American (Idol) Top 40
The top 40 videos from seasons seven through twelve
(and some other stuff)
Quickly, before we get to the top 40, lets recap some of the main story lines from seasons seven through twelve.
Season Seven was the season of the Two Davids: David Cook and David Archuleta. It was the first season contestants were allowed to play instruments, and it gave us the first of five consecutive white guys with guitars (WGWG) getting mobbed under a confetti shower.
No season produced a more charitable cast, and no season featured so many boring haircuts. Jason Castro was about the only one who didn’t look like he just came from SuperCuts. The most shocking ouster was probably Carly Smithson in 6th, and the survivor award goes to Syesha, who outlived several more heralded singers to finish 3rd.
Season Eight was the season of Adam, the season of Danny Always Delivers, and the season that gave us 15-year-old El Salvadorean native and Sonic the Hedgehog lookalike Allison Iraheta, the inspiration for my Allie award. Kris Allen became WGWG number two, and Matt Giraud became the first beneficiary of the brand new judges’ save.
The best (and worst) hair was probably Allie’s fortified-wine-of-the-day colored mop. The shocking early ouster was, frankly, Adam in 2nd. The survivor award goes to Allie, who landed in the hard chairs several times and laughed while Lil Rounds died a little inside every time a harsh word was spoken in the same zip code. Allie wins the Allie, of course, and Matt Giraud would retroactively win the Casey.
Season Nine was the Year Simon Tanked It. That’s enough about that, though. Season nine’s competition was a runaway train, with Crystal landing at the top of the power rankings during Hollywood Week and never leaving the top spot until the third consecutive WGWG, Lee Dewyze, choked on his confetti. Casey James lent his name to the award for the best overall musician, and Siobhan lent her vocal cords to the longest banshee scream.
Season nine has been maligned by some critics as a talentless season, but in my opinion it was one of the best. The Hollywood Week performances were by far the best I had the pleasure of seeing, and the semifinalists were a strong, varied group. Mistakes were made – Tim Urban, anyone? – but the main problem was that the voters themselves had a relatively bad year. Speed dialing was gaining popularity, and what had once been a national vote began to tilt dangerously to the South. Voting mistakes were made (Lilly Scott, anyone?).
The show decided to change its format after the Top 16 show became a bloodbath of shocking eliminations, adding a wild card round that they stuck with through season 14. Big Mike Lynch got the judges’ save and the survivor award, and Lilly was the early-elimination shocker. The second Allie award went to Siobhan Magnus. The best hair was probably Casey James, but the coolest was either Siobhan’s weirdly slow-motion makeover or Crystal’s dreadlocked mess.
Season Ten, the first of the post-Simon era, was a massive box office success. Other than the final performance night, which suffered because both singers were from the same narrow demographic, the show consistently outperformed viewership expectations. WGWG #4 Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina were the first finalists to face off from the Nashville demographic since Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, and all of the top four finishers charted the first album they put out. Casey Abrams picked up the save – in dramatic fashion – on the final 11 results night, creating the first ever 11 person Idol Tour roster.
Veteran performers Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez changed the dynamic at the judging table. Jenn in particular preferred to use a nurturing tone, so the three of them abdicated their roles as critics to become cheerleaders. This massive sea-change generated a positive atmosphere on the stage, which was welcome, but it did not lead to the sort of growth that past season contenders demonstrated. James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, and Casey Abrams all needed some tough love to reach their considerable potential, but the judges treated them with kid gloves – and none of them grew an inch as a performer on the show.
Haley Reinhart, on the other hand, was given enough tough love for the bunch; even mentor Jimmy Iovine jumped all over her, calling her lazy on the air, right in front of her. Haley rode all that tough love to the survivor award, and Allie award, and most of the performance awards. Pia Toscano imprinted her name on the shocker award, getting dumped in 9th place and almost breaking the Internet. Casey Abrams locked in the name for the best musician award, following Casey James in season nine, and coolest hair award went to Naima Adedapo.
