Earlier this week, Correspondent Susan (whose secret alter-ego is Editor Nick's sister-in-law) sent us a link to Billboard Magazine's list of the Top 100 Live American Idol Performances of All Time. (Warning, the page takes for-ev-er to load, particularly on a mobile device.)
With Idol nearing the end of its spectacular 15-year run, we suppose there will be more such articles published in short order. Listmakers will have no shortage of material to choose from. There are 2,116 "official" performances cataloged here at WhatNotToSing.com, where "official" is defined loosely as "A critiqued competition-night performance in a Semifinal or Final round of American Idol, minus a handful of annoying corner-cases that the WNTS Actuarial Dept. is summarily pretending never happened." The latter includes this year's Celebrity Duets – we still owe you ordinals for those, we know, we know – plus a few other time-killing distractions over the years.
Choosing just one hundred performances out of over two thousand candidates is a challenging task indeed. One could always use the WNTS Leaderboard as a starting point. However, we doubt many Idol fans would put more than 60 of its Top 100 on their personal Best-Of lists. Our approval ratings, in addition to gauging immediate reaction rather than staying power, are consensus-based. We all break with the popular consensus from time to time, sometimes to the point of seeing what the populace chose and crying out, "What on earth are you people thinking?!" (We are tempted to insert a snarky comment here about the likely US Presidential matchup this November...whoops, we guess we just did.)
Perhaps the WNTS staff will someday sit down and create our own Hot 100 list. In the meantime, it's easier and more entertaining to pick apart others'. Having gone through Billboard's list, our official public response is: "No comment." Okay, really, it's got a few head scratchers in it, but it could've been worse. It does seem to have a fairly heavy dose of out-of-left-field choices, while omitting quite a few of Idol's most memorable and best-received performances.
Anyway, here's a breakdown of Billboard's favorites compared to the Idolsphere's. Numbers in parenthesis indicate the performance's WhatNotToSing.com approval rating and standard deviation, using our usual bold/italics notation, plus its rank in the WNTS Top 250 in purple. Note that Billboard limited itself to the first fourteen seasons, so nothing from AI15 will appear. We'll divide the list into groups of ten for commentary purposes. Off we go...
100. AI3 – Jon Peter Lewis – A Little Less Conversation (38/27, NR)
99. AI5 – Paris Bennett – Midnight Train To Georgia (75/19, NR)
98. AI8 – Scott MacIntyre – Mandolin Rain (63/21, NR)
97. AI8 – Allison Iraheta – Someone To Watch Over Me (76/20, NR)
96. AI5 – Katharine McPhee – Over The Rainbow (90/20, #24)
95. AI5 – Ace Young – That's All (47/14, NR)
94. AI8 – Danny Gokey – Come Rain Or Come Shine (67/24, NR)
93. AI10 – Scotty McCreery – "Your Man" (N/A)
92. AI9 – Didi Benami – "Terrified" (N/A)
91. AI3 – John Stevens – As Time Goes By (59/19, NR)
Billboard claims that theirs is a list of the best "live" American Idol performances. Inigo Montoya says, "You keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means." We're with Inigo here. "Your Man" was McCreery's audition song; "Terrified" was sung by Benami in Hollywood. They were not live. We don't rate pre-Semifinal performances because the producers have total control over what you see and hear. We're not about to start now.
As for the rest....er, if we're being honest, we didn't even remember several of these until we watched the clips. Obviously, most Idol fans would put Kat McPhee's "Rainbow" miles higher than 96th place, though do note its unusually large s.d. for a "showstopper" performance.
We'll give Billboard this though: while they probably don't belong on any serious "Top 100 Idol Performances" list, we felt that both Stevens's "Time"' and the song in 90th place were greatly underrated by the Idolsphere. Both contestants had worn out their welcomes at the time and then some, so anything they did was always going to be rated severely by fans. But, they were legitimately good; Stevens in particular deserved a 70. (So, um, how much money could you have won if you'd wagered in Vegas that the first two Season 3 contestants to show up on an American Idol 100 Best list would be Peters and Stevens?)
