Top Idol Performances: #20-16

Top 20, yo! And it’s only taken a little over a year to get there. Gosh, I certainly am timely with these things aren’t I? And of course, because S11 has actually been fantastic, there are quite a few new performances that would definitely make the list. But I have no time to think about those, because I need to go write about performances from eight years ago (including one in this set that will make everyone go “wtf?”). Without further ado…

20. Melinda Doolittle – “I’m A Woman” (Reprise) (Peggy Lee) (Season 6, Top 3 Contestant’s Choice)

Early frontrunner Melinda Doolittle easily possessed Season 6’s most seasoned voice and commanding stage presence and put both to work during this rehash of her semifinals performance. While she did drop an early lyric, she still managed to best her previous rendition with increased poise (not to mention significantly improved styling). But the real icing on the cake was seeing the former backup singer call attention to her own backup singers, giving them credit while highlighting herself as a clear lead vocalist.

19. Kris Allen – “Heartless” (Kanye West) (Season 8, Top 3 Contestant’s Choice)

From as early as the top 13, Season 8’s finale was pretty clear: Adam Lambert and Danny Gokey would be duking it out for the rights to the Idol crown. This was a narrative that seemed pretty air tight even after the first round of performances ended on top 3 night. Of course, then Kris Allen gave a driving acoustic-pop take on Kanye West’s massively produced “Heartless” without losing any of the confident swagger which changed the winner’s arc from a victory march to a Cinderella story. While far from the most musically complex rearrangement the Idol stage has seen, its clear impact puts it on any shortlist of most memorable Idol moments.

18. Blake Lewis – “You Give Love A Bad Name” (Bon Jovi) (Season 6, Top 6 Bon Jovi Night)

As a beatboxer who was better known for his musical innovation than his vocal ability, it’s no surprise that Blake Lewis came up with one of the first truly divisive Idol performances ever. He completely reworked Bon Jovi’s classic “You Give Love A Bad Name” into a contemporary club song. The unique vocal percussion breakdown in the middle song is still the only of its kind on the Idol stage. Blake took a tremendous risk that was musically smart and ended up opening the door for a whole slew of total reworkings in the future.

17. Stephanie Edwards – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (Prince) (Season 6, Top 24 Girls Night)

I was going to make excuses for having a totally obscure performance from a totally forgotten contestant from one of the most poorly received seasons this high on my list. Then I rewatched it and I don’t feel like I have to make any excuses. Stephanie Edwards had the entirely unenviable task of kicking off the live performances for the girls coming off of zero screen time. She desperately needed to make an impression and delivered while drawing heavily from Alicia Keys’ cover of Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” She combined the most modern R&B vocal with an unmatched attitude. She even made literal choreography work, dropping to her knees and getting one of the few spontaneous mid-performance standing ovations from the audience. Honestly, it’s a shame this isn’t considered an Idol classic.

16. Jennifer Hudson – “Circle Of Life” (Elton John) (Season 3, Top 9 Elton John Night)

Jennifer Hudson is now one of Idol’s few bona fide superstars, though she was hardly viewed as such during her run on the show. Prone to oversinging, Jennifer wisely tackled “Circle Of Life,” a song that physically cannot be oversung. She used those award winning vocals to bring out all the Disney-soaked emotion and spectacle of the song and never let up. From this performance, it’s not hard to figure out why she’s been included in nearly every award’s show musical tribute over the past few years.
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