Season Eleven was the season of the ballad, the ballad, and the “oh wait, here comes another #$*&ing ballad.” Phil-Phil became WGWG #5, Jess and Josh fought to the balladeath, and Hollie Cavanagh became the first woodland creature to finish in the top five. The judges remained the same, in tone as well as in nomenclature, and they came under increasing criticism for not giving any, well – criticism.
Skylar Laine roared and tumbled to 5th place, Weirdest hair winner Colton Dixon got the shocker elimination (if you don’t count season 12 champ Candice Glover getting cut in Vegas), and Hollie walked off with the survivor award and the Allie award. Hollie was in the bottom two six times. The old record was three, set by Pia’s ouster partner Stefano Langone and tied by Haley Reinhart, both in season ten.
Season Twelve was the year Idol jumped the shark. Nicky Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban joined the judging table – and all hell broke loose. I quickly adopted a survival tactic, fast-forwarding past the judges, and I got so good at it that it wasn’t until season 15 that I noticed Keith had an accent.
Nicky and Mariah were a fascinating pair – two voluptuous, towering, swaggering women who plain didn’t like each other and weren’t even a little bit shy about it. One was known to drone on, and on, and on, while the other was feared to be packing heat. I’ll let you sort out which was which.
The diminutive Keith, who is married to his own Amazonian swagger-queen, occasionally walked to the judging table wedged in between Nicky and Mariah. It was like watching Roger Rabbit flanked by twin Jessicas.
Candice Glover became the first contestant, that I know of anyway, to run the table – and the first woman to take a confetti shower since they allowed white guys to bring guitars in season seven. She was the internet front runner after the auditions, during Hollywood, in the early “live” show portion, in the semifinals, and in the finals.
Amber won the Allie award and at least one of the performance awards, while Kree Harrison and Angie Miller fought tooth and nail for the second spot in the finale. The shocker award went to Big Ugly (Curtis Finch), and the survivor award went to Kree, who finished 2nd despite being questionable to even make it to the finals. Zoanette Johnson provided the insanity (and the cool hair), and Lazaro Arbos provided the sweaty jumpsuits.
Speaking of Jessica Rabbit, here’s a couple of pictures of an actual American Idol contestant. She made the semifinals in season 12, and unless you were watching closely you have no idea who she is. I’ll put her name down at the bottom.
Before I get to the top 40, I should point out a few exceptions. The WGWGs aren’t completely shut out, but since they won a combined 5 titles I thought I’d explain why they only have a few in the countdown. There are a few others who some might feel were slighted; I will try to make some excuses for that, too. Finaly, six videos defied ranking or categorizing, so I just ran ’em as their own category. Eventually, down there somewhere, I will get to the countdown.
FIRST, THE WGWGS
(white guys with guitars)
and why they didn’t dominate my top 40 list
David Cook, season 7 winner
Cookie has one video below, a performance from the semifinals before I started watching the show. Like the rest of my favorites he could easily have several songs on the list, but no single performance stands out from the rest. My favorite David Cook Idol performance was, to put it simply, any David Cook Idol performance.
Post-Idol is a different story. “Light On” is, by far, my favorite David Cook song.
Kris Allen, season 8 winner
I liked a few of his performances, and I originally had his “Ain’t no Sunshine” and “She Works Hard for the Money” on the list. I took them off in order to simply pay my respects to Kris up here, avoid the temptation to compare him to Adam again, and point out to everyone who voted for Kris over Adam that the only way Kris gets anywhere near a Queen concert these days is through Stub Hub. Ok, that’s harsh – besides, he and Adam are genuinely friendly, so he would be a VIP.
Lee Dewyze, season 9 winner
Lee has a couple of videos on the list, and a couple on the Best of the Rest page, but like the other winners he is a little underrepresented. Lee, like Lauren Alaina, had a bunch of really good but not great performances. Most of his videos would be in the 100-200 range, which ain’t bad when you consider there were over 2,500 videos generated during the time period I covered.