90. AI5 – Kelly Pickler – Walkin' After Midnight (56/20, NR)
89. AI9 – Casey James – Jealous Guy (89/15, #38)
88. AI10 – Paul McDonald – Folsom Prison Blues (58/29, NR)
87. AI7 – Carly Smithson – Come Together (82/18, #166)
86. AI4 – Constantine Maroulis – My Funny Valentine (67/25, NR)
85. AI12 – Devin Velez – Somos Novios (It's Impossible) (72/18, NR)
84. AI10 – Paul McDonald – Maggie May (70/22, NR)
83. AI3 – LaToya London – Ooh Baby Baby (66/17, NR)
82. AI3 – George Huff – Take Me To The Pilot (86/15, #83)
81. AI7 – Brooke White – Let It Be (85/18, #106)
Definitely a major improvement over the first ten, with just a few hiccups. The inclusion of "Ooh Baby Baby" is a head-scratcher; it was London's third-lowest rated outing and she probably delivers a better performance every morning in the shower. We'd certainly put performances both by Maroulis and of "My Funny Valentine" on our personal Top 100 list...but, um, not in the same slot. And, though Editor Nick liked him and particularly loved the ultra-polarizing "Folsom Prison Blues", giving Paul McDonald two spots on the list is a major stretch. (As we recall, we were as divided as the Idolsphere on that performance -- Nick and Amy liked it, Brian and our Idol Chatter colleague Ken Barnes despised it.)
The rest of the group is solid. Two-thirds of AI7 Lennon-McCartney Night's fabled trifecta of consecutive 5-star performances is represented. As disappointing as AI12's guys were, there was nothing wrong with Velez's "Impossible" (at least not the excellent Spanish half.) James's "Jealous Guy" will be in almost every critic's Top 100.
But the best performance in this set, one that we'd put in our personal Top 25, is George Huff's masterpiece. At 86, it's at least 5 points underrated. Huff picked a great if lesser-known Elton John song, emphasized the gospel arrangement, and proceeded to sing the hell out of it. It was moments like that which got us hooked on this stupid show; we just wish there'd have been more like it the past two seasons.
80. AI2 – Josh Gracin – Amazed (54/23, NR)
79. AI11 – Colton Dixon – Piano Man (77/22, NR)
78. AI10 – James Durbin – Uprising (72/27, NR)
77. AI11 – Skylar Laine – Stay With Me (75/14, NR)
76. AI10 – Pia Toscano – I'll Stand By You (93/11, #8)
75. AI11 – Elise Testone – Whole Lotta Love (93/15, #8)
74. AI5 – Taylor Hicks – Levon (80/15, #210)
73. AI5 – Chris Daughtry – Hemorrhage (In My Hands) (92/6, #13)
72. AI2 – Kimberley Locke – New York State Of Mind (91/11, #22)
71. AI13 – Caleb Johnson – Still Of The Night (84/15, #125)
"Amazed" is another curious choice. In fairness though, watching it back 13 years later, it does seem a bit underrated. plus the song had not been done to death on Idol at that point. Besides, we can hardly be snooty considering we would put a 27-rated performance by the #79 finisher in our personal Top 100.
Beyond that, our only concern is that a few magnificent performances are showing up on Billboard's list much earlier than they should. Of the four entries deemed by web reviewers as "showstoppers" in this set (we concur with all four, by the way), Testone's gender-smashing classic seems particularly disrespected. (In fact, Whole Lotta Love, a song that Nick doesn't even care for that much for in real life, might be the only one that would appear twice in his list of Top 25 Idol performances; we hope the other will show up later.) Props to Billboard for remembering both Laine's delightfully frantic "Stay With Me" and Durbin's icy "Uprising".
With Seasons Two, Eleven, and Thirteen now represented, just three are still waiting for their first appearance. (As noted in the intro, AI15 performances were not considered by Billboard because, as the entertainment media is wont to do, they felt the need to jump the gun by publishing their rankings before the show's finale. We wonder if they're regretting that decision after the past two episodes.)
