American Idol: 15 Worst Performances Ever

Like a mound of dough at a pizza place, Lazaro Arbos has absorbed his share of punches during his Season 12 run on American Idol.

But the Florida resident’s unlikely march into the Top 6 — despite several abominable performances and a growing list of botched lyrics — is hardly unprecedented inside the House That Kelly Clarkson Built.

To honor Idol‘s longstanding tradition of serving the atonal with the transcendent, the ridiculous with the sublime, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 All-Time Worst Performances by American Idol Finalists. From one chica’s blasphemous countrification of a Beatles track to a rendition of a former judge’s song that made it sound like the contestant’s hands (and feet) had just been plunged into a garbage disposal, here’s our infamous countdown.

Click through the photos below for the whole list, and follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV for all my Idol news, recaps, videos and interviews.

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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131 Comments
  1. Jacob P. says:

    Haha Michael. I was waiting for one of these. I think you got it right (mostly). I thought the worst was Paige Miles :/

    • Danny says:

      The worst “performances” are by Nikki Minage. Even Lazro, he sings once or twice a week for a minute each week. Effin nikki babbles after pretty much every song for sometimes 2 minutes plus.
      I remember thinking back when Kara was a judge that wow, it can’t get any worse than this.
      Then along comes JBlo & I think ok, maybe Kara wasn’t so bad afterall, it surely can’t get any worse than this.
      Wouldn’t ya know it but along comes some hag like NM. No wonder AI is losing viewers. No matter how bad a contestant is, a bad judge is far worse for the show.
      I hated JBlow for the way she zero’d in on Haley and to a lesser extent Elise. I hate NM for the way she yaps her ugly face after every contestant.
      As for the article, I thought Paige was the worst & I’m in the minority, but I thought Under My Thumb was pretty good. When ya consider how bad Tim Urban was in the beginning, he was showing some improvement.

  2. karen says:

    What’s Love Got to Do With It— Zoanette.

    • noa says:

      finalists only, but yeah. that was pure comedy.

      • AmyL says:

        Had to come back to this because there was a girl somewhere in 3rd-5th season who had a huge mouth when she opened up to sing. She was awesomely hilarious to watch sing. She had some attitude too, and long dark hair. Thanks for the laughs Michael!

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      And if we aren’t going with finalists or Top Ten, that Haeley chick with the guitar that sang “The Climb”. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that was the all-time worst.

      • Mafs95 says:

        I liked Haley Vaughn but she was too young and not ready for prime time. But my least favourite American Idol performance EVER is from Season 1 Rodesia Eaves “Daydream Believer”. That was awful!!!

      • Nat says:

        Ugh, that was terrible! Still remember that off-key whine.

  3. MM says:

    Gokey’s dream on scream is still fresh in my memory.
    Was so hysterical

  4. Jason says:

    Paige Miles was probably the worst. Esecially painful since she beat out Lily Scott and Katelynn Epperly the week before ( I will never forgive simon for saying Paige had more potential then katelynn and firmly believe he only said it because she was the lone girl of color left). That being said Kristy Lee Cook’s Eight Days A week was awesome!!!

    • Kyle says:

      Glad that other people still remember how screwed Lilly and Katelyn were. :( There were some great girls that year but instead we got Katie Stevens and Paige Miles.

  5. Brandon says:

    I can think of MANY more to add to this, but how in the world did you not include John Stevens’ “Crocodile Rock”?

  6. hi says:

    Antonella Barba – Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing

  7. Dieu says:

    Yo, MIchael, perfect list!

    Next time what about a list with “one hit wonders”, like andrew garcia and the straight up-cover?

  8. glorielle says:

    I still read the title of the song Danny Gokey ruined as “Scream On”

  9. lunaburning says:

    Got to throw in my vote for John Stevens Crocodile Rock.

    • Carrie says:

      Oh god. I’m cringing and laughing in remembrance.

    • Ben says:

      Yeah, his Crocodile Rock was his nadir by far, much worse than his Latin night attempt. I really like John Stevens, one of my favourite contestants ever, but even I have to admit that Crocodile Rock deserves to be in there.

