American Idol Photo Gallery: The 21 Best Performances of Season 11!

Time flies when you’re having fun, and that adage certainly applies to American Idol‘s fantastic eleventh season — an intense, talent-packed, five-month affair that will end in tears, cheers, and a tidal wave of confetti when either Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips takes home the crown a little later this evening.

Before then, though, why not look back on the season that was? From Joshua’s opening Top 13 salvo to Elise’s middle-eastern jazz runs to Phillip’s final swing for the fences, I’ve compiled — and ranked — the 21 best live solo performances of the season.

RELATED | American Idol Top 2 Performance Night Recap: Home Is Where the Artistry Is

So click through the gallery below, then hit the comments to tell me what performances and performers I overlooked, what blasphemies I’ve uttered, and where I actually got it right.

PHOTOS | American Idol: 25 Best Performances of All Time

And for all my Idol news, interviews, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Chelsea says:

    AGREEE!! (especially w/ JLo haha) I might of put When A Man Loves A Woman higher, but I mostly agree with all rankings

    • Leo says:

      Where’s Jessica’s I Will Always Love You? And dude, too much Skylar and Hollie (I don’t think Hollie’s River Deep Mountain HIgh and Bleeding Love + Skylar’s The Show Must Go on are that spectacular to beat Jessica’s I Will Always Love You)! Lol. But I understand Michael’s love for them. Great list! J’Lo’s “Dance With Me” got me burst into laughter!

      • Iamsmart says:

        Yeah I agree, Skylar and Hollie are pretty bad. Phillip’s “Home” should be about 7 spots higher and his “We’ve Got Tonight about 20. Colton was severely underrated…

    • Judy says:

      Joshua’s…If you don’t know me by now should also be in the top 20.

    • Judy says:

      Joshua’s…If you don’t know me by now should also be in the top 20.
      Comment by Judy – May 23, 2012 10:52 PM PDT  REPLY TO THIS POST

  2. This compilation would make an awesome album. :)

    Josh totally deserves the no.1 spot.

  3. Chelsea says:

    Also I think To Love Somebody should be on there, maybe over I WIsh..that was a GREAT one

    • ben says:

      I wish was pretty fantastic though, I’m glad thats on there. I can’t really complain with these rankings to much. Vienna was my favourite of Elise’s really, and I think We’ve Got Tonight is underrated. But I’m nor crying out for anything to be on there that isn’t (although I personally would have HeeJun’s All in Love is Fair on there, because I found his breathiness a positive, I understand why others do not feel the same way).

      • Heejun has really unique and beautiful voice . Only one person he didn’t mention is HEEJUN.
        A song for you Alll in Love is fair…….was goood enough but he didn’t choose single one.

      • My Alter Ego says:

        “I Wish” was terrific, and I wish it had not landed Joshua in the bottom six (probably a result of starting the show — although a great way to start a show — with so many more contestants to go). I think that it scared him away from doing more uptempo numbers throughout the rest of his Idol run, which was too bad because it would have proven to a number of people who enjoyed criticizing him that he really is a consummate performer!

        • deedee says:

          This is the first time I really noticed him. Thought he was so entertaining and just plain good. Why was he in the bottom??
          P.S. did you see the “singing the phone book” sketch? just now on the finale? Classic Joshua, LOL!

          • My Alter Ego says:

            @deedee: I didn’t — I’ll have to wait until the morning when AI has it posted on its website (she wrote, with stern look and fist hitting opposite open-palmed hand). Joshua is terrific, and, as I’ve stated (fairly recently here), he had me with his “Blue Suede Shoes” performance in his Vegas group number.


            The only explanation that I can give for his first “bottom” appearance was that there were a number of performances that evening, and he started it off. Also, that night was NOT a bottom 3, but rather a bottom 6 (3 girls; 3 guys), because they needed to quickly whittle the number down to the top 10.


