Top Idol Performances: #25-21

Now we’re getting down to the top 2% of performances. 2%! That’s like nothing. It’s the best of the best, y’all. It sucks that I have to cut some of these right now, but I do. The theme of this is awesomesauce performances that you should rewatch as soon as humanly possible because they will enrich your life and make you smarter. Or something. I don’t know. Writing a vague introduction to superficially tie together five entirely unrelated performances is hard.

25. Brooke White – “Love Is A Battlefield” (Pat Benatar) (Season 7, Top 16 Girls 1980s Night)

A performance on Idol doesn’t get much simpler than seated on the small semi-finals stage accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. Indeed, instead of attempting to go full-on rocker (a la Carrie Underwood’s “kitten attempting to be a tiger” performance) Brooke played to her strengths and stripped the song bare. The intimate arrangement highlighted the unique texture of her voice and utilized the breaks in her voice perfectly. And bonus points to Brooke for not physically assaulting Randy Jackson after his critique that she didn’t bring anything new to the song.

24. Michael Johns – “It’s All Wrong But It’s Alright” (Dolly Parton) (Season 7, Top 9 Dolly Parton Night)

Michael Johns was an early frontrunner but ended up being a somewhat middling presence in the show until he got an early eighth place exit. At least along the way he gave one truly memorable performance – somewhat unexpectedly on Dolly Parton night. Prior to this, sex appeal on American Idol was defined by Constantine Maroulis’ come-hither eyes and Justin Guarini’s Sideshow Bob hair. So when Michael Johns managed to deliver some staggeringly convincing crooning while wearing a purple ascot, I’m guessing a heavy majority of the Idol viewing audience passed out on their couches. So kudos to Michael Johns, for sounding great on a great arrangement… and yeah, also for pulling off sexy.

23. Paris Bennett – “These Foolish Things” (Billie Holiday) (Season 5, Top 7 Great American Songbook Night)

Right from her smooth audition with “Take Five” it was apparent that Paris Bennett had some vocal nuance that far surpassed any of the previous teenage contestants. So it came as no surprise when she sailed through Billie Holliday’s “These Foolish Things” during Great American Songbook (aka Big Band aka Rat Pack aka Standards…) week. Her performance and voice were sophisticated and suave, nailing the essence of the song and the theme. The entire performance is just two straight minutes of pure ear candy: pitch perfect and with phrasing to die for.

22. Adam Lambert & Allison Iraheta – “Slow Ride” (Foghat) (Season 8, Top 4 Rock Night)

I almost think it’s unfair to include this duet on the list at all because it felt so far away from a performance on a reality TV show. It was just two great performers playing off each other’s energy on stage. And now we’ve seen many more cases of duets and trios on performance night and most of them have stuck squarely in cheesy variety show-mode. (Don’t get me wrong, that’s a [i]great[/i] mode, just not one that lands a place on this list.) Anyway, Adam and Allison are two of the best performers to hit the Idol stage, so it makes perfect sense that combining them with an instantly recognizable rock tune and the pimp spot created pure entertainment bliss.

21. Latoya London – “All By Myself” (Celine Dion) (Season 3, Semifinals Group 3)

There are a few contestants who overcame an early screentime deficit with a strong semi-finals performance, but none did so quite as commandingly as Latoya London who went from total obscurity to absolute frontrunner after tackling the Idol faux pas “All By Myself.” Not even an extremely truncated arrangement or dinky semifinals stage could make Latoya’s soaring vocals any less powerful or impressive. Latoya really could teach a masterclass in the art of the glory note.
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