Ten years ago this week, a little television show called "American Idol" (perhaps you've heard of it?) premiered on Fox. Since then, the "AI" empire has spawned dozens of chart-making pop stars, hundreds of watercooler moments, millions in record sales, and has taken up probably thousands of hours of my life. So thanks, Fox!
To celebrate the show's big double-digit birthday, I'm dusting off and updating my list of my top 10 "Idol" performances ever. It was INCREDIBLY difficult to pick only 10 performances out of 11 seasons, so I have many honorable mentions as well. But finally, I came up with a top 10 list I can live with.
Which performances are on your list? 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 (way too many, actually) have covered this Leonard Cohen classic, but Jason's from Season 7 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) Joshua Ledet - "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World"
Yes, I KNOW that when I recently compiled my list of top 10 performances of "Idol" Season 11, I ranked Colton Dixon's "Piano Man" at number one, above "Man's World." But I think when people look back on "AI" history, this is the performance they will remember. And it's the performance that fans will cite when still incredulously coming to terms with the sad fact that Joshua didn't make this year's finale.
7) 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 superstar 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.
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 a 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"
At the start of 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 by naysayers. Sure, many of the show's singers delivered fabulous vocals, but usually 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 (and bizarre catsuited duet with Joshua Ledet on this season's finale), but watch her landmark Season 3 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, Season 6's 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:
Allison Iraheta - "Cry Baby"
Brooke White - "Love Is A Battlefield"
Casey Abrams - "I Put A Spell On You"
Chikezie - "She's A Woman"
Colton Dixon - "Piano Man"
Crystal Bowersox - "I'm Alright"
Elise Testone - "Whole Lotta Love"
Haley Reinhart - "House Of The Rising Sun"
James Durbin - "You Got Another Thing Comin'"
Jennifer Hudson - "Circle Of Life"
Josiah Leming - "Grace Kelly"
Lilly Scott - "Fixing A Hole"
Norman Gentle - "And I Am Telling You"
Paul McDonald - "Maggie Mae"
Phillip Phillips - "Volcano"
Siobhan Magnus - "Paint It Black"
...and EVERYTHING Adam Lambert ever did