70. AI3 – Jasmine Trias – All By Myself (23/16, NR)
69. AI14 – Nick Fradiani – Beautiful Life (73/20, NR)
68. AI10 – Haley Reinhart – Bennie And The Jets (72/24, NR)
67. AI6 – Blake Lewis – Time Of The Season (71/22, NR)
t65. AI2 – Trenyce – I Have Nothing (87/11, #64)
t65. AI4 – Vonzell Solomon – I Have Nothing (83/15, #153)
64. AI14 – Quentin Alexander – I Put A Spell On You (85/15, #108)
63. AI9 – Lee DeWyze – Treat Her Like A Lady (89/17, #39)
62. AI3 – Diana DeGarmo – Don't Cry Out Loud (84/14, #125)
61. AI14 – Jax – White Flag (88/11, #51)
Veteran American Idol fans reading this set of ten can fairly wonder if they're being trolled. "All By Myself" at #70? One of the most infamous bussings in AI history? After Trias shockingly outlasted Latoya London in the AI3 Final Four despite delivering a pair of 1-star disasters, producer Clive Davis assigned London's signature song to Trias the following week. It was widely interpreted by the Idolsphere as a "See what you've done, America?" shaming. Granted its 23 rating was in part due to fans' outrage at the voting results (having re-listened to it, a 35 seems more reasonable), but....wow. Just wow.
Nor does the inclusion of Fradiani's coronation song last year seem justified. Yes, it was good as Original Winners' Songs® go, but seriously now.... Thankfully, things do pick up after that, ending with six straight 5-star gems. As sick to death as pretty much everyone is of hearing I Have Nothing on the show, it does hold a 4-star average, and Trenyce and Solomon's versions are tops among its nine performances. Billboard did well not to try to delineate between the two.
60. AI13 – Jessica Meuse – Blue Eyed Lie (89/16, #39)
59. AI13 – Jena Irene – Can't Help Falling In Love (93/13, #8)
58. AI14 – Joey Cook – Fancy (89/21, #39)
57. AI11 – Jessica Sanchez – And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going (85/18, #108)
56. AI12 – Angie Miller – "You Set Me Free" (N/A)
55. AI8 – Kris Allen – Ain't No Sunshine (90/15, #25)
54. AI2 – Ruben Studdard – Flying Without Wings (51/15, NR)
53. AI14 – Rayvon Owen – Wide Awake (72/22, NR)
52. AI7 – Michael Johns – Dream On (48/22, NR)
51. AI8 – Allison Iraheta – Cry Baby (69/19, NR)
This set starts out very strong – arguably too strong, in fact – but sputters at the end. Most regular readers know what the WNTS staff thinks of "Blue Eyed Lie" and "Fancy"; they'd both be comfortably in our Top 20. In fact, of the first six entries, only Miller's performance surely wouldn't make our Top 100 cut, and that solely due to the technicality that it took place in Hollywood. (Sanchez delivered several more deserving performances than "Telling", though you may well disagree.)
The last four, however, are dubious, doubly so because there are far better choices available for three of the four singers. Iraheta had five 5-star performances; Johns and Studdard three apiece. As for Owen, who epitomizes the term "midcard contestant", he was certainly solid but we're having trouble visualzing a planet where any of his songs would finish ahead of, say, Allen's "Sunshine".
We're halfway through Billboard's Top 100 and thus far three seasons – Three, Five, and Ten – have placed six performance on the list. Seasons Eight and Fourteen have five apiece. Seasons Eleven (4) and Seven (3) seem a bit underrepresented. Season Six has had only one performance honored, and AI1 is still pitching a shutout.
50. AI10 – James Durbin – Will You Love Me Tomorrow (92/13, #13)
49. AI5 – Elliott Yamin – Trouble (86/19, #84)
48. AI10 – Scotty McCreery – Gone (70/25, NR)
47. AI9 – Crystal Bowersox – Up To The Mountain (89/12, #39)
46. AI14 – Clark Beckham – Georgia On My Mind (87/19, #64)
45. AI6 – Melinda Doolittle – Home (85/11, #108)
44. AI1 – Kelly Clarkson – A Natural Woman (89/9, #39)
43. AI12 – Candice Glover – I (Who Have Nothing) (92/8, #13)
42. AI1 – Justin Guarini – Get Here (82/23, #168)
41. AI9 – Siobhan Magnus – Paint It, Black (88/19, #51)
Billboard is entering the high-rent district now. Other than McCreery's "Gone", which truly deserved a little higher than 70, everything here is in 5-star range. Season One finally gets on the scoreboard with Clarkson and Guarini, pushing Season Four (1) into last place. Oh well, guess there weren't any decent contestants that year.
