Following two weeks in a row that the judges have proclaimed that a contestant gave “the best performance ever on American Idol”, I decided to make a list of my own and not just shamelessly bandwagon-hop and become a prisoner of the moment. I started watching in season 3, and nothing in season 11 so far compares to the performances on this list. I realize that the real best performances ever were probably the Casey Abrams and Matt Giraud renditions of “Georgia on My Mind” in Hollywood week, but this list is strictly for live shows. Check it out:
Others receiving votes:
“Imagine” – David Archuleta
“Eleanor Rigby” – David Cook
“Walk the Line” – Chris Daughtry
“Jealous Guy” – Casey James
“A Song for You” – Elliott Yamin
10. “Incomplete” – Nikko Smith (Season 4)
Nikko may have been the most underrated contestant ever on Idol. He was able to do absolutely whatever he wanted with his voice, and when he hit those high notes, it was magic. He didn’t even need to falsetto. “Incomplete” was a hugely popular song, and Nikko sang it even better than the original. Maybe I was just a big fan, but man, he killed this song.
9. “Nature Boy” – Casey Abrams (Season 10)
Casey was one of my favorite contestants. He was so different and so interesting. He lived for his music, and this performance was perfect. He was maybe the most complete artist from the moment he first showed up at his first audition, and this performance with his standing bass showed off every bit of that talent and every little nuance in his voice. Seriously, this is a master class in how to make an old-fashioned song sound undeniably current.
8. “Heartless” – Kris Allen (Season 8)
This performance, perhaps more than any other, changed the landscape of the season. Kris was a solid contender, but when he dropped this acoustic version of Kanye West, he instantly rose to the top and never looked back. It was inventive, and even though his voice isn’t the strongest, the guy put everything he had into it. It was brilliant.
7. “Hallelujah” – Jason Castro (Season 7)
I am convinced that had Jason not delivered the performance of his life on this song that he never would have come close to the top 4. He performed this widely popular song almost flawlessly. I say “almost” because he completely botches the last note, which prevents it from being a perfect performance and being even higher on this list.
6. “Hemorrhage” – Chris Daughtry (Season 5)
You could pick any one of Chris’s performance and have a case to put it on a top 10 list, and many may have an issue with me anointing this one. However, I don’t think he ever had a song that suited him the way this one did. He wasn’t trying to sing out of his comfort zone, and it showed with his very simple, electric performance. Daughtry won me over after his first live performance and never disappointed in the subsequent weeks. He was, of course, the best contestant ever on the show.
5. “You Give Love a Bad Name” – Blake Lewis (Season 6)
This is another one of those performances that took a contestant a lot further than he probably should have gone. He took a popular Bon Jovi song and added in his token scatting and beat boxing, and made it into an instant classic in a different genre. You hear it once, and you want to hear it again and again. Brilliant.
4. “In a Dream” – Bo Bice (Season 4)
To come out on the Idol stage and sing without any music takes some serious stones. I don’t recall Bo ever singing a single bad note, and that is not exaggerating. This was maybe the most perfect vocal ever given on the show. You have to think that if contestants could play instruments that year, he would have been up there with his acoustic, but it wouldn’t have been quite the same. This performance set the bar so much higher for him and basically gave him a chance to take down the giant Carrie Underwood.
3. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – Jason Castro (Season 7)
It may seem blasphemous making him the only one with two performances in the top 10, but this performance stuck with me. I was addicted to this version when I first heard it. It may not seem like much, but this song is really difficult to pull off, and this is the best rendition of the Jeff Buckley song I have come across. This is as good as it gets in terms of a contestant completely coming into their own. It is amazing how good Castro could be and how bad he could be (particularly his performances of the Bob Dylan and Bob Marley songs in the top 4 week).
2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Constantine Maroulis (Season 4)
Constantine is another one of those contestants where ever song seemed like it could be considered for this list, but nothing could ever compare to his insane rendition of the Queen megahit. This is Constantine getting back to his roots, and this performance has stood the test of time as one of the best ever on the show. When Simon drops the word “astonishing” on your version of the song, you know you killed it.
1. “Mad World” – Adam Lambert (Season 8)
I was never really a fan of Adam, but this performance put my jaw on the ground. He stripped down his voice, got rid of his distracting sideshows, and he delivered a performance that will go down in Idol lore as one of the defining performances where a contestant did something out of the ordinary and had a “moment”. This was perhaps the purest vocal that I have ever heard on the show, and while I know that almost no one will agree that this is the all time greatest guy performance on the show, it is solidly my number one. Jennifer Lopez, you are telling me that Joshua Ledet taking off his jacket singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” is better than this? Please…
So, what do you think of the list? Any performances that you love that I didn’t mention? Any contestants that you think got the snub here? I tried to spread the wealth. Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for an article on the best female performances.