Top Idol Performances: #100-96

Alright, so with lots of edits and additions thanks to everyone’s suggestions, I have finally come up with a list of the top 100 performances on American Idol that I’m (mostly) satisfied with. As much as it hurt to do, I attempted to curb the number of times any one contestant appears on the list. There are still a few contestants (and seasons) that might have more than their fair share of spots, but it’s my list and I’m absurdly biased, so that was going to be inevitable. Aside from that effort, the list has ended up being, mostly, a list of my personal favorites, with a little bit of weight put on the general perception of a performance. (I also strayed away from performances that I love solely for their ridiculous entertainment value, such as Tim Urban’s famous slide and Juanita Barber’s “What About The Chill’un.”) There are a few performances on the list which are only included because I felt I needed to include them due to the impact they made at the time. (There are also a few performances on the list which are only included because I realized I had zero performances from some of the more well-regarded contestants. Woops.)

“Performances” are defined as voting round performances. Basically, anything from the semi-finals or finals that wasn’t on a results show. (So nothing from the auditions or Hollywood week, no guest performances, no sing-outs, no group performances, etc.) Generally speaking, I gave performances in the finals more weight than those in the semi-finals just because the big stage is so much harder to fill than the old semis stage. And I decided not to include anything from Season 10; they’re all too fresh and nothing really stands out anyway.

Anyway, feel free to bitch, moan and gawk at my seemingly random taste and copious number of what-the-heck placings.

First up, a quick list of the last ten performances to not make the list, in no particular order.
Angela Peel (Season 1) – “Run To You”
Bo Bice (Season 4) – “Vehicle”
Jesse Langseth (Season 8) – “Bette Davis Eyes”
Kris Allen (Season 8) – “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”
Allison Iraheta (Season 8) – “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
Kelly Clarkson (Season 1) – “Without You”
Melinda Doolittle (Season 6) – “Trouble Is A Woman”
George Huff (Season 3) – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”
Ramiele Malubay (Season 7) – “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”
Clay Aiken (Season 2) – “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”

Finally, we get to the last performance to sneak in:
100. Lisa Leuschner – “Sweet Thing” (Rufus ft. Chaka Khan) (Season 3, Semifinals Group 2)

In actuality, Lisa Leuschner’s sole live Idol performance was nothing particularly spectacular. She sang it well and has a great natural tone. She seemed confident on stage and navigated the song effortlessly. That said, singing well and performing capably is enough for a “that was nice,” but not quite enough to be remembered as a standout performance seven years later. So why is Lisa Leuschner included on this list? Well, it’s all about the context. Season Three’s Group 2 night was, easily, the worst live performance show ever and I don’t say this lightly in the face of Season Nine’s Top 12 Boys night. We were treated to performances of the Roman brothers and America deemed the two best performers to be Matt Rogers (who?) and Camile Velasco (if you’ve been reading any of my recaps, you know who Camile Velasco is). Lisa Leuschner’s strong, spot-on vocals were the one guiding light in a night drowned out in a haze of botched notes and quavering voices. She came out of the night miles ahead of the pack, so when she inexplicably failed to advance the next night, it was only natural that she was chosen for a second shot as a Wild Card. Then, in one of the most inane twists Idol has ever pulled, Lisa Leuschner was one of the four contestants who showed up for Wild Card performance night but were not given a chance to sing. So, for getting royally screwed over and doing her best job to save a night that proved to be a Titanic-level disaster, Lisa Leuschner’s “Sweet Thing” gets the final spot on the list.

99. Amy Adams – “Sin Wagon” (Dixie Chicks) (Season 3, Top 11 Country Night)

Ever since Nikki McKibbin’s third place finish over Tamyra Gray in the show’s inaugural season outraged the voting public, pink haired girls have been paying the price via early ousters. Amy Adams was the second of those casualties (behind Vanessa Olivarez). Her show-closing performance of “Sin Wagon” managed to be ridiculously fun without straying too far off into the simply ridiculous. Everything from Ryan Seacrest’s high-pitched fan girl introduction of “Pink not the natural color, oh my gosh!” to Simon’s baffled speechlessness kept things light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining. I tend to fall more on Simon’s side of things – I simply do not enjoy country music – but I’d be remiss if I denied a performance as amusing as this one simply because of the genre. Amy Adams saddled up with some quirky facial expressions and twangy phrasing on her way to one of the most blithesome ninety seconds in Idol history.