            I’m a relative newcomer to following AI (and after tonight’s results, that following may very well have ceased completely), but given what I’ve read from reviews and other’s comments, it seems that AI viewers don’t have very good memories, so starting early, particularly when there are many performances is difficult for the performer.


            That said, although there are few “Joshua” performances that I don’t think are extraordinary, this one was just so full of energy and fun and was musically fabulous! Throughout the season, I’ve been saddened, at times, that this performance was just forgotten, and, I think Joshua got so scared by that “bottom 3” experience (which was actually a “bottom 6” so who knows where he really was in terms of voter placement) that he felt that he had to always (to quote him) “take it to church.” And that’s so unfortunate, because, as many of us recognize, Joshua is a multifaceted entertainer!

          • deedee says:

            MyAlterEgo, right! Now I remember they had a girl and a boy at the bottom and the judges decided which of the two got booted (it’s all so hazy like it was years ago). So, he could have been middle-of-the-pack if the group was taken as a whole.
            I think part of the reason he wasn’t at the top is that he sort of blended into the background at first, whereas others like Phil and Colton and Heejun were the buzz. I barely noticed him, confusing his name with Jeremy Rosado for weeks, lol. Thought Josh was 100% cannon fodder until “I Wish”, which was the first time I went, “hmm, wasn’t expecting to like this, but it was damn good!”. And then he followed my favourite Idol story arc: fodder-to-darkhorse-to-contender.

            Tonight during his duet with Fantasia, he went into the audience and hugged Jimmy Iovine. I have to take that as a good sign. Oh, and speaking of “taking it to Church” all the time, you’re going to love the phone book skit because the idols totally riff on that theme. haha.

          • Chelsea says:

            He was only in the bottom 3 guys after ‘I Wish’ so not actually the bottom 3, but still he shouldn’t have even been in bottom 3 guys. I think going 1st that night might of had something to do with it

    • deedee says:


    • Sha says:

      to be honest, he can’t have gone wrong with any Joshua performance (save for the Billy Joel week, if I remember correctly).

      I Wish was all kinds of fun but When A Man Loves a Woman was when he became my favourite contestant of the past 3 seasons. Runaway Baby proved how modern he could be and is.

      Joshua Flippin Ledet!

    • Chelsea says:

      I think so too.. ‘To Love Somebody’ was epic!

  4. tewence says:

    wouldn’t have put bleeding love up that high!!
    just my opinion. :)

  5. EvaneSam says:

    When I got to the J.Lo part I thought I clicked on something or that my Laptop has a virus :)) It took me a while to read the text below the picture. =))

  6. RealityCheck says:

    I think Home is too high for PP and Volcano should be higher. Am I the only one that thought that while he sang Home well, it just wasn’t his style? He is more blues than folk to me. I think everyone is right that if he wins 19 is gonna screw him over. btw I am rooting for BeBeChez at this point.

  7. Lo says:

    I know it’s a short list but I wish you had added:
    Colton – “Piano Man”
    Hollie – “All the Man that I Need”
    Jessica – “I Will Always Love You”
    Joshua – “To Love Somebody”
    Phillip – “Still Rainin”
    Skylar – “Wind Beneath My Wings”

  8. Rusty says:


    Gotta disagree. You have the eventual winner no higher than #7. And he is so much better than that.

  9. J says:

    I totally agree with the top 3!! I so wished they were our actual top 3 on Idol. :(

  10. Vivi says:

    Rolling down an never ending hill at the J.Lo selection. That was fun to see and totally unexpected. lolol.

    I’m gonna miss you, Michael S., this summer. You should do more lists to keep your viewers satisfied. Top 25 Best Male Performances. Top 25 Best Female Performances. Top 10 Best Vegas/Hollywood Group Numbers. Top 10 Best Semi-Finals Performances. Top 5 Best (But Really, Worst) Outfits Worn By Phillip. The list goes on and on…

  11. Diz says:

    Phillip or Elise wouldn’t even crack my top 500

  12. Malcolm says:

    Michael…..that J-LO thing WAS NOT FUNNY!
    Don’t agree with much but I can understand.

