Here are 10 of the most memorable ‘Idol’ performances of all time

Share via

The curtain is about to come down on the singing competition that birthed a genre of reality television audiences worldwide have come to love. After 15 seasons packed with karaoke-style covers of tracks old and new, "American Idol" will end its run Thursday. But as the lights dim and the camera fades to black one last time, left in the annals of "Idol" history is insurmountable talent that even original judge Simon Cowell couldn't ignore.

In honor of the show's end, here are 10 of the most memorable performances to grace the "Idol" stage -- and a couple of honorable mentions. Believe it or not, many of them aren't from the show's winners or more popular alumni.

Honorable mentions

Melinda Doolittle - "I'm a Woman"

Formerly a backup singer for gospel greats Kirk Franklin, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Bebe and Cece Winans, Melinda Doolittle took center stage in Season 6 to claim a lead career for herself. Throughout her run on the show, she received the most consistent positive praise from the judges and never landed in the bottom two or three until her elimination, landing in third place. Her rendition of Peggy Lee's 1962 hit "I'm a Woman," which she did twice, showcased her unmatched vocal ability.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Saying farewell to the competition show that changed television

Kris Allen - "Heartless"

Tackling a Kanye West mega-hit on "American Idol" isn't a common choice contestants make, let alone a decision to be made when one is battling for a spot in the final two. But that's precisely what Season 8's Kris Allen did when he performed an acoustic version of "Heartless" while in the top three. The performance, lauded by all three judges (Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson), catapulted Allen to the "Idol" million-dollar contract.

10. Burnell Taylor - "Ready for Love"

After Jordin Sparks became the sixth "Idol" winner, female contestants struggled to take home the crown in the following five seasons. Season 12, however, was a comeback where the women performed circles around the men. The one guy who found himself holding his own most consistently was Hurricane Katrina survivor Burnell Taylor. Though he placed seventh in the competition, his spin on India.Arie's "Ready for Love" received a standing ovation from the judges.

9. Haley Reinhart - "House of the Rising Sun"

Season 10's third place finisher Haley Reinhart wasn't necessarily a fan favorite, having landed in the bottom three of vote getters on four occasions. Week after week, however, she delivered powerful vocals met with praise from judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Jackson. While in the top five, Reinhart sang "The House of the Rising Sun," popularized by British rock group the Animals. Lopez remarked: "That song has never been sung like that before."

8. Joey Cook - "Fancy"

Every few seasons, a quirky contestant steals the hearts of America with their uniqueness, nerve and talent. For Season 14, that title went to Joey Cook with her cotton candy blue (or bubble gum pink or highlighter purple, depending on the week) locks. Her style, vocally, musically and fashion-wise, hearkened back to the days of old, but when paired with modern chart-toppers, the result was astounding. Her performance of "Fancy" by rapper Iggy Azalea featuring singer Charli XCX was weirdly but positively captivating.

7. Jessica Sanchez - "I Will Always Love You"

Every vocal powerhouse on singing competition shows tries something from the legendary discography of Whitney Houston. Most stumble through the task, but a few muster the skill to make it out on the other side. One of the best was Season 11's Jessica Sanchez. Her top 13 performance of "I Will Always Love You" stunned the judges and would contribute to the panel saving her from elimination four weeks later. She went on to become the season's runner-up.

6. Jennifer Hudson - "Circle of Life"

Perhaps the most successful non-winner of the show is Jennifer Hudson (she has an Oscar). But if any attention was paid to the belter during Season 3, her eventual recognition worldwide was expected. Having tackled the songs of a number of musical greats, one of her most memorable performances was of Elton John's "Circle of Life." Following the performance, it was revealed that she had received the most votes that week. Unfortunately, she was surprisingly eliminated two weeks later.

5. Blake Lewis - "You Give Love a Bad Name"

"American Idol" is a singing competition, with "singing" being the operative word. As such, when Blake Lewis of Season 6 fame decided to add a significant portion of beatboxing into his arrangement of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name," the move was seen as a major risk. Jon Bon Jovi, the band's lead singer who served as show mentor for the week, called it "rolling the dice." But given the crowd's reaction, and his eventual second place finish, the gamble paid off.

4. Adam Lambert - "Ring of Fire"

When Simon Cowell calls a performance "indulgent rubbish," some would say the singer is doomed. For Season 8's Adam Lambert, however, it was exactly what he expected to be said when he infused a sitar into Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" for country week. Though a number of other performances from the glam rocker could've made this list -- Tears for Fears' "Mad World" or Michael Jackson's "Black or White" -- it was this song and arrangement that cemented Lambert as as someone who would remain true to himself. And though polarizing, the vocal performance is stellar.

3. Fantasia Barrino - "Summertime"

True musical icons are known by one name only: Aretha, Beyoncé and the winner of "Idol's" third season, Fantasia. While on the show, she went down in reality singing competition history with her unapologetic, Southern drawl, signature "Bobo" two-step and a soul-stirring rendition of the "Porgy and Bess" standard "Summertime" -- sitting on the floor of the stage, shoes off. Judge Paula Abdul called it an "Oscar-winning performance" while performance Simon Cowell called it "magical."

2. Joshua Ledet - "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"

To be called the male version of Fantasia, or "Mantasia," such a singer must somehow match the vocal uniqueness of the Season 3 winner while mixing in his own panache. Season 11's Joshua Ledet embraced the moniker during his run on the show, but when he sang James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" the comparison couldn't be more evident. Of the performance, judge Steven Tyler said: "Neither man nor woman has ever sang that good, with that much compassion on this show ever."

1. Candice Glover - "Lovesong"

When musical legend Mariah Carey douses an artist with glitter, no greater seal of approval is needed. And the only "Idol" contestant to be bestowed with such an honor is Season 12's winner Candice Glover. While competing in the top six, the Beaufort, S.C., native covered the Cure's "Lovesong," which had been re-popularized by Adele. Glover's rendition earned a standing ovation from the judges panel, the special recognition from Carey and Jackson's declaration that it was one of the best in his 12 years on the show.

Get your life! Follow me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.