  10. syb says:

    You definitely hit some of my favorite all time worsts. Missing is Bobby Bennett’s Copacabana though. Glad you called out Lee’s. Yikes that was awful.

    • Lucky says:

      Oh Michael thank you so much for including off key Lee! I loved it in your interview with him how you called him out for some of his really bad performances and he absolutely refused to own them. Worst winner ever.

    • deedee says:

      OMG, LOL!! How on Earth did you manage to pull Bobby Bennet out of the Idol abyss?? Slaying me … dying here!!

      • syb says:

        Bobby’s Copa (wasn’t it his grandma’s favorite song or something?) is memorable to me as perhaps the campiest fun I’ve had from an Idol contestant in the voting rounds. Sanjaya had nothing on Bobby for pure entertainment value.

  11. Annie says:

    That performance from Paige Miles was the worst one in American Idol history.

  12. QueenJ says:

    Oh Slezak, you and your grudges. So predictable.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I figured Gokey’s “Scream On” would be up there!

  14. Carrie says:

    Remember season 9? Each week was just like slogging through performance after performance from the likes of Andrew Garcia, Tim Urban, Katie Stevens, Jacob Lusk. Lord help us.

  15. Matt says:

    I’m sorry…. but Lee DeWyze’s Beautiful Day was absolutely not one of the worst performances. You said it yourself Slezak… you can’t judge a coronation songs when tears are flowing. Plus even if his live performance wasn’t the best… his studio version is pretty solid!

    • mondosalvo says:

      Oh, so YOU’RE Lee DeWyze’s one remaining fan.

    • Michael Slezak says:

      Matt, I’m referencing his rendition on Top 2 Performance Night, not the Season Finale Results Show. No tears, no confetti, but alas no grasp on pitch all the same.

      • QueenJ says:

        What Not to Sing has that performance of Beautiful Day scored as a 45. Not as universally panned as you’d like to recall it as.

        • John says:

          Check the standard deviation..

          Also you fail to note that Crystal’s average leaves her at 74.9 with a standard deviation of 15.9 whereas Lee’s average is a 57.9 average with a standard deviation of 22.5.

          Essentially, WNTS acknowledges that had Crystal was a much stronger contestant statistically. Also, Crystal is ranked in the Top 10 best performers ever with other consistent greats such as the magnificent Melinda Doolittle herself.

          • queenjk says:

            My point is leave Crystal (or anyone) out of the discussion of worst performance, it has nothing to do with her. If Michael or anyone wants to have an opinion that’s fine but I’m going to call out a thinly veiled soapbox attempt when I see it.

      • SuziQ says:

        Things may have been different if Season 9 were allowed to use “in-ears” (I think they started allowing them in Season 10) and he was given a gem of a song like “Home.” (But I am a Phillip Phillips fan!) It was sort of the worst possible scenario for Lee. I’ve watched performance after performance online for years…and he does sing on key. His stripped down “Beautiful Day” wasn’t bad. I also think nerves overtook him when they moved to the big theater those last couple nights. He has improved and matured vocally since Season 9.

    • John says:

      I agree that it should’ve been a Lee-Crystal finale, however the truth of the matter is Lee choked plain and simple finale night.

      His Top 2 night performance of Beautiful Day was an absolute disaster, and he messed up on the most important night of the competition. Compare that with Crystal who had one of Idol’s all-time greatest performances that night with Up To The Mountain, and it was clear that Lee’s win was undeserved.

      Sorry Lee fans, but I personally can’t open up my mind – and I have no qualms in admitting that I’m close-minded right now – to consider any scenario where he should’ve won. Nice guy though.

      • queenjk says:

        Lee clearly slayed top 3 night with Hallelujah and Simple Man. Most victories are won that night. All you bitter Bowersox fans where we’re you when her album was just released?

        • John says:

          So you’re saying just because Lee had a strong Top 3 showing, that it automatically erases the abomination that was Beautiful Day – seriously that’s my favorite U2 song and he honestly ruined. Having a strong Top 3 doesn’t mean that you automatically deserve the title, otherwise Haley would’ve won over Scotty and Lauren since she beat both hands down Top 3 night.

