"American Idol" judges and viewers alike love "moments"--those breakout, breath-taking performances that have everyone gabbing around the watercooler the next morning, and are seen in "Idol" highlight reels and remain on fans' DVRs for seasons to come. We've had a couple standout performances this year--Haley Reinhart's "House Of The Rising Sun" and "I Who Have Nothing" come to mind--but have any of them measured up to the greatest performances of the past nine seasons?
Well, no. While a decade of "Idol" has yielded countless cringe-worthy karaoke performances that had Simon Cowell making cat-in-a-blender analogies and Randy Jackson using the word "pitchy" more times than he says "in it to win it," there have been many excellent performances as well, ones that have lent the show much-needed credibility. Below are my top 10 all-time picks; what are yours? Feel free to nominate your favorites on the message board below.
10) Casey James - "Jealous Guy"
True "wow moments" were sadly few and far between on Season 9, what was arguably the most disappointing season in "Idol" history. But on Lennon & McCartney Night, eventual third-place contestant Casey's emotional rendition of John Lennon's dark and desperate "Jealous Guy" was unexpectedly magical. His voice, possibly due to an authentic lump in his throat, took on a gruff, Eddie Vedder-esque quality during his raw performance, and he seemed genuinely choked up. And so were viewers, by the song's end.
9) Jason Castro - "Hallelujah"
Many Idols have covered this Leonard Cohen classic, including last season's Lee DeWyze AND Tim Urban (it was also a single for "X Factor U.K." winner Alexandra Burke). But Jason's remains the definitive "Idol" version; the song really should have been retired from the show after he did it. His performance was in fact so popular that iTunes downloads of the Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and Rufus Wainwright versions skyrocketed the day after this aired.
8) Bo Bice - "Whipping Post"
It's hard to believe there was ever a time when viewers actually thought runner-up Bo had a chance of winning over future surperstar Carrie Underwood, but watch the performance below and it'll all make sense. Season 4 was the first season when the age limit on "Idol" was raised (from 25 to 29), and Bo made it clear that the big boys had come to play. His hair-whipping Allman Brothers cover (Willow Smith ain't got nothin' on Bo) was all grown-up, with the first hint of actual macho rock 'n' roll danger ever seen on this squeaky-clean show. And Bo even managed to steal the thunder of his fellow Season 4 rocker Constantine Maroulis with this gritty, Southern-rock tour de force.
7) Adam Lambert & Allison Iraheta - "Slow Ride"
"Idol" duets can be a hokey affair, but Season 8's resident rockers were so awesome on this Foghat stadium anthem, many fans would have been happy if "Addison" had just tied for first place and recorded a full album of duets together. Sadly, this did not come to be--incredibly, Allison was voted off the day after this performance--but "Idol" fans at least got to see Lambert and Iraheta recreate this rock 'n' roll magic onstage every night on the Idols Live Tour. Personally, I'm still waiting for that duets album.
6) Kris Allen - "Heartless"
This was perhaps the most game-changing performance in "Idol" history. Going into Season 8's top three week, most people would have bet it was Danny Gokey who'd take his place in the following week's finale alongside Adam Lambert. But after Kris's acoustic-folk rendition of Kanye West's "Heartless," all bets were off. Suddenly, Kris was the man to beat. He made it to the finale over Danny after this, in what was a perfect example of an underdog "Idol" contestant peaking at just the right time.
5) Kelly Clarkson - "Natural Woman"
Going into Season 1, Kelly was far from the frontrunner: It was all about Tamyra Gray and Justin Guarini, and Kelly's first audition didn't even air! But then Kelly came out in her suit and tie and delivered this sultry, star-making performance. She's been "Idol's" number-one woman ever since.
4) David Cook - "Hello"
Before Cook came along, "Idol" was considered a glorified karaoke competition. Sure, many of the singers delivered fabulous vocals, but they did nothing new with their songs. And then there was David. He pretty much changed everything, proving there was a real art to cover songs that went way beyond just singing the words as capably as the original artists had. "Idol" has been Cookified ever since.
3) Fantasia - "Summertime"
This was just pure magic. All of America held its breath as Ms. Barrino stunned with this nuanced, sophisticated rendition of this Porgy & Bess classic. Fantasia has been in the news lately more for her troubled personal life, but watch her landmark performance below and get a welcome reminder than she is one of the greatest singers to ever grace the "Idol" stage. Even guest judge Quentin Tarantino was impressed.
2) Blake Lewis - "You Give Love A Bad Name"
Even before David Cook, beatboxing boy wonder Blake was the first contestant to do a cover on "Idol" that really turned a song up on its end and changed it entirely. His Bon Jovi cover is the stuff of legend, and if curmudgeonly Jon Bon Jovi seemed to hate it, that's probably because he was just jealous that his own version was not nearly as cool. Blake's performance was just the shot through the heart, and in the arm, that this show needed.
1) Adam Lambert - "Ring Of Fire"
This was probably the most polarizing performance on "Idol," and definitely the most exciting. Love him or hate him, Adam knew how to get people's attention, sometimes get people downright angry, and make those who were faint of heart and/or feeble of mind squirm in their support hose--all very good things in the world of rock and pop. On this fateful night, Adam took a strong stance, making it clear that he planned to stay true to himself, even if that meant freaking out Randy Travis with his goth manicure, or refusing to "go country" on Opry Night (though I think black-clad country maverick Johnny Cash would have appreciated this remake). Many Glambert performances--"Mad World," "Tracks Of My Tears," "Whole Lotta Love"--could've made this list, but "Ring Of Fire" is the one that really put him on the glittery map.
VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Brooke White - "Love Is A Battlefield"
Chikezie - "She's A Woman"
Jennifer Hudson - "Circle Of Life"
Josiah Leming - "Grace Kelly"
Lilly Scott - "Fixing A Hole"
Norman Gentle - "And I Am Telling You"
Siobhan Magnus - "Paint It Black"
...and everything Adam Lambert ever did