Scotty McCreery, season 10 winner
I like Scotty, and I root for him to succeed. How can anyone not root for him? I enjoyed most of his songs, but he wasn’t really competing with the rest of the singers. He was just singing his own stuff, doing his own show. Since he never really had to compete, there was no way to compare him with anyone else. Without the comparisons, there is no way to place his songs in context. Like Kris, it’s best that I just keep him in his own category. Hell, maybe that’s another page: The top videos by the Idol winners.
Phil Phillips, season 11 winner
Phil-Phil had a few performances that are worthy of making the list, especially “Home,” his coronation song. I left it off, and I left him off, because – as anyone who reads my recaps knows – I was never a Phil phan. Even “Home” – which I originally had on the list – wouldn’t have made my top 30. I’d rather give him honorable mention up here than dishonorable rankings down there. Idol winners get plenty of attention. I prefer to shine my torch on the Idol “also competed” group.
A FEW OTHER LINEOUTS
more top performers who might have been slightly disrespected in my video top 40
Joshua Ledet could have had as many as ten songs on the list if I went with a top hundred, but none of them would have ranked much higher than 40 – so I left them all off. He was really good, but really the same every week.
Lauren Alaina isn’t listed among the individual videos, though she was a good contestant. She always made a couple of little mistakes that kept her performances from being moment-worthy. She had her moment in a duet with Haley, and (of course) her audition was one of the most talked-about segments of the preseason. She was well represented at the season 10 awards show, walking off with a couple of trophies. Figurative trophies. There weren’t any actual trophies. If you see one on EBay, it’s a fake. But buy it anyway.
Jessica Sanchez has one song on the list, but like Joshua she could have landed several more if I went a little bit deeper. Season 12 winner Candice Glover was so good, every week, that I could have doubled or tripled her representation without breaking a sweat. Adam Lambert – let’s just say I can make the argument that he should be the top five by himself, but what fun is that? I used some restraint, and I sprinkled him in with the others. Danny Gokey was like Cookie and Joshua – so consistent that it’s hard to choose which to keep – so I gave him one and let it go at that. Honestly he was more of a Hollywood standout than a Finals standout, anyway.
I chose to put six videos on a separate plane from the top 40; I’m placing them on a pedestal, so to speak. All six could arguably rank at or near the top of the list if I chose to rank them, but for reasons that have little to do with artistic merit. They fall into three categories: pioneers, dramas, and exits.
David Cook “Hello” (Lionel Richie)
As I talked about above, Cookie’s videos could all rank among the top 40, and most people would probably put at least a couple of them on the list. “Billy Jean,” “Little Sparrow,” and “Eleanor Rigby” – to name just three – could easily rank up there, but ranking any of them creates a problem: which ones, and how high? Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox have multiple songs on the list, but I have no trouble separating my favorites out. With Cookie, my favorite video is every video. I chose this one to represent them all, because I have it in my walking mix.
Chikeze Eze “She’s a Woman” (The Beatles)
I’ve talked about this video enough elsewhere, I think. Before Chikeze I thought of Idol as something like Lawrence Welk meets Star Search, with everyone wearing prom dresses and singing Mariah Carey songs. After Chikeze I thought of Idol as a place where anyone who walked out on the stage could potentially create art. This song is art. Good art. Chikeze hasn’t done much else of note, at least publicly, but he’ll always have Beatles Night in season 7.
Jessica Sanchez “And I’m Telling You” (Jennifer Holliday)
Jessica was as fierce as they come, and she ripped this song out during top 4 week in season 11, announcing that she would not be going gently into any good night, good riddance, or good day sunshine. The judges had been hammering on her for weeks, telling her to be a teeny bopper one week, then telling her that she wasn’t connecting to her lyrics the next. With this performance, Jessica told them to, well, go listen to some Justin Bieber.
Haley Reinhart “House of the Rising Sun” (not Bob Dylan)
Haley spent most of season 10 trying to stay in the competition, desperately dodging The Dread Pirate Roberts’ sword week after week. By the top five, though, Haley was a contender – but Randy Jackson and Nigel Lithgoe didn’t see it that way.