  13. AJ says:

    LMAO, I almost fell outta my chair when JLO popped up at #1! Brilliant Slezak!

  14. RD says:

    Did you forget ‘I knew you were waiting’?

  15. Pat says:

    Holy overrated “Stay With Me”. Come on Slezak.

    • JASon says:

      Yeah Slezak was way too into Skylar. WHat happened to Show Must Go ON being THE PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON. He caved in because everyone said he lost his mind!!

    • Sha says:

      I have to disagree. Skylar totally commanded a room full of 500 people on that first live show. Performance-wise and vocal-wise, she was incredible and did what none of the other girls (though Jessica came close) could do that night – she won over the room with her sense of professionalism and plain fun.

    • sara says:

      Yeah I’ve got to agree…. Stay with me was an awesome way to introduce us to Skylar and her incredible spunk and probably has its place in the Top 10 – Top 20, but second best of the whole season?? No freaking way.

    • FreeHaley says:

      +1 How on earth can that be over a few of Elise’s and Jessica’s and it’s beyond insanity to rank it higher than the two top songs he ranked for Elise and Jessica or even a few from some others.

  16. Robyn says:

    This list is Elise-heavy. Joshua’s performances are no-brainers; obviously he’s incredible. But Volcano was seriously under-rated, as was We’ve Got Tonight. Anytime PP is that vulnerable, it increases his quality and performance a hundred fold.

    • noa says:

      i thought there was not enough Elise, and that it’s really really weird that Vienna is at no. 10. to me that was THE performance of the season. but i’m missing One and Only, No One and I want It All in here. but it’s cool, other sites have WLL in the top spot, so i’ll agree to disagree (with Slezak and with you).

  17. J. May says:

    I would’ve put One and Only over Bold as Love.

  18. At least..H’s..”A song for you” deserve some ranking number over there!!

  19. mike says:

    stay with me wouldnt even crack my top 20. just because it was fun doesn’t mean it’s good… #slezakbias

  20. Adrian says:

    My fave JSanchez performance is Stuttering. Especially the bridge.

    • My Alter Ego says:

      I agree. I can’t help but wonder if the song wasn’t a little too (musically) complex (by that I mean, not predictable, doesn’t have a catchy “hook”) so viewers just dismissed it. I hadn’t heard it before, but I thought Jessica did a fabulous job with it! I’d rate it higher than her “big diva” songs, that she performed so ably.

  21. Karen O says:

    I completely agree with this list. What a crazy awesome season.

  22. tara d says:

    does anyone else think that erika’s ny state of mind should be on that list? it was certainly better than edge of glory (as good as that was). go back and watch it again, she sounded SUBLIME…on billy joel night i thought erika and elise were the clear standouts.

    • deedee says:

      Yes, me me me me meeee!!! It was better than Edge of Glory by far! Travesty that she was voted off on Billy Joel night when she was better than 80% of the others.

    • Sha says:

      When I think of Erika, Edge of Glory is the first thing that comes to mind. She really fought for her spot there. Granted, I preferred her voice on the upbeat stuff

  23. Scout says:

    Such an underwhelming season.

  24. Njloonie says:

    PhiPhi just won. Ugh.

  25. Njloonie says:

    Philip’s finale single sounds like a song in”Ice Age 3″. No joke.

  26. Isa says:

    I loved Colton’s “Piano Man”. I would switch it for any of Hollie’s.

  27. Chicago Jim says:

    Slezak, come on! “We’ve Got the Night” should be in the top 5. You way over-rated Elise and Skylar’s performances and under-rated Colton’s.

