Friday, February 22, 2008

Ten Best American Idol Semifinal Performances of All Time

As we finish up the first week of this year's American Idol 7's Semifinal round, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at what I see as the Top 10 Semifinal performances through the years.

A couple of notes on this list:
-This year's performances are not included
-Starting in Season 4, the format changed from voting contestants into the Top 12 to eliminating the lowest polling contestants from the competition, so Season 4 and 5 contestants had 3 Semifinal performance, versus just 1 for contestants from Seasons 1-3.

And, the list...

1. Latoya London, "All By Myself" (Season 3)
I can still remember the moment when I literally fell off my bed as Latoya hit the impossibly high note in Eric Carmen's ballad. "Anymooooooooooooooooooooore" -- Jaw. On. Floor. Aside from Kelly Clarkson's first performance in the Top 10, this may be the most surprising performance I have ever seen on the show, made all the more so because we had not seen Latoya onscreen for even one minute leading up to the semifinals. Her personality ultimately ended up disappointing me later in the competition, but her vocal work in her first performance is truly unforgettable.

2. Melinda Doolittle, "My Funny Valentine" (Season 6)
Talk about a class act! Melinda showed what a pro she is, effortlessy giving this classic her own bluesy, soulful spin. Every note in this rendition was letter-perfect, and she couldn't have come off more humble or likable. If she ever gets around to making a CD (come on, where's the Melinda record deal announcement??), this is what the music should sound like.

3. Kelly Clarkson, "Respect" (Season 1)
I know, I know, how could I not put Ms. Kelly at number 1, especially when this was the very first the audience was seeing of the sassy Texan? Her vocal work and irrepressible personality were astoundingly clear as she wailed the Aretha classic, all the while missing which camera she was supposed to be looking into. (If you can get your hands on this performance, it really is a must watch, as Kelly adorably, and consistently, is looking anywhere but where the camera is). Coming into this week, Justin was the one to watch. At the end of the week, it was Kelly people were talking about.

4. Chris Daughtry, "Hemmorage" (Season 5)
If Bo Bice started the rock trend on American Idol, Chris Daughtry hammered it home. After a solid cover of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" in the first week of the semifinals, Daughtry stepped it up about 8 notches on this Fuel song, transporting himself and the viewers to the middle of a slammin' rock concert. Bice may have been credible within the world of AI, but Daughtry took it to another level. It's no wonder he's had such a successful post-show transition into the rock music world.

5. Clay Aiken, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" (Season 2)
His initial audition was shocking for the discrepancy between the way he looked and sounded, and his semifinal performance of the Journey classic "Open Arms" was great, but it was his stunning Wildcard rendition of the Elton John tune that really put Clay Aiken on the map. Standing tall in the center of the stage, looking confident but not cocky, he saaaaaaaaang his way into the hearts of millions. This was the moment, I believe, that Clay Nation really began to take shape.

6. Fantasia, "Something to Talk About" (Season 3)
That voice. Those lips. That sassy personality. Ms. 'Tasia announced her presence to the world as the final performer of week 1's semifinals in Season 3, and never looked back. Flawless.

7. LaKisha Jones, "And I Am Telling You" (Season 6)
Taking on the Dreamgirls classic just a month after Jennifer Hudson had been awarded the Oscar for singing the same song, LaKisha fearlessly tore into this tune, making it clear she was a force to be reckoned with. The power of this performance, however, may have been her ultimate downfall -- she may simply have peaked too soon. Still, one of the most passionate performances the semifinal round has ever seen.

8. Kimberley Locke, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (Season 2)
Sure, she sang this song in her initial audition, and by the time she reprised the performance in the second week of semifinals (which also featured Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken) there was already some "Rainbow" fatigue, but her controlled and beautiful rendition of the Judy Garland chestnut made clear Season 2 wasn't just going to be a boy's race to the finish.

9. Bo Bice, "Whipping Post" (Season 4)
Until Bo Bice picked up that mike stand and went to town on the Allman Brothers Band tune, the closest thing AI had to a rocker was Justin Guarini (and that ain't too close). With this performance Bice, who had received very little screen time coming into the semifinals in favor of fellow "rocker" Constantine Maroulis, established himself as a showman, a vocal talent, and the "credible rocker" of Season 4.

10. Katharine McPhee, "Since I Fell For You" (Season 5)
Although she was dressed rather plainly in jeans and a top for her first Semifinal appearance, the effortless way Katharine handled the runs on this Barbra Streisand tune made it clear she was gonna be a contender.

Honorable Mentions:

Blake Lewis, "Somewhere Only We Know" (Season 6)
Chris Richardson, "Geek in the Pink" (Season 6)
Melinda Doolittle. "Woman" (Season 6)
EJ Day, "I'll Be" (Season 1)
Jennifer Hudson, "Imagine" (Season 3)
Tamyra Gray, "And I Am Telling You" (Season 1)
Ruben Studdard, "Superstar" (Season 2)
Ace Young, "Father Figure" (Season 5)

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? Let me know.


Anonymous said...

What happened to Constantine's Bohemian Rhapsody. For me, that was one of the best.

