American Idol: 30 Best Performances of All Time

American Idol wraps its twelfth season with a two-part finale (tonight and Thursday, 8/7c on Fox), and in the midst of the Candice-Vs.-Kree debate, a larger question looms: Is there room for either of these ladies (or any of their recently vanquished rivals) in a countdown of the show’s all-time greatest performances?

I tried to answer that question by taking a long hard look at the finest Season 12 moments alongside the greatest hits from years past. I’ve added, subtracted, rejiggered and reconfigured, till I finally had a list that didn’t make me actively loathe myself. (Hey, no one ever said it was easy being an Idoloonie.)

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For the record, I limited my countdown to competitive performances on live shows — meaning semifinals, finals, and wild cards count; exit performances, auditions, and Hollywood Week do not — and still ended up with two or three dozen amazing moments left on the outside looking in. (Oh how “Superstar,” “A House Is Not a Home,” and “The Scientist” forced me to consider making this a Top 35 list!) I also decided on allowing only one performance per contestant in the Top 25 — because spreading the wealth is fun. I weighed everything from vocal excellence to emotional connectedness to creativity and risk (with bonus points for competition-altering moves).

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So click through my picks below, then tell me where I got it right, where I royally messed up, who I unforgivably snubbed and for which contestants I chose the wrong performance. And for all my Idol news, recaps, commentary and videos, 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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337 Comments
  1. Yvette says:

    THE ONLY CONTESTANT that turned American Idol upside down. Blew Everyone’s mind like never seen before,..with Unprecedented Exhilarating performances, Incomparable Vocal Skills leaving everyone Jaw-Dropped week after week is Adam Lambert… and Adam is the Only Reason all the other competition shows even exist, ….to find the MAGIC OF ADAM LAMBERT AGAIN…AND THEY CAN’T…and have not even come close to finding another Singer/Artist/Performer as Unique,Transcendent and Extraordinary as ADAM…ANY one of his songs should have the # 1 spot!

    • rocknrolla says:

      The only season I didn’t watch. I find Adam Lambert too distracting.

      • Lisa says:

        Curious, What do you find distracting about Adam? He often only gets attention when he is doing something over the top. He is very well spoken and generally positive. The negative comments make the press.

      • Yvette says:

        rocknrolla…Why are you even commenting on Adam Lambert here…you said you DID NOT watch him on idol or any where else. IF you had, TRUST me, you would have been Spellbound and Enraptured like every one else…..Male or Female…and that is why he is loved Worldwide by millions. Adam’s Supernatural Voice and the way he digs deep into his soul and spirit when he sings, he is able to carry you away on a journey with the song and Lyrics…making this super natural connection with you and him. There really is no other singer and performer that can do this right now. When he toured with QUEEN last Summer, by the bands request, Brian May said he had a very hard time playing his guitar, because he was so enraptured by Adams voice and performance, he couldn’t take his eyes off of him. Brian and Roger Taylor both said Adam is MAGIC on stage and he has the best VOICE they have ever heard and he is Phenomenal!
        I couldn’t agree more, having seen Adam LIVE 4 times from the front rows. Adam IS MAGIC! There’s not many bands I havn’t seen since the 70’s and Adam Lambert IS the most Phenomenal Singer and Performer out of anyone…HANDS DOWN! NO ONE can even come close to compete…

  2. Cressida says:

    I won’t list 30, but there are some glaring omissions here! In no particular order:

    Jennifer Hudson, Circle of Life and Weekend in New England
    Melinda Doolittle, If Ever He Needs Me
    David Cook, Hello
    Tamyra Gray, A House is Not a Home
    Candice Glover, You’ve Changed
    Clay Aiken, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me and Bridge over Troubled Waters
    Kimberley Locke/Frenchie Davis Duet, Band of Gold
    Kimberley Locke, New York State of Mind
    Carrie Underwood, Independence Day
    Alison Ireheta, Someone to Watch Over Me

    • Lisa says:

      Kimberley Locke/Frenchie Davis Duet, Band of Gold is one of the first Idol performances to stick with me on Idol. My favorite version of Band of Gold EVER!

  3. Godam says:

    Who cares who Michael picked, I care who I vote for or pick in polls. Who’s Michael Slezam anyway, who asked him to rank Idols ????

  4. Kerrie says:

    Where was Casey Abrams’ I Put a Spell on You?!!!!

  5. Alisa says:

    Lovesong by FAR the best performance I ever saw on AI. If contestants were allowed more than one song, I’d give her at least 5 in the top 30 (Lovesong, I Who Have Nothing, You’ve Changed, Don’t Make Me Over and Somewhere), and VOCALLY the top 2 ever.