With such quality choices, any complaints we'd offer would be nitpicking. That said, we might omit "Georgia" (we felt it was about six to eight points overrated) and "Get Here". The latter hasn't aged all that well, but it's important to remember that, in the context of AI1, it was historically significant – it was the performance that essentially eliminated Tamyra Gray and propelled Guarini to the Finale. Bowersox, Durbin, and maybe Yamin would be higher on our lists. Regardless, this is a good set.
Incidentally, though the rare feat has come to be known in WNTS lexicon as a "McPhee", it was in fact the Season One runner-up who was the first to post both a 5-star and a 1-star performance in the same episode. A "Guarini" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well, however.
40. AI7 – David Hernandez – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (87/14, #64)
39. AI13 – Jena Irene – Creep (90/19, #25)
38. AI7 – David Archuleta – Angels (70/24, NR)
37. AI10 – Casey Abrams – Nature Boy (37/26, NR)
36. AI7 – David Cook – Always Be My Baby (76/24, NR)
35. AI2 – Ruben Studdard – Superstar (81/15, #191)
34. AI2 – Kimberley Locke – Over The Rainbow (81/15, #191)
33. AI8 – Adam Lambert – Ring Of Fire (51/35, NR)
32. AI1 – Kelly Clarkson – A Moment Like This (70/20, NR)
31. AI6 – Melinda Doolittle – I'm A Woman (88/7, #51)
Sit down. We have a lot to discuss here.
Despite featuring five songs that fell outside the WNTS Top 250, the first set in Billboard's Top 40 is intriguing. We doubt many readers will object to the first two entries, and we give a tip of the cap to Billboard for not overlooking a superb semifinal performance by the "forgotten" David of the Season Of The Davids. The other two are represented as well, both with a performance that originally rated in the 70s. We felt both were underrated at the time (particularly Cook's brilliant "Baby"), though not so much that we'd put them in our own Top 40s.
Studdard's "Superstar" and Locke's "Rainbow" will always be joined at the hip to Idol and WNTS fans. The two performances were delivered back-to-back in the 2003 semifinal group round, and both scored identical approval ratings and standard deviations. (No, really, it was a dead tie on both ordinals and rating points, the first and last time that's ever happened. Ruben's s.d. was about six-tenths of a point higher than K-Lo's. By the way, if you read the blurb in the article, you'll see that Billboard was honoring Locke's audition, not her semifinals performance, but too bad.)
Two further inclusions have history behind them, which may be why they were honored. Clarkson's "Moment" was Idol's first coronation song and it struck a chord with viewers who, at the time, had no idea that a string of "Inside Your Heavens" would follow. And, Lambert's "Ring" was of course the most polarizing performance in the show's history. It's σ=35 is still three full points higher than the rest of the field, which from a statistics standpoint is simply mind-boggling.
Abrams' "Nature Boy" was polarizing as well, but as you can see by its final approval rating, the naysayers handily won out. All three judges gave it a standing ovation; everyone else who really liked it evidently works for Billboard.
30. AI6 – Blake Lewis – You Give Love A Bad Name (83/27, #153)
29. AI5 – Elliott Yamin – Moody's Mood For Love (82/12, #168)
28. AI6 – Jordin Sparks – I (Who Have Nothing) (86/11, #84)
27. AI8 – Kris Allen – Heartless (87/15, #64)
26. AI7 – Syesha Mercado – A Change Is Gonna Come (57/24, NR)
25. AI7 – Jason Castro – Hallelujah (86/17, #84)
24. AI4 – Carrie Underwood – Independence Day (75/18, NR)
23. AI8 – Adam Lambert – The Tracks Of My Tears (87/22, #64)
22. AI11 – Joshua Ledet – It's A Man's Man's Man's World (85/16, #108)
21. AI1 – Kelly Clarkson – Respect (84/9, #125)
This is more like it. With the exception of including the wrong performance by Mercado (One Rock 'N' Roll Too Many was a 90 in our book), there is little to criticize but much to praise.