I don’t know for sure that the fix was in, but the comments from the judges had become increasingly bizarre since Haley became a contender after singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” a couple of weeks before. Nigel had been clearly playing favorites with Lauren Alaina since the beginning, and even when Lauren sang half a song in the wrong key the judges let her off the hook. Haley, on the other hand, was characterized as a malingerer by Jimmy Iovine, mocked by the judges for her jazzy style, and treated like an outsider next to Scotty and Lauren every time the three of them stood together.
It was weird, and I almost felt, at the time, that I was just being overly paranoid, but I liked Lauren. I had no reason to care if Haley was getting shafted, but it was just there, week after week. It obvious, from the beginning of the semifinals, that Nigel wanted the country and western finale.
Shortly before Haley came out to sing “House of the Rising Sun,” Randy had called the previous round a tie between everyone but Haley. What’s the old joke … “Congratulations; you finished second. Everyone else tied for first.”
Haley’s arrangement was perfect – the octave drop was a dynamic jaw dropper – and at the end of the song Haley, her eyes so dark that they looked black, dropped her hand with the mic like she was doing the patented “mic drop” after blowing someone off the stage. And stared right. At. Randy.
Finally, I have two songs that I can’t seem to figure out where to rank because they were each performed twice by the same singer, in the same season, under wildly differing circumstances. Each video would be high on the list – top ten, maybe top five – but (1) each was performed twice, and (2) the second performance was part of an emotionally charged, momentous exit. Both singers won the “Allie” award – one of the singers is Allie herself.
I’ll just put them each up here, and try to explain where they would rank down there.
Alison Iraheta “Cry Baby” (Janis Joplin)
I don’t think any performance in any season carried as much emotional oomph as Allie’s exit song. She sang the hell out of it, which matters, but the emotional impact swamped the technical aspects of the performance. She could have been gargling with a mouthful of oatmeal and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.
Watch the video: every single person in the room, on the stage, and at the judging table (except Simon, I guess, but never mind) showed some emotion. The outpouring of love for Allie was the sort of beautiful moment that can make even a cynical old war horse like me get caught up in it. And I did. I still can’t watch it with dry eyes.
It was this performance, this video that inspired me to create the “Allie” award, and then conjure up a big, fake awards show so I could give it away. The song itself would not have ranked nearly as high without the emotional impact. Alison had other performances, like “Papa was a Rolling Stone” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that might have been better, and they didn’t make the top 40.
With the emotional impact added in, though, “Cry Baby” would be within hugging distance of the top of the list, and absolutely in the top five. Goodbye, mop bucket.
Haley Reinhart “Bennie and the Jets” (Elton John)
By merit alone, Haley’s first performance of Bennie would have ranked in the top 20, and maybe the top 10. Haley had been struggling, trying to keep the Dread Pirate Roberts from most likely killing her in the morning for several weeks in a row. Her first Bennie performance, during the second top 11 week, played an instrumental role in keeping her neck away from the sword long enough to build up some momentum, ultimately driving her to 3rd place (see “Game On” above for more on that) before the Dread Pirate Lithgoe finally got her.
Her second performance was a triumph over her doubters, like Allie’s was, but Haley’s doubters were on the show itself.
Allie went around the stage, hugging the contestants, the judges, the band, the key grip, the gaffer … everyone. Haley went into the crowd and sang, hugged, and celebrated with them – and left the show’s judges and producers – most of them, anyway – to twist in the wind.
Ok, sorry about the delay. Lets get to it. There ain’t no science to this list, or fairness, or historical importance. These are my favorites, loosely in order not from worst to first, or from least favorite to most favorite, but in the order I want to present them to you. If I redid this list next week, the order would be different but the songs would be pretty much the same ones.