    • dilia says:

      yes and i love elise and skylar

      love the way you lie should be higher and piano man should be on here it was better than any of phillips performances vocally

  28. Josh says:

    I have to disagree a bit Michael! Stay with me was fantastic but I believe without a doubt that “The Show Must go On” was Skylar’s best. I think Shameless was wayyyy underrated and should be on the list too :). Here are the rest that need to be added in my opinion:

    Ready for Love – Joshua Ledet
    Runaway Baby – Joshua Ledet
    Shameless – Skylar Laine
    The Prayer – Jessica Sanchez
    Save Me – Hollie Cavanagh
    To Love Somebody – Joshua Ledet

    All-around we saw the most jaw dropping performances than we have seen in any other season. This group was inspiring to say the least.

    • nEyy says:

      Shameless was never underrated. As what we’ve heard from the critiques, it’s nothing special. skylar can do better than that. i mean she’s better than that. never settle for some bunch of trashy country stuffs… pretty decent though. i can still take it for now.

  29. noa says:

    how is Vinnea only at no. 10?? to me THAT was the performance of the season. followed by a very close Bold As Love. i would also put Stuttering instead of other Jessica performances. missing for me (for you): I WANT IT ALL. and i can’t for the life of me understand how you can think Stay With Me is better the WLL. in every aspect WLL was better: amazing vocals, rocking performance. yes, Stay With Me deserves a top 5 spot for sure, but really? better than WLL? (granted, i knew he thought that since it was lower on the 25 best of all time list, but i suspect i’ll be mad at Slezak for not loving Elise as much as he should have for the rest of my idol watching days).

  30. FoFo says:

    How “Piano Man” isn’t on there….something is wrong sir. And “We’ve got tonight” is top 3.

  31. Colton fan says:

    Piano Man by Colton! How did Colton only make the list once?!

  32. Judy says:

    Joshua’s…If you don’t know me by now should also be in the top 20 as well as To Love Somebody. You needed at least a top 30.
    Comment by Judy – May 23, 2012 10:52 PM PDT  REPLY TO THIS POST.

  33. M says:

    Heejun is the only one from the top ten who’s not on there… awkward.
    I would have ranked “Vienna” higher and added “I Will Always Love You,” and probably “Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind,” “Save Me,” and/or “The Prayer.” Definitely agree with number one though.

  34. rhincon says:

    Thank you, Michael, for the fake number one. Really enjoyed the split second of WTF :)

  35. Belle says:

    This is mostly a good list but I don’t have any memory at all of Josh’s I wish or Jess’s Sweet Dreams. However the 2 performances that I despised the most all season was And I’m Telling You & No More Drama. Both songs were indulgent, unpleasant screaming from start to finish.

    I would have Erika’s New York State of Mind at or near the top.

  36. sam says:

    colton’s Piano man should be on there. Philip’s Volcano and joshua’s when a man loves a woman should rank higher and Jessica’s And I’m telling you, should be number 1. Glad to see Erika’s edge of glory was on there

  37. Greg says:

    This sad truth becomes evident–and I feel badly to say it as I like Slezak and like his writing, but he doesn’t have great musical taste! There is NO WAY Joshua (“doesn’t sing so much as throws up”) Ledet deserves to be on the list, anywhere. And Kimberly Locke’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” was MUCH better than Alison (doesn’t sing so much as bellows and hisses) Ireheta. And Haley(her clumsiness) Reinhart, MAYBE #25.

  38. ayhr86 says:

    I would add Hollie Cavanaugh -Reflection. I didnt notice her until this top 25 performance and this performance made me a huge fan.

  39. LA07 says:

    P2’s “Movin’ Out” Billy Joel cover should have been on the list. Completely love what he did with that song and how it showcased his vocal style and ingenuity. When Phillip Phillips is “on his game,” he can really bring a special flavor and energy to a song. Just compare his cover to the original if you need convincing. Sadly, don’t think the same can be said for “Volcano” (neat song, neat performance, but, after listening to the orignal version, had to conclude that P2’s rendition just wasn’t that much “special-er.”)

  40. Vetle says:

    Colton’s “Love The Way You Lie” is waaay too low. 13 is good, but I still think the performance was sooo underrated.