Lewis's beatboxed masterpiece was enormously polarizing; the WNTS staff universally loved it and it would easily be in the Top 3 of Amy's personal list. (Indeed, we suspect that if you chartered a one-person-one-vote poll for Best Idol Performance Ever, "Bad Name" might well win.) "Moody's" was one of the greatest masterclasses of vocal control on the show; it too is sorely underrated. "Nothing" is basically about a person going mad, and the 16-year-old Sparks's presentation of it was brilliantly disturbing.
The vignette in the Billboard article says that Allen ran the idea of doing an acoustic breakdown of "Heartless" by his buddy Lambert, who called it 'genius'. We concur, though we wonder if Lambert realized at the time that his friend's brainstorm would cost him the Season Eight crown. Castro's "Hallelujah" was not the first Idol live performance with an instrument, but it was the first of major significance. Confession time: both Brian and Nick mildly preferred Lambert's "Tracks" to his more celebrated "Mad World"; it was a beautiful rendition of a gorgeous song. Ledet's psychotic "Man's World" was unforgettable, and Clarkson's "Respect" was seminal.
Oh, and look who finally showed up from Season 4. We're sure "Alone" will be in the Top 20 (we're writing these set critiques without peeking ahead), but if we're being honest, we're not sure any other Underwood performance deserves Best 100 status. The fact is, all revisionist history aside, the biggest or second-biggest superstar (depending on your point of view) that American Idol ever produced simply wasn't all that good live in 2005. Her voice was undeniably terrific, but she was stiff, mechanical, and often seemed utterly overwhelmed onstage. Based on performance, Bo Bice objectively should have won that season in a walkover. We are all perhaps extraordinarily lucky that the voters thought otherwise.
20. AI2 – Clay Aiken – Solitaire (92/14, #13)
19. AI7 – David Cook – Hello (90/16, #25)
18. AI10 – Haley Reinhart – House Of The Rising Sun (94/12, #4)
17. AI5 – Taylor Hicks – Takin' It To The Streets (80/18, #210)
16. AI7 – David Cook – Billie Jean (95/12, #2)
15. AI5 – Chris Daughtry – I Walk The Line (75/20, NR)
14. AI4 – Constantine Maroulis – Bohemian Rhapsody (90/18, #25)
13. AI3 – Jennifer Hudson – Circle Of Life (89/18, #39)
12. AI5 – Katharine McPhee – Black Horse And The Cherry Tree (81/19, #191)
11. AI11 – Phillip Phillips – Home (74/22, NR)
Another near-impeccable set of choices. We'd have left Hicks's "Streets" out of our Top 100 (c'mon now, Billboard: #17? Really??) but otherwise these were all outstanding performances.
We agree wholeheartedly with the inclusion of both "Walk The Line" and "Home" high in any respectable Idol Top 100 list, despite their Not Rated status on WNTS. The approval rating for Phillips's coronation song was depressed by virtue of...well, kiddies, figure out what two words earlier in this sentence kept it from scoring higher than 74. As for Daughtry, his rating that night was held down dramatically by a fairly serious controversy – this from back in the day when American Idol was popular enough to generate actual controversies. If you came to the AI party late, click through on the performance link to read our take on the matter (it's one of the very few items in the database that actually has an article attached – *sigh*, someday we'll get that wiki feature working....) and then read the blurb accompanying its Billboard entry for the long-awaited explanation. We don't blame Daughtry for being PO'ed one iota.
Here in WNTS-ville, it's impossible to separate "Solitaire" from Aiken's other showstopping performance that night, Build Me Up Buttercup. The majority of reviews we unearthed on the Interwebs for that episode rated/ranked the five surviving contestants on the whole. (Remember, this was 2003; the Idolsphere was still in its nascent years.) The minority who considered each song seperately preferred "Buttercup" to "Solitaire" by a narrow margin. We calculated Aiken's astounding grade for the night, then arbitrarily scored the former one point higher than the latter. (As for what we thought at the time...well, look, not only did Aiken show more life and energy in "Buttercup" than arguably in all his other performances combined, but, geez people, the show-closing "Solitaire" was barely a minute long! No doubt Idol was running long again and the producers asked Aiken to shorten the song.)