AMERICAN (IDOL) TOP 40
(with apologies to Kasey Kasem’s corpse, wherever they have it stored at the moment)
40. Casey James “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” – Lloyd Price
I put this song at the beginning of the countdown on purpose; it has a nice beat and you can dance to it, so I give it a 75. For all you kiddies whose parents weren’t even born when American Bandstand was on, look it up. Oh, and I hate you. And your parents. And your dog, if you have a dog. Don’t get me started about the dammed cat, either.
39. Adam Lambert “Ring of Fire” – Carter Family
I think I showed a lot of restraint, placing only six of Adam’s videos in the top 40. Fifteen percent of the top 40. Maybe restraint isn’t the right word.
Adam’s middle-eastern cover of this song, written by Nashville royalty, was wildly popular with the crowd until Simon spoke. After Simon hammered Adam for … I dunno, sacrilege or something … the crowd seemed a lot less enthusiastic. The video didn’t do as well as some of Adam’s others, either. Simon’s judgment ruled.
Well, Simon was wrong. Adam’s performance was pitch perfect, as his almost always were, and I don’t care how deep in the hills you live: A good song is a good song, and “Ring of Fire” is a good song. And Adam sang it beautifully.
38. Crystal Bowersox “I’m Alright” – Kenny Loggins
This is a capricious choice; Crystal was as good as or better than this on maybe 10-12 performances. I went with the song the gopher danced to in Caddyshack. Sue me.
37. Curtis Finch, Jr. “Superstar” – Luther Vandross
I had Big Ugly ranked at the top of the male draw in season 12 going into the finals based on this performance. He wasn’t able to back it up, or maybe he was just too big and ugly to draw the voters in, but we’ll always have the top 40, and his homage to Luther.
36. Amanda Overmeyer “You Can’t Do That” – Beatles
I have no idea if Amanda is a heavy drinker, or if she even drinks, but she always sounds faced when she sings. I listen to her for five seconds and my bartender instincts kick in: I want to (1) call her a cab, (2) get her some water, and (3) find a bucket, just in case.
35. Didi Benami “You’re No Good” – Linda Ronstadt
Didi’s best work came before the live shows, but I liked this one once I got used to the shuffle beat. What’s weird about Didi is that she was all nerves, all the time while she was in the competition, but she is about the most relaxed singer this side of Dave Matthews now that she isn’t being judged by the guy in the tight T-shirts.
34. Alex Lambert “Trouble” – Ray Lamontagne
My sister Alison liked Alex even more than I did; I imagine she would rank this one way up the list. Alex spent some time on an internet reality show after he was dumped from Idol, and he made a couple of really cool videos. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.
33. Elise Testone “Vienna” – Billy Joel
Squeaky McSqueakerson got through this brutally tough Bill Joel song without any obvious squeaks, and delivered a surprisingly strong, pitch perfect performance. Elise was always good – good rhythm, strong musical senses – but she was a little older, a little thicker, and a little squeakier than she needed to be to contend for the title.
32. Lee Dewyze “Everybody Hurts” – REM
I would have ranked this one higher, but Lee was all tree trunk power and no finesse, as he usually was. Still, a good song is a good song, and Lee hit all those good notes good.
31. Adam Lambert “Black or White” – Michael Jackson
For Adam, every song was performance art. When he put his “Black or White” performance together he added some attitude, a kick, and a sudden, hard ending with a tough look. It was all effective at the time, but it looks a little strange, years later, to see Adam acting all street ‘n’ stuff.
30. Kree Harrison “Help me Make it Through the Night” – Kris Kristofferson
I usually prefer to “reward” the performances that were surprising as well as good, but once in awhile I have to just go chalk. Kree sang this song like it was her own, and it came as a complete surprise to nobody. But it was still beautiful.
29. Naima Adedapo – “Umbrella” – Rihanna
The Rastafarian accent might have been gilding it a bit, but whatever. Naima nailed it. The studio version is even better, and it’s part of my walking mix.