          AND, let’s not get into a discussion about consistency, because Crystal was consistently excellent during the start of the finals. Admittedly, she began to plateau like many early frontrunners, HOWEVER she absolutely nailed her finale performances. Lee had a growing trajectory, so I’m willing to say that they were about even going into the finale. I’d even do so far as to say that I wouldn’t have minded if Lee won, until I watched him crash and burn finale night. That sold it for me; Crystal deserved the win. Nuff said.

          Also, last time I checked Farmer’s Daughter outsold Lee’s debut so let’s not get into a discussion of sales either. K, thanks.

        • Jon says:

          He did fine on top 3 night, but I wouldn’t call it “slaying”. Maybe you would if you were one of the sheep led to believe Lee had a “moment” with Hallelujah.

          And Crystal outsold Lee.

    • queenjk says:

      Good for you having the guts to go against the bullied common perception.

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Matt, I kind of agree. I didn’t think it was that bad, either. On the other hand Lee’s “Simple Man” is one of my hubby’s all-time favorite Idol performances. My husband isn’t obsessed with the show like I am but from time to time he’ll ask me what happened to the guy that sang “Simple Man”.

  16. Luann C. says:

    Looking at your list of worst AI performances reminded me why I believe American Idol has captured such a large viewing audience for so many years – it was about watching real people grow from nobody’s to somebody’s right before our eyes. And that included weeding through the few not-so-great contestants that somehow made it farther than they should have. Unfortunately, though, with the birth of new singing competitions, our expectations have changed. These new competitions take out all the nobody’s preferring to skip ahead to showcasing only those who “were” somebody’s or much closer to becoming one. And concerning this AI season, maybe the voters who are keeping Lazaro in the competition are genuinely interested in giving him a chance to grow to a somebody. Myself, not being one of them, as I am more realistic about a contestant’s potential. I believe it’s time to give Lazaro a break by letting him go. He is simply not ready yet for the spotlight.

  17. dani n. says:

    AHAHAHA you guys ALL made me smile today. Thanks for the memories

  18. J. May says:

    Far be it for me to defend Paige Miles/Take a Look at me Now but, to be fair, she was suffering from a very bad cold/flu that week (and the previous week as well where she actually sounded good on Honky Tonk Woman). The judges seem to choose to be obtuse at their convenience.

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Very true. Paige Miles suffered with some unfortunately-timed voice problems. She really was a good vocalist.

    • Nat says:

      I’m always a bit sceptical of the illness excuse – there was one week in S1 when Kelly had laryngitis or something and delivered an absolutely killer vocal; same with Syesha in S7 Hollywood week. I know we should be a bit more understanding when someone is ill, but the best of the best know how to suppress that for two minutes.

  19. noa says:

    TIME OF THE SEASON. i like Phillip, but really. no.

    • schu says:

      OMG that one was god awful. Totally agree. Phil Phillips is, in my opinion, the least deserving winner in AI history. He does have a good sound (most of the time) but I really felt the entire season he literally could not have cared less about actually winning or even being on the stage. Even in any post interview I’ve heard him give (I’m sure begrudgingly) he just doesn’t have any passion or drive to be a musical idol. It’s fine and dandy if you want to just play your guitar and sing chill songs, but why try out for a show that puts you right in the limelight and purpose is to make you a bright and shining star if you clearly don’t want to be one in the first place?

      • chistosa says:

        I disagree. I have seen Phillip in concert twice now. He is quite good. His album is doing well and his coronation single is still selling well. During his season he was in such pain. When he auditioned that was not the case. Some of his poor performances and lackluster delivery can be directly attributed to the health issues. I think he will do quite well.

        • Meg says:

          Phillip Phillips was the Lazaro of his season. He was unpleasant to watch cringing, sweating and writhing around on stage. He had no vocal range so he eliminated the melodies of every song and reduced them to the five notes he could actually hit. He had a horrible attitude and should never have made it past Hollywood.