98. Nadia Turner – “Power Of Love” (Ashley Cleveland) (Season 4, Top 24 Girls)

Nadia Turner trotted out “Power Of Love” just minutes after her fellow contestant, Melinda Lira, had finished getting panned for singing a Celine Dion power ballad, “The Power Of Love.” What made Turner stand out while Lira was given the heave-ho the next day? Well unlike Melinda’s rote, misguided song choice, Nadia’s “Power Of Love” was a virtually unknown song by gospel artist Ashley Cleveland. Bold song selections (and even bolder hairdos) ended up being her staple, as well as her undoing, in her too-short time on the show. Her first live performance was an uptempo, high-energy song which showed off her strong smoky voice and her ability to own a stage. She rocked out an unknown song and sold its hook to millions of viewers. I guess I’ll just defer to Simon (while he was still in his useful pre-Season Six state) on this one: Nadia was “the antidote to karaoke hell.”

97. Carly Smithson – “Come Together” (The Beatles) (Season 7, Top 12 Lennon-McCartney Songbook Night)

The controversy du jour during the early portions of Season Seven was this absurd uproar over the foreign semi-pros: Irish Carly Hennessy Smithson and Australian Michael Johns. The fact that they’d been signed to random record labels was, allegedly, devastating to the show’s directive of finding undiscovered talent. This is even more absurd than it sounds because Carly Hennessy’s Ultimate High reached about as many people as Joanna Pacitti’s Broadway Annie run. (In case that was too obscure an Idol reference, Pacitti was fired before the show hit Broadway.) If you ask me, it didn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Carly struggled to live up to the promise of a daring, seasoned, big voiced rocker chick. However, after spending the semi-finals in a constant state of screechy oversinging but before crumbling in on herself in an effort to please the judges, she came out on to the live stage and threw together a cool rendition of “Come Together.” Amping the song up with a little extra energy and a few melodic tweaks, she managed to keep the melodically repetitive and lyrically nonsensical ditty interesting without having to drag out a didgeridoo player. She cracked a few smiles, which ended up being extremely uncharacteristic to her Idol legacy, and actually enjoyed herself on stage.

96. Melinda Doolittle – “Nutbush City Limits” (Ike & Tina Turner) (Season 6, Top 3 Producer’s Choice)

Melinda Doolittle is remembered mostly for her big, pitch-perfect vocals. While her vocals were consistently great, what really separated her from the other big voiced girls in Season Six, of which there were plenty, was her incredible ability to perform every song that was handed to her. Unlike fellow competitor LaKisha Jones (or the recently departed Pia Toscano), Melinda was perfectly comfortable with upbeat, rockier numbers. In seconds, she went from ultra-humble interviewee to commanding performer. While pulling the walk-with-the-mic-stand move, she tactfully growled and belted her way to a complete package (™ Kara DioGuardi). The other thing I loved about Melinda during her time on the show which was on full display in “Nutbush,” was her insistence on playing to the audience and not the cameras. Yes, it’s a TV show, but typically when contestants attempt to draw energy from a camera lens, they fail miserably. It’s a travesty that Melinda got axed after a performance this sweet (and, perhaps, one that was even sweeter).

And that ends this installment of husky-voiced-chicks-who-got-booted-too-soon. (I swear, any themes that may arise in these groupings are entirely unintentional.) And I’ve just realized exactly how crazy I am for attempting to undertake this.



1 Response to “Top Idol Performances: #100-96”

  1. 1 Stomedy April 13, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Seriously? It’s either you’re crazy or you have way too much spare time for doing this. But I am impressed.

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