28. Carly Smithson “Superstar” – Andrew Lloyd Webber
I remember this night fairly well. Both Davids and Jason were solid, but not remarkable. Syesha was 95 percent brilliant, and 5 percent awful (she lost her meter on part of the song), and Brooke had to start over on her song. Carly was the one contestant who nailed her performance, and she chose the best song – and it got her booted the next night. Go figure.
27. Jason Castro “Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland
Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s 1983 version brought to the Idol stage, by a kid small enough to fit in Kamakawiwo’ole’s armpit. The original version has received 198,163,531 views on You Tube.
26. Burnell Taylor “Mi Cheri Amour” – Stevie Wonder
This was Burnell’s perfect song vehicle, and he delivered a strong performance. There have been a few singers on Idol, like Burnell, who have done well by simply singing the melody, like Brooke White, but many, many more who cost themselves a chance to go further because they refused to sing any melody at all. Like Joshua Ledet.
25. Danny Gokey “Get Ready” – Temptations
Danny delivered every week, so I wanted to get him in the countdown without picking one of the huge chunks of processed cheese that the show kept making him throw at us about his dead wife. It was either this song, his Earth Wind and Fire song – Phillip Bailey, Danny ain’t – or “Scream On.” In other words, don’t tug at that thread.
24. Amber Holcomb “I Say a Little Prayer” – Dionne Warwick
I still think Amber might have been the single most talented female singer the show ever put on the air. She was my “wise guy” contestant in season 12: the most interesting long shot going into the finals. By season, my “wise guy” picks:
- season 7 – David Cook
- season 8 – Danny Gokey
- season 9 – Siobhan Magnus
- season 10 – Haley Reinhart
- season 11 – Hollie Cavanagh
- season 12 – Amber Holcomb
David Cook won, but most of my “wise guy” picks finished 3rd or 4th. Siobhan finished 6th, but she probably should have finished 4th.
23. Lauren Turner “Seven Day Fool” – Etta James
I doubt that anyone under 40 liked this performance, but I loved it. I think I ranked it either 1st or 2nd for the semifinal rounds in season 10. “Other Lauren” never delivered a performance that wasn’t either placed on one of my lists or considered for one of my lists.
22. Colton Dixon “Love the Way You Lie” – Rihanna featuring Eminem
This was another kiss of death performance; Colton was dumped from the show the night after I ranked his performance as the best of the night. I blame it on a lack of imagination among the speed-dialers, which should have been a warning to the show’s producers. They hired Nicky in season 12 when they should have done what they did in season 15: limit the number of votes allowed so 90 percent of the country doesn’t wind up feeling disenfranchised. That way you don’t create a niche crowd of tweener voters and their mothers while the rest of the country flips over to The Voice.
21. Adam Lambert “Born to be Wild” – Steppenwolf
Adam was the single most talented performer the show ever had. Cut Adam in half and Adam would have been the two most talented performers the show has ever had. Watch the band on this video; they aren’t leaning back like they are backing some amateur on a reality show, they are up, excited, and into it like they are backing the star of the show.
20. Angie Miller “Bring me to Life” – Evanescence
Angie never did fix her phrasing, so she always sounded just that little bit amateurish, but she had other qualities to her performances that were very strong, particularly her angsty sense of the dramatic. I’m not sure there was any other female contestant who could have pulled off this song’s demanding combination of acrobatic vocal rhythms and its dark, sensual mood as well as Angie – now Zealyn – did in season 12.
19. Candice Glover “Straight Up” – Paula Abdul
Andrew Garcia rode the same arrangement to the tour in season nine; I credited him in the “Best of Hollywood” section. Candice is a better singer than Andrew, and she put her performance up under the live pressure, but hers was the imitator, not the innovator. If Candice had invented the arrangement, her performance would have made the top five.
18. Jessica Sanchez “You are so Beautiful” – Joe Cocker
Jessica’s performances ran together a little during the finals, as the producers kept giving the kids ballad-heavy themes and dressing them up for prom, but for this one they pulled out the stops on the visual effects and let fierce little Jessica sit down and be a grown-up for a minute and a half.