          • white lancer says:

            Hey, I’m no Phillip fan, but comparing him to Lazaro is a little unfair. He was better than almost half the finalists on his season (I had him at solid 7th) and usually hit most or all of his notes, and he was a lot more creative with his arrangements. I don’t think he should have won, but he’s far ahead of Lazaro.

    • syb says:

      Good call. The part that still rankles is how much praise the judges gave him for that travesty. But kudos for Phillip for acknowledging the next night that even his brother thought it was terrible.

  20. flutiefan says:

    don’t agree with Haley Scarnato on the list, at least not for that performance.

  21. jane says:

    Good List, lots of clunkers. I liked Casey Abrams, but his “Smells like Teen Spirit” should be included. Also, reaching way back, Tamyra lost season 1 with her “I’m so Excited.” Even talented contestants have bad nights. My least favorite is still Megan Joy’s Bob Marley song.

    • Oh man, I remember seeing the screencaps of Casey’s faces during that performance and laughing my head off, hahaha.

    • John says:

      Speaking as a Casey and Caley fan, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a legitimately terrible performance and Casey deserved to be voted off for it.

    • ben says:

      I actually enjoyed Casey’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. I’m not sure that means I’m defending it as a good performance. I enjoyed Heejun singing ‘My Life’ too, but I’m not sure that was a good performance either.

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Yea, Casey’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was BAAAAAAD! and Megan Joy’s “Rockin’ Robin” wasn’t great.

  22. tdoug says:

    What, Bobby Bennett’s Copacabana didn’t make the cut? Amanda Overmeyer’s Carry On Wayward Son?

  23. Ben says:

    Camille, Paige, Sanjaya… can’t disagree with any of them, right up there. Kevin too. Where is Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens? And the other winner who I recall having a really terrible week is Phil Phil last year, although I can’t remember which song it was. Maybe the Phil Collins one? All in all, great list.

    • John says:

      I was a Phillip fan last year, and he was my second favorite after Elise. However, even I can admit that he deserved the bottom 2 at least, for “Time of the Season”. That was honestly a terrible performance, and in the top 10 worst performances for that season.

    • ohreli says:

      Yes, “Time of the Season”–oh wow yeah—

  24. moonbunny28 says:

    An Idol worst list without Nikki McKibbon is no list at all. That girl didn’t deserve to last the top five let alone top 3.

  25. karenb says:

    I liked Tim Urban’s “Under my Thumb!” Seriously! lol

    I do think think that god-awful performance of Danny Gokey’s deserves the first place…award? …..for being the worst performance eva!

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Thank you karenb! I posted my comment before I read this – my husband and I liked “Under My Thumb”. We admired Tim for taking a risk and found his version creative.

    • Jeff says:

      I feel like he just needed to put Tim Urban on the list; in terms of musical chops, he deserves to be on the list. That said, his performances tended to be mediocre, not bad. Having to choose one, he went with “Under My Thumb” as many people hated the interpretation. Many people also liked it (me included).

      • Scott says:

        Was that the Jamaican vibed Under My Thumb? I liked it to. Far worse was when TU did the Queen song. That was comically bad.

      • Mafs95 says:

        Tim Urban’s worst performance was “Apologize” by One Republic. I felt bad for him after that one, specially because his falsettos were so off.

  26. deedee says:

    I gotta add Luke Menard’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. Hideous! :-)

    • Favel says:

      Yeah that’s a good one dee dee. I never see Luke Menard on this list but I remember watching it and laughing my ass off. That was hilariously bad.

  27. Musicfan5 says:

    Thank you…thank you…thank you for putting “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” at #1. Let’s not forget Camille and Matt Rodgers “stole” the far superior Lisa Leuschner’s spot in the Season 3 Semi-Final round 2. I also agree with fellow posters that “Crocodile Rock” should be here instead of “Music of the Heart.”

    Love the list!

    • darcy the slutty twin says:

      Lisa Leuschner should have made Top 12, but to be fair, Matt and Camile were voted in by the public. It was the stupid judges/producers who didn’t even let poor Lisa sing during the wildcard. Anyway, I quite liked Camile’s vibe. I never thought her “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was as bad as Michael thought, but that’s just me, so whatever. I also didn’t think Lee DeWyze was all that bad. I’m proud to have his “Simple Man” and “The Boxer” on my music player.