Anonymous said...

come on the man tour the house down with this FF

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but I really think Melinda's My Funny Valentine should have been #1. In my opinion, Latoya's is very overrated. Every year, it seems as if that semi-final performance is always #1. Melinda's My Funny Valentine is truly a masterclass performance and is probably the best performance ever on Idol. Sorry, Latoya.

Anonymous said...

Hey! What about Elliott Yamin's If You Really Love Me and/or Moody's Mood for Love?

cookie said...

Maybe I'm deaf, but when Fantasia trys to hit those high notes and it turns into screaming, I leave the room. She always made up in drama what she lacked in singing. Kimberly Locke. Tamyra Gray and Lakisha Jones, those are the real deal. I shouldn't leave Trenyce out. They all should have come before Fantasia. THEY CAN SING!!!

Anonymous said...

It isn't accurate that everyone wasn't talking about Kelly after 'Respect'. EW actually ranked Kelly at eight, ahead of only (I think) AJ and Jim, and panned 'Respect'. Justin and Tamyra were ranked first and second, respectively, with both their auditions praised. The buzz was still focused on them. But, mostly on Justin whose Yahoo Buzz was triple digits, far higher than anyone else. Kelly was somewhere in the middle, and never overtook Justin's Yahoo Buzz #s. The real buzz began for Kelly (in the media and on message boards) after 'Stuff Like That There' on the fourth live show.

I remember such trivia.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm deaf but when Fantasia trys to hit those high notes and she starts that scream, I leave the room. She makes up in drama what she lacks in singing skills. Kimberly Locke, Tamyra Gray and Lakisha Jones are the real deal. These women can sing and should have been rated way before Fantasia.

Anonymous said...

Melinda's My Funny Valentine is absolutely the best vocal I have heard in years - anywhere. To this day, I go watch the video at least twice a week. I play it on my ipod all the time. She is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Come on. She hits a high note--one!! and you put her at number one! Get real. She (Latoya London) was waaaay over rated. Clarkson hit those notes without even breathing. We havent heard much of her since--gee i wonder why.
Melinda Doolittle at the 2 spot-Geez--i need my pepto. Another overrated--overhyped singer. Where is she now. Where is the hype.
Clarkson should be the obvious pick for number one. There hasnt been a singer who has come ven close to her talent. Even the judges have said she was and is unbeatable. Season 3 was a train wreck. The "three divas" were just hype to keep afloat a train wreck of a season.You put Taymra Gray in season three and she along with Diana are in the finals with Gray winning.
Bo Bice should be way higher also.
Katherine McPhee-also it turns out way overhyped and overrated.
This is a terrible list full of overrated singers.
The true stars of American Idol have been Clarkson, Underwood, and Daughtry.
Of the three, Underwood is the least talented of the three. Very successfull however.
And you Underwood fans--dont whine. No one would even dream the thought she is a devia--aka great singer. She is a very good singer-at best.There is a profound difference between a very good singer (Underwood) and a great singer (Clarkson). Daughtry is very good. Back to this pathetic list. To quote a Simon Cowell phrase. "Wash your ears out!"
I am still waiting for a kid as talented as Clarkson--no nes even come close in any of the next 5 seasons. There is some promise this time around--lets see.


Anonymous said...

Ace Young is addicting....

Anonymous said...

I have to say my two favorite singers in the history of AI has been Latoya and Melinda. They are great vocalist singing great songs. In a top ten list someone has to be the top. I would have had to flip a coin.

Anonymous said...

Taylor Hicks amazing versions of "Levon" and "Takin' It To The Streets" should be near the top of this list.

Anonymous said...

Elliott had a few performances worthy of this list, one of them being "A Song for You". His very first performance "If you really love me" was a total blow away performance, 'cos he came out of nowhere and hit us with this amazing, unforgettable voice! I'll never forget it! This is one of the times Simon was right - potentially, or otherwise, the best male vocalist they've ever had.

Anonymous said...

in response to Constatine Bohemian Rhapsody...the writer was strictly talking about performances in the semifinals-not the top 10/12 which is where Constantine sang that song...sorry

Anonymous said...

Come on, mate! When it comes to the Top 10 Semifinal Performances of all AI can't not include ELLIOTT YAMIN's rendition of Moody's Mood for Love. This performance even led Simon to declare Elliott as "possibly the best male vocalist we've had in years". So...please do put that one in the top 5, at least!!!

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. Typo. The opening sentence in my prior post should have read:
"It isn't accurate that everyone was talking about Kelly after 'Respect'."

Vex said...

For me, Elliott Yamin's "Moody's Mood for Love" is one of the best American Idol semifinal performances of all time. That's one of, if not the most difficult song ever attempted on AI which Elliott delivered in spades.

The foundation of his fanbase was built around that performance. That's when most were convinced what Simon meant before during Elliott's first semifinal performance ("If You Really Love Me") when he said that Elliott is potentially the best male vocalist they've ever had.

Anonymous said...

How do you NOT list Elliott Yamin in this Top 10?!?!?! A Song For You, Moodys Mood for Love...CLASSIC! I can't even REMEMBER the performance of Kat McPHee you listed a 10. Go back & try again.

Anonymous said...

What about Anwar Robinson's "What A Wonderful World"!? He brought the house down and shocked the judges with his huge range. Although there are some great male singers this year (ie. David Archuleta),there is not a male singer in the competition with as much range and power as Anwar.

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