17. Lee Dewyze “The Boxer” – Simon and Garfunkel
Lee tried mightily, most of the season, to avoid doing anything remotely cheesy or theatrical. The Boxer was the perfect song for his mission, a good melody with no apparent need for embellishment. He changed one note, and that one tiny change made his version seem uniquely his own. Sometimes it only takes a dash of salt.
16. Siobhan Magnus “Think” – Aretha Franklin
Speaking of one note … Lee’s note was a subtle nudge, a gentle touch on the shoulder to get us to turn … slowly … around … and take a look. Siobhan’s note was a blaring fire alarm, a banshee scream to get up NOW – and so pure and tuning fork exact that the china had to be taped down – and so piercing as to make Beethoven rise from his crypt and tell everyone to keep the noise down, for chrissakes, the maestro is decomposing.
15. Adam Lambert “Mad World” – Tears for Fears
“Mad World” and “Tracks of my Tears” cannibalized each other a little in regards to my rankings. Had Adam done just one of them, it might have made the top spot. Because he did both, though, the effect was just that little bit watered down. Adam did “Mad World” on his live DVD, and I think it had a lot to do with the DVD going to number one.
14. Crystal Bowersox “As Long as I Can See the Light” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
The girls were supposed to go on the night before, but the producers moved them back a day because type one diabetic Crystal was in the hospital after a blood sugar spike It doesn’t show on this video, which cuts off right at the end of the song, but Crystal had to sit down on her amp while the judges talked. She was barely able to get through the song.
13. Kree Harrison “Crying” – Roy Orbison
The studio version is on my walking list, and like “Help me Make it Through the Night,” Kree could put this song out as a single if she wanted to.
12. Hollie Cavanagh “Bleeding Love” – Leona Lewis
Hollie’s voice and visage don’t really match. She sounds like she should look like Skylar or one of the Laurens, but she looks like somebody tried to bleach an Oompa Loompa and left her in the bucket too long.
11. Amber Holcomb “My Funny Valentine” – Mitzi Green
I don’t even like this song unless it’s Amber singing it. Amber kind of went Hollywood a little later on, spending as much time shopping and getting her hair done as she spent working on her songs, but for her first public appearance she pulled out every stop, and laid down a beautiful, pitch-perfect performance with every note, every rhythm, every trill, and every complicated run worked out perfectly.
Amber still has the talent to be a star, but she’s going to have to work her songs out like she worked out “My Funny Valentine” to get there.
10. Haley Reinhart “What Is and What Should Never Be” – Led Zepellin
Technically Haley has only one song in the top 10 at number 10 – but she also has the top collaboration song, one of the two top exit songs, and one of the two top drama songs. If I were to combine the lists, Haley’s four videos would all land in the top 30.
Haley’s father is the older guy in the picture up there, the guy playing guitar at the bottom of the stairs in the video. I never really thought about it, but what must have gone through his head when Haley stumbled and fell? She went down right in front of him, and he moved instinctively towards her. As she got back up he leaned in and asked her “you ok?”
Of course, as we now know, Haley popped right back up and kept singing. Her father, who was playing guitar in front of millions of people for the first time ever, who had just watched his kid fall on her butt in right in front of him, who crossed the stage in about three steps to be close enough to lean in and ask Haley if she was ok, that man …
Didn’t miss a note.
9. Skylar Laine “Stay With Me” – Small Faces
When this song came on, the first time I heard it, I wasn’t watching the television screen because I was busy typing up a recap of the previous performance. As the song went on I listened, without looking over – and Skylar’s intonation was dammed near perfect. Rod Steward should be that in tune.
This performance catapulted Skyler up near the top of everyone’s power rankings, and she rode the wave all the way to the top five.
8. James Durbin “Will you Love me tomorrow?” – Carole King
A cappella intros are tricky as hell, but when they work they really, really work. This was JD’s best performance of the season by so far that his second best didn’t even make the top 40, and it might not have made the top 100. Like Danny and Lee, JD was good almost every week, but never really memorable. Except this time.
