you wanna get technical, this was the very first time anyone went beyond the karaoke nature of the show and made a song his own. Although it was Live’s version of that Johnny Cash classic, which he gave them credit for and would later perform with them on the final. Just love how he commanded the stage here and it was so effortless.

7. David Archuleta- imagine

*I did not like this song until David Archuleta did it… that was before my musical tastes really matured- I just found the original drawn out and boring… I don’t feel that way now, but when I hear this version- it’s simply magical. A crystal-clear vocal that was worthy of the title… another one so good that it makes me wanna cry

6. David Cook- Billy Jean

*”Hello” was good, but this was a turning point. He looked like a star during this and really set himself apart- I saw shades of the artist he became by the time his debut album was released. It’s almost worthy of goosebumps.

5. Joshua Ledet- This is a Man’s World

*I didn’t think I’d ever like anyone else doing this song since Juliet Simms killed it on “The Voice”… Joshua proved me wrong. He had a great season all around, but this stood out for too many reasons to name. Only that he did all the runs amazingly and brought so much emotion into this… just wow

4. Kelly Clarkson- Without You

*Kelly- somehow this particular performance is one I remembered after all these years. like it was many early Idol seasons, it was the first time I heard this song and every version since will be compared to this. The way it builds in the second half was so powerful that I was almost crying. Further, it might be the one performance of Kelly’s that had me thinking she could probably win this. Justin & Tamyra were hyped so much that I thought she was consistent, but middle of the road until this moment.

3. Jena Irene- Creep

*Jeff Gutt killed this song on “The X-Factor”, so again I was skeptical that someone else could do it as well. Ironically, whenever someone else does “Creep,” I go back to hear Jeff’s version AND Jena’s version. Jena’s still my favorite. She gave everything to this all while staying by the piano. So good I almost wanna scream out loud.

2. Adam Lambert- Mad World

**As someone that spent a lot of the season not getting Adam Lambert as an artist and why people were so crazy about him [as in “how are you not deaf from listening to him?”… seriously, his voice was really harsh on my ears], the fact I could only bow down to him as a singer after this performance was a big deal.
Not only did he not blow out my eardrums, but he created a moment… I’m crazy about music for a number of reasons, but one of them is its ability to transport me and make me feel things by creating a brand new atmosphere.
And thanks to this performance, this version of “Mad World” [the Gary Jules version] is the only one I can listen to 😛 I love me some Tears for Fears, but I cannot get crazy about their original arrangement.

1. Kris Allen- Heartless

*This was my favorite “Idol” performance ever for a number of reasons… but probably the biggest was that it was a complete renovation of the original. I hate rappers in general and hearing Kris was doing Kanye had me freaking out because I thought he was making a mistake… but I completely forgot what Kris does- he changes songs around to fit him as an artist. It was unexpected and as the performance kept building, it just exploded. The only thing that topped the excitement I felt from that was him winning. It was a literally a game-changer and I started to believe Kris could actually win. But him making the finale guaranteed he’d got an album made and either way, I was excited about that alone.

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