    She’s an absolutely stunning singer, way beyond the pop-type voices (good though most are) that have so often won. In 50 years I can imagine people playing the best of Can Glo, but can’t imagine that for any of the other AI winners I’ve heard (though Ad Lamb is great, and J Hud’s had some great moments in her career subsequently)

  6. Jmac says:

    In what universe does Blake Lewis beat Joshua Ledet?

  7. Zack says:

    Nice list! While I dont agree with some of the song selections for the singers and a few of the singers themselves, the list is pretty solid. Castro though? Ugh…not a fan. I love that you gave Kendra the credit she deserved!!

    As a side note: you should totally do a list of Idol Tragedies, or contestants who should have done well on the show, but were cut early. (Kendra, Lauren Turner, Robbie Rosen, etc.)

  8. Dale McCain says:

    Katherine McPhee’s “Over the Rainbow” had to be the best performance of all time on Idol. I would definitely have Siobhan Magnus on my list for “Think” and “Paint It Black”. Clay Aiken should also be on there for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Others that should be on include Holly Cavanaugh’s “Keep Bleeding”,

  9. Hannah says:

    this is ALLLLLL WRONG! first of all haley rienhart’s bennie and the jets shouldn’t even be on the list and if so number 30 and how is Pia number 29 she should ATLEAST be in the top 10 some of those others were so wrong i cant even name them

  10. Hannah says:

    I agree with most of them except where they are placed(Jessica , Pia ,Josh) but I DON’T agree with Haley it was NOT by any means a stand out performance

  11. mand says:

    A pretty good list, but I think it is illegal somewhere to not have Katharine McPhee’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the top three. To see she didn’t even make you list is absolutely insane.

  12. katunios says:

    The fact the Katharine Mcphee’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is not on this list proves this is false.

  13. Lucy Hale says:

    I don’t totally disagree. But I think Jessica Sanchez And I am telling you I’m not going should be number 1.

  14. Lucy Hale says:

    I don’t totally disagree. But I think Jessica Sanchez And I am telling you I’m not going should be number 1. (In my opinion.)

  15. Angie is the Real #1 says:

    Where’s You Set Me Free- Angie Miller? Halo- Angie Miller? Like My Mother Does- Lauren Alaina? Skylar Laine- Wind Beneath My Wings? Angie and Adam- Titanium? To put Candice ahead of Angie’s You Set Me Free is a joke.

  16. Sddds says:

    This is a good list but I think Jessica Sanhez deserved a much higher spot on this list.

  17. alex says:

    I still think that Fantasia’s Summertime is the best of all in this list.. But personally, i prefer her performance of I Believe which brought tears to everyone.. Candice’s LoveSong was definitely one of the best but not really no.1..again persoanlly, I actually prefer her version of Don’t Make Me Over more.. If I were to rank my top10:
    1.I Believe-Fantasia
    2.Stuff Like That There-Kelly Clarkson
    3. In A Dream-Bo Bice
    4.Mad World-Adam Lambert
    5.My Funny Valentine-Melinda Doolittle
    6. Don’t Make Me Over-Candice Glover
    7.This is a Man’s World-Joshua Ledet
    8.A Song for You-Elliott Yamin
    9.And I’m Telling You-Jessica Sanchez
    10.Somewhere Over the Rainbow-Katharine McPhee

    Carrie Underwood’s Alone, Lakisha Jones’ This Ain’t a Love Song, Daughtry’s Hemmorhage, Latoya London’s Don’t Rain on my Parade, Tamyra Gray’s A House is not a Home, Pia Toscano’s I’ll Stand by You and Elise Testone’s Whole Lotta Love were also worth mentioning..I just don’t know where to rank them..

  18. Dan Roe says:

    I commend you for having the courage to RIGHTFULLY place Candice at the Number 1 spot. I would have moved Joshua Ledet’s Man’s World and Melinda Doolittle’s My Funny Valentine into the top five, however.

  19. Adam says:

    Andrew Garcia’s Straight Up was a complete snub… unless this is only counting live performances.

  20. Ok… I must be the biggest Idoloonie in Brazil…Michael, Michael, Michael… shame on you for leaving Tamyra Gray’s A House Is Not a Home out of this… really… seriously??? Cmon!

    Anyway… I dont want to be nostalgic… but I really think the overall quality of the “singing” part of AI has dropped a lot in the past years… I dont mind the “whole package” speech, but the wrapping should not overpower the pipes!!!!

  21. Carmen says:

    Tandoori melisma would be a more evocative description.

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