7. Pia Toscano “All in Love is fair” – Stevie Wonder
Did Gwen Stefani know she was going to go work for The Voice when she dressed Pia in a gunnysack during top 9 week in season 10? Pia was already a revelation by the time she came out for this performance, but she elevated herself well above the newly raised bar, finding a level of brilliance that only a couple of Idol divas ever reached.
6. Adam Lambert “Tracks of my Tears” – Smokey Robinson
We are all used to Adam now, but every week was a new experience back in season eight. For this song he put on a silk suit, slicked his hair back, and sat down. He looked like a young Kurt Russell, and he sounded like …. well, nobody sounds like Adam. He sounded like Adam Lambert. That’s pretty good.
5. Casey James “Jealous Guy” – John Lennon
This one would have made the list for the guitar work alone, and the vocal was just as special. Simon famously asked Casey what he was thinking about when he sang the song. Casey said, “being a jealous guy,” leaving off the obvious “you moron” part. I bet he was thinking it, though.
4. Crystal Bowersox “Up to the Mountain” – Patty Griffin
If Crystal had won, this video would be number one. She may win grammys, oscars, and emmys some day, but never top this performance.
3. Candice Glover “I (who have nothing)” – Shirley Bassey
I used to actively hate this song. Candice sang it so well that it made me change my mind about the song, and decide I must like it. Then I listened to it again, sung by singers other than Candice. I hated it again. This song should be given to Candice, and nobody else should ever be allowed to sing it again.
2. Siobhan Magnus “Paint it Black” – Rolling Stones
Watching Siobhan, who was already one of my favorites, destroy this song from stem to stern – from the lip drills and the Mohawk and the giant family (doing lip drills) to the scary clown music and the creepy stairs to the banshee scream that wasn’t a scream to the knowing, smug look into the camera at the end of the song to Simon actually giving her positive feedback to the granny glasses and the combat boots (is she really taller than Ryan?) – was pure, unadulterated joy.
Strangely, this isn’t my most-watched Siobhan video any more. I might have overdosed on it. No matter how much you like chocolate, there is a limit to how much chocolate you can eat.
I gave Adam the top spot, because (1) Adam was the best singer in the seasons I covered (I didn’t cover Carrie or Kelly), (2) his performance was equally unexpected (prior to “Satisfaction” Adam had done mostly songs a Cher impersonator would do), and (3) Adam electrified the audience over and over, while Siobhan only really blew them up with the scream.
Siobhan wound up singing “Paint it Black” on the summer tour. Katie Stephens said, in a later interview, that the other Idols could tell what kind of mood Siobhan was in based on how long she held the banshee scream at the end of the song.
One of them was timed at close to 30 seconds. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, you try it.
1. Adam Lambert “Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones
When Adam said he was singing this song I cringed – how was he going to “Cher” this song up? – and when he came out with the lounge lizard outfit on and started doing the John Davidson duck walk as he worked his way through the first verse, I reached for the fast-forward button, but –
I never got there. Adam won the competition with the second verse. Not the night. Not the song. Not even the season (Kris actually won the season). The competition. During the second verse of “Satisfaction,” on season eight of American Idol, on the first night of the semifinals, Adam Lambert just –
If you think I missed a good video, or you have a personal favorite, let me know by leaving a comment where I can find it. I’ll add your suggestions (or demands) to the list down here below with your name, so future Idoloonies can stumble across the site and watch ’em.
***the Jessica Rabbit lookalike is Breanna Steer***
Am I going to miss Idol? Idol isn’t going away, at least not any time soon. There will still be Idols out on tour when I’m long gone, so Idol is going to have to decide if it will miss me first, I guess. I’ll happily follow along with my favorites – Siobhan, Adam, Allie, Amber, Haley, Casey and other Casey, Cookie, Hollie, both Laurens, JD, etc. – and if time and opportunity allows, I’ll update these pages in a few years. I might even write a book.
Thanks for reading. Terry out.