    Also, I’d add Hollie’s “All The Man That I Need”. And no doubt in my mind was Elise’s “Whole Lotta Love” my favorite from the season. I thought it was better than “Man’s World” from Joshua. I think Skylar’s “Stay With Me” is a bit high, but certainly deserving of being there.

    Glad to see Erika on the list. :)

  41. Nina says:

    WHAT??!!? No Stefano Langone!?!

  42. bur says:


  43. sara says:

    Damn right about the #1!!! Putting anything else up there would be downright foolish.

  44. FreeHaley says:

    Skylar’s performance at #2 above Elise #3 and Jessica #4 songs, means someone has a gone way, wayyyyy off the deep end!??!!!!! #3,4 were better in every regard, not to mention the technical challenges those two songs presented were on another level.

    I’d put Elise at #1 with that song and then Jessica #2 instead of 4 with that song and then Joshua well let us call it #2.25 instead of #1 with that song and then…. comes everything else including some more from Elise, Hollie’s bleeding love, another from Josh, gotta fit a Colton in there somewhere, etc.

  45. These are my list of best performances

    1. When A Man Loves A Women Ledet
    2. Whole Lotta Love Testone
    3. Volcano Phillips
    4. A Man’s Man’s World Ledet
    5. And I Am Telling You Sanchez
    6. Ready For Love (???) Ledet
    7. The Climb Cavanagh.
    8. Home Phillips
    9. The Prayer Sanchez
    10. A Song For You Han

    I picked the ones that struck a nerve in me… you probably think why is heejun up there.. but like Hollie’s The Climb they it was incredibly moving. The song fit their vocals perfectly and how much they connected with the song. If it was just who had the best vocals the list would be different.

  46. Static says:

    21. Love the Way You Lie (Colton Dixon)
    20. I Want It All (Elise Testone)
    19. The Edge of Glory (Erika Van Pelt)
    18. We’ve Got Tonight (Phillip Phillips)
    17. Movin’ Out (Phillip Phillips, Billy Joel night)
    16. New York State of Mind (Erika Van Pelt)
    15. Master Blaster (DeAndre Brackensick)
    14. One and Only (Elise Testone)
    13. When a Man Loves a Woman (Joshua Ledet)
    12. To Love Somebody (Joshua Ledet)
    11. Everybody Has a Dream (Jessica Sanchez)
    10. Volcano (Phillip Phillips)
    9. The Show Must Go On (Skylar Laine)
    8. Ready For Love (Joshua Ledet)
    7. Bleeding Love (Hollie Cavanagh)
    6. Piano Man (Colton Dixon)
    5. Whole Lotta Love (Elise Testone)
    4. And I Am Telling You (Jessica Sanchez)
    3. You Are So Beautiful (Jessica Sanchez)
    2. Vienna (Elise Testone)
    1. It’s A Man’s World (Joshua Ledet)

  47. Very biased! (Skylar and Hollie, hello!)

    For Jessica, I would include there IWALY, Stuttering, the Prayer, and Everybody Has a Dream (you can scrap out You are So Beautiful and Sweet Dream). And give me a Break here IWALY and AIATY are both top 3 worthy, especially the AIATY in the finally, the most amazing AI performance in its history.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t include Phillip’s Home, did he sing in that performance?
    Hollie’s Bleeding Love at 8? It pales in comparison with the original! Arrangement is baad!!!
    And Edge of Glory??? Are you kidding me? EVP was having a hard time hitting her notes.

  48. Art says:

    Cruel, so cruel. I see J-Lo and have to check my browser address before I can even read your comment.

  49. Suggestir says:

    Jessica’s STEAL AWAY is underrated; so was STUTTERING and LOVE YOU I DO but they are the songs that I listen from her the most. Her duets with Joshua and Jennifer Holliday plus that Vegas trio are my highlights of the season outside the solos.

  50. R-Dub says:

    I don’t get all the Skylar love, she did nothing for me you could completely remove her as far as I’m concerned. I thought Hollie doing the climb on her exit song was pretty good and deserved a nod. The rest of the list is decent but certainly debatable.