17 is magic when it comes to American Idol.
For 16 seasons, this music competition show has provided a platform for aspiring singers from all over America – and the world – to build fanbases and launch their careers in entertainment. From the original idol Kelly Clarkson and chart-topping favorites like Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, Tori Kelly, David Cook and David Archuleta to game-changers that charm you with their uniqueness like Haley Reinhart, Michael J. Woodard and Catie Turner, plenty of American Idol alumni have been able to find steady work in the world of showbiz and media.
After its 15-season run on FOX that was full of highs and some lows, ABC has taken over and successfully revamped the show into one that is refreshing and new. Fresh after Maddie Poppe’s win last year, Season 17 has officially started last Sunday featuring brand new talents in pursuit of their dreams. To celebrate 17 seasons of American Idol, here’s a list of 17 unforgettable performances by my top favorite idols.
“Bennie and the Jets” ~ Haley Reinhart
One of Idol‘s very best, Haley has gone a long way from her “Oh Darling” audition to preparing for her 4th studio album Lo-Fi Soul (after Listen Up, Better and What’s That Sound) and going platinum with her divine rendition of the Elvis Presley hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. She also performs with the Postmodern Jukebox and voices Bill in the Netflix series F is for Family. “Bennie and the Jets” was the Idol performance that gained her a massive fanbase. And it still remains a CLASSIC.
“Golden Slumbers” ~ Michael J. Woodard
Michael has a super versatile voice, charisma and a bigger-than-life personality that makes him another Idol great, one deserving of millions of records. He’s able to turn every song into gold and put his own original spin on it. The ability to go from a high-energy range to a soft, pure, gentle tone makes all his performances wonderful treats. One of his captivating moments was his uplifting rendition of the Beatles classic “Golden Slumbers”. You just can’t help but adore him and his sincerity.
“Music of the Night” ~ David Cook
You can always count on Mr. Cook to transform a tune that you’ve heard tons of times into something new and radio-worthy. One of Idol‘s most daring contestants (and my favorite winner ever), David’s amazing rock vocal and songwriting prowess always add depth to his music, from the originals on his album (with This Loud Morning being my top favorite) to the covers he did on Idol and occasionally perform at his own concerts. His version of the “Phantom of the Opera” classic “Music of the Night” was one of the performances that solidified him as a contender and is still worth a listen.
“You’re So Vain” ~ Brooke White
Brooke changed my life and was the very first person to inspire me to pursue music and songwriting. Everything I do that is music-related, I owe it all to her. What a wonderful singer-songwriter and a lovely soul. Season 7 was the first time I watched Idol from beginning to end, and Brooke has always added sunshine to my days with her Carole King and Carly Simon vibe, unique tone and California cool. Up until now, I would still play her “You’re So Vain” on repeat.
“Shop Around” ~ David Archuleta
He may have been seventeen during his time on Idol, but David Archie has always had it in the bag to deliver groundbreaking, heartwarming performances week after week. A total pro from Day 1! Whether singing behind the piano or with a plain mic, his voice is pure magic. “Shop Around” was a super fun David Archie performance and showcased his youthful side. Always great to look back on!
“Crazy on You” ~ Carly Smithson
With a haunting Evanescence-like tone that’s out-of-this-world and an Irish charm that casts a spell on viewers, Carly can easily switch from a high-energy performance to one that is quiet but commanding. Her rock band’s record We Are the Fallen and bubblegum pop solo debut album from back in her younger years are still captivating with their contrasting genres. One of my top fave Carly performances from Idol was Heart’s energetic hit “Crazy on You”. Crazy good!!!
“One Rock and Roll Too Many” ~ Syesha Mercado
Syesha is electric! One of the more underrated Idol performers. With the ability to nail both pop and Broadway, Syesha’s star has always meant to shine bright, and Idol was the right platform for her to showcase her talent and sassy, fun persona.
“Rebel Yell” ~ Dalton Rapattoni
Dalton made the final FOX season of Idol worth watching with his creativity in arranging songs. A former member of IM5 and indie band Fly Away Hero, he has always been humble and grounded, focusing purely on his talent and storytelling abilities with every performance. Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” is a Dalton cover I keep coming back to. It was very well-arranged and showcased his unique rock vocal.
“Paint It Black” ~ Siobhan Magnus
What was going to be a dull 9th season after Kris Allen, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta rocked Season 8 turned out to be the opposite thanks to Siobhan, whose magnetic tone and haunting presence glued the audience to the show. With a killer voice, she made “Paint It Black” one of the best performances ever in Idol history.
“Don’t You Forget About Me” ~ Michael Johns
Gone too soon, the late Michael Johns was able to pair his raspy yet soulful voice and rocker persona with his natural Aussie charm to create music that mattered. His record Heart on My Sleeve is forever a gem that reminds us that beautiful music still exists. From “Across the Universe” and “Dream On” to “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”, all his Idol performances are worth playing on repeat. “Don’t You Forget About Me” is still one of his best in my book.
“Once Upon a Dream” ~ Catie Turner
Quirky and bubbly, Catie has proven she was more than just another Idol contestant but a singer-songwriter who can write powerful feminist anthems like 21st Century Machine that became her audition song. A fan favorite like Michael J. Woodard in ABC’s first Idol season, she excels in impactful acoustic-based songs. One of her most magical performances was her grand rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” during Disney Night.
“A House is Not a Home” ~ Tamyra Gray
Tamyra’s stunning velvety voice, remarkable beauty and likable, outgoing personality made her a shining star in the first ever Idol show on FOX, proving that she was just as wonderful as Kelly and deserved way better as far as the music industry goes. Her record The Dreamer was full of empowering hits. “A House is Not a Home” will forever be a timeless Tamyra tune from her Idol run.
“I’ll Stand By You” ~ Pia Toscano
With a soaring grand voice, Pia can make every song sparkle like diamonds. Her unjustly elimination was so bittersweet it was the first that made me tear up for nights. The message behind her every song is pure and raw. “This Time” deserves better, and the ethereal “You’ll Be King” is bound to be a Pia classic. Out of all her Idol performances, “I’ll Stand By You” still makes a big impact on me.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” ~ Kris Allen
Just like Adam Lambert who reigned supreme in the electric Season 8, Kris has always brought the magic to the Idol stage with his immense creativity and masterful approach towards every song to make them sound distinctive and new. It all won him the crown in a group full of big-voiced contestants. A superb singer-songwriter, Kris came out of nowhere and made America fall in love with him starting with his gorgeous cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” all the way to the finale.
“Vienna” ~ Elise Testone
As a fan of raspy-sounding females, Elise quickly became an instant favorite of mine during Season 11. She’s a master at tackling bluesy, soulful tunes, including Adele’s “One and Only”. “Vienna” remains one of my best-loved Elise covers. Very underrated and deserves more accolades.
“Because the Night” ~ Nick Fradiani
Idol isn’t just about big voices. It can be about having a cool sound and creative way of songwriting. Nick has one of those throwback voices that can easily cross over from pop-rock to the more retro genre. His arrangement of radio hits like “Teenage Dream” displayed his strength as a singer-songwriter who can easily twist songs. “Because the Night” was one of his top Idol highlights.
“I’m Not the Only One” ~ Rayvon Owen
Rayvon will forever be the king of Idol Saves, having survived Bottom 2 week after week in the lives thanks to a social media fan save option that Season 14 was known for. On a more positive note, it made his Idol journey more endearing with every fight resulting in beautiful performances, one of them being “I’m Not the Only One”, making him one of the best male pop singers the show has ever cast.