  28. darcy's evil twin says:

    I am a Stones fan from WAY back and my husband, while more of a country/folk music/country-rock fan is very familiar with the Stones. I just don’t think Tim Urban’s “Under My Thumb” belongs here. I still remember the night he did the performance and we both found it interesting – he was creative, he took a risk, and he “made it his own”. We thought the judges, particularly Simon, were extremely harsh on Tim. There have been FAR worse performances, Mr. Slezak. I take exception with you on this one. I don’t think Tim Urban was anywhere near as bad as everyone makes him out to be. Sorry.

  29. texaslas says:

    No Scott Savol on the list?! Or are we blocking him totally from memory?

  30. Jo says:

    LOL. How could I forget Danny Gokey’s scream that was heard around the world. It was such a bad performance that I had to watch it a few times.

  31. darcy's evil twin says:

    Better make room for Lazaro’s “Close to You”. That key change. Oy Vey!

    • Scott says:

      Totally. That was Train Wreck Terrible. I’d also add Paul MacDonald Long Long Time for the scary freaky ending.

  32. Spycigal says:

    Lazaro’s ‘Close to You’ just made No 1 on this list…

  33. Matt says:

    Hold the f*ck up! Nicki who walked off set because the other judges were telling a girl she sounded best at country just told Angie to not get away from singing at the piano?!?! She is so ridiculous.

  34. Matt says:

    For my money the judges have been over-praising Amber all season. I’ve only really liked her a few times, but all of the judges had her in their top 3. She gets praise every week. I think they are trying to force her on “America.”

    At least Mariah did say tonight it wasn’t Amber’s best vocal. She was actually the most critical of the judges.

  35. wgwg says:

    Ya got to admit that arbos is worse than kristi’s horse. Candice is really good. They underated angie first performance and I don’t know why. It was the first time, for me, that I thot she could sing.

  36. Spycigal says:

    First Jessica Simpson murdered Angels now Lazaro has done it!

  37. Jess says:

    Candice murdered “Lovesong.” Mariah has been asking her to do that jazzy sort of vocal all season. No wonder she threw glitter on her. Loved that moment.

  38. marie says:

    Oh Michael, how unfortunate that you wrote this column mere hours before Lazaro’s brutal assassination of Close to You! Eagerly awaiting tonight’s column…

  39. KeepFrontin says:

    I really just want to add… Paige had Laryngitis… soooo yeah. She has some of the most underrated stuff though. Also her version of Adelle’s song AMAZING!

  40. Kelm says:

    I really don’t understand why Camile’s performance is at the top, it really wasn’t that bad and there have been far worse performances by others.

  41. Tiff says:

    All I have to say is that Lazaro’s performance on “Close To You” today should be up there in the Top 5. He forgot to change key. And he didn’t know it. Someone please kill me.

    • ohreli says:

      Agreed! As I was clicking through the performances, I thought Slezak might have saved “Close to You” for #1. I would not have argued with that.

  42. Ty says:

    @ Slezak, Lazaro should really have multiple performances on this list.

  43. I think tonight’s worse was the worse ever!

  44. derek says:

    I consider Tim Urban’s “Sweet Love” his worse.
    Antonella Barba’s “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” should be somewhere, but I think the list is of only TOP 13 performances. Otherwise, Janay Castine’s “I Wanna Love You Forever” would definitely be here.

  45. lenna says:

    you gonna have to also revise the worst performances (i.e., lazaro’s “moment” last night)

  46. Jermey says:

    Haley wasn’t that bad..

  47. Shane says:

    I think it is unfair of you to not take into account how terribly, terribly pretty Tim Urban is.

  48. Nikki says:

    Under My Thumb actually grew on me – I liked the reggae version of it. Gotta love a kid who never stopped smiling :)

  49. jseph says:

    Mikalah Gordon – Love will lead you back… tsk tsk tsk

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