Top Idol Performances: #95-91

Here are a couple quick stats about this top 100 list before we get into the next set of performances:

  • Every season is represented
  • Every winner and every runner-up is represented
  • 54 different contestants appear
  • 3 contestants who failed to make the finals appear

95. Taylor Hicks – “In The Ghetto” (Elvis Presley) (Season 5, Top 4 Elvis Presley)

Taylor Hicks has sort of become a punchline in the Idol world. I mean, Simon even used Hicks-esque as an insult to Matt Giraud during Season Eight’s wildcard round. But Hicks did win the show and that means along the way he must have done at least a few things right. After offering up a typical Soul Patrol-approved performance of “Jailhouse Rock” filled with his signature dance moves and misguided energy, Hicks managed to produce his best moment of the show. Following the advice of mentor Tommy Mottola, he toned down the distracting performance quirks and elected to sell the song with his voice. Simply delivered and exquisitely phrased, the performance secured Taylor his spot in the top 3 (while co-frontrunner Daughtry was shockingly! eliminated!) and, well, we all know what happened after that.

94. Crystal Bowersox – “Me And Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin) (Season 9, Top 11 Billboard #1 Hits)

In the early rounds of Season Nine’s live shows, Crystal seemed to be in an entirely different league from the rest of her competition. She had real stage presence and control of her voice when everyone else seemed to struggle to keep on pitch. Billboard #1 Hits night proved no different; in a night which included Paige Miles’ supremely awful take on “Against All Odds (I Will Miss Every Single Note)” and Tim Urban, Crystal’s passionate vocals came through as a much needed breath of fresh air. While, admittedly, her voice went off the rails during the song’s breakdown, she still edged out all ten of her competitors in vocal competency. She brought some life and joy to an otherwise dreary Idol stage. For two minutes, Crystal Bowersox transformed American Idol to fit her element.

93. Clay Aiken – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel) (Season 2, Top 2 Contestant’s Choice)

Clay and Ruben were the most obvious final two in the history of the show, even more so than the battle of the Davids five years later. At times, the season felt like it was just serving as filler until the grand finale, when Clay and Ruben would get to go head-to-head in a sing-off for the history books. So when the finale did come and, yes, it was Clay and Ruben left standing, it turned out to be somewhat of a let down. With only one song left, neither had given a performance worth talking about at the water cooler the next day. Luckily, Clay Aiken brought the whole church out. I mean that literally. Supported by a full gospel choir, he let his outstanding voice carry the Simon & Garfunkel classic and showed us what kind of moment might be possible if, just once, the Idol coronation song wasn’t a terrible mess. An inspirational ballad sung with emotion and a few hilariously pointed faces? It was the perfect end to Clay’s Idol tenure.

92. Anoop Desai – “Always On My Mind” (Willie Nelson) (Season 8, Top 11 Grand Ole Opry)

A fan favorite after his surprisingly smooth take on Boyz II Men’s “Thank You” in his audition, Anoop struggled all season long to live up to his potential as a contemporary R&B crooner. After a misstep during Michael Jackson week, he needed to prove that he could sing and that the producer’s extension to a top thirteen wasn’t all for naught. He rebounded with this soft, heartfelt offering. Taking off all the put-on attitude that dragged down “Beat It” and “Caught Up,” Anoop made his mellifluous vocals the crux of the performance and slowly built his way to his own Idol moment.

91. David Hernandez – “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (The Temptations) (Season 7, Top 20 Guys 1970s)

Before Season Seven boiled down to the tale of the two Davids, there was a third David poised to carve out his own space in the competition. In a semi-finals filled with strong performances, David threw down a memorable “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” He brought out all the drama of the song with effective staging and clear vocals. His performance sold the story of the song, even successfully nailing an interlude that could have veered dangerously close to spoken word. (Also, completely off topic but Simon gave the exact same critique to David’s “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” performance as he did to Anoop’s “Always On My Mind” – “I like that you took my criticism and worked with it. AKA I’m a gigantic egomaniac and enjoy validating myself on a weekly basis.” Oh, that Simon…)

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