Anyway, we don't expect "Buttercup" to appear on too many Top 100 lists in the coming weeks, despite its lofty status on WNTS. "Solitaire" is the performance that has passed the all-important test of time. Not so for the other six performances in our extended Top 10 that have yet to appear on Billboard's list -- we expect all of them to be in the next set. At least, they had damn well better be.
Lastly, show of hands people: is there anyone out there who would rank Kat McPhee's "Black Horse" 80 spots higher on their personal Best Of Idol list than "Over The Rainbow"? Anyone at all? (* three hands shoot up in the WNTS office. *)
10. AI2 – Clay Aiken – Bridge Over Troubled Water (86/23, #84)
9. AI1 – Tamyra Gray – A House Is Not A Home (92/16, #13)
8. AI4 – Bo Bice – In A Dream (94/11, #4)
7. AI11 – Joshua Ledet – When A Man Loves A Woman (91/16, #22)
6. AI4 – Carrie Underwood – Alone (89/20, #39)
5. AI1 – Kelly Clarkson – Stuff Like That There (95/11, #2)
4. AI8 – Adam Lambert – Mad World (94/19, #4)
3. AI7 – David Archuleta – Imagine (93/16, #8)
2. AI12 – Candice Glover – Lovesong (96/8, #1)
1. AI3 – Fantasia Barrino – Summertime (94/16, #4)
Billboard wraps up its list in style. (Oh, rest assured, we have some serious complaints about a few omissions, but we'll get to those later.) The "missing" six performances from the WNTS Top 100 are all here. Five of the six are no-brainers, and the other...well, we'd have put "Imagine" quite a few sets lower, but clearly ours is an outlying minority opinion. And, make no mistake, it was very good. One can argue whether or not "Summertime" was truly better than "Lovesong", but you cannot go wrong putting either at the top of your list.
Of the other four performances to slip into Billboard's Top 10, none are outrageous choices. The high s.d. for Aiken's "Bridge" kept it out of the 90s, but much like Blake Lewis's "Bad Name", in a one-person-one-vote poll it might well win. (Our complaint with it has nothing whatsoever to do with Aiken's brilliant vocals; rather, we abhor the fact that everyone who has sung the Simon And Garfunkel classic on AI in the years since has insisted on doing it with a choir. Show some originality, people.) Gray's and Ledet's entries might arguably be a hair too high, but both were magnificent.
We'll close with a funny anecdote from our pre-WNTS days. Nick and Brian were on the phone when Carrie Underwood, her hair poofed up in true 80's fashion, stepped out from behind the band to sing Heart's "Alone". We both snorted derisively, and Brian quipped, "They can dress her up to look like Nancy [Wilson], but they can't make her sound like Ann." Then, Underwood began singing. After she finished, there was a long silence on both ends of the phone. Finally, Brian said softly, "I stand corrected." We still have no clue whatsoever how it only scored 89.
First, our thanks to Billboard for putting together the list. We've expressed our disagreement in places, and there is more of that to come below. Still, it was hugely entertaining to read, and the vignettes under each entry were often fascinating. We hope this is the first of many such lists, though we do hope that the ones that follow do not arbitrarily omit Season 15, particularly since it's now produced several worthy candidates.
We also hope that readers don't go through Billboard's list and react with, "Where the #$%^& is such-and-such? You imbeciles left that performance out? Are you CRAZY?? This list sucks!!!" We've always found such reactions to be arrogant and immature, and we would never countenance such childish......hey, wait a minute. Where the #$%^& is Melinda Doolittle's My Funny Valentine? The imbeciles at Billboard left it out? Are they CRAZY?? That is, no lie, the performance that will rank Numero Uno on Editor Nick's list barring a miracle in the final two episodes. It scored 92, for crying out loud!! This list sucks!!!!!!!
OK, so a little childishness now and then is acceptable. In all seriousness, and with all due respect both to the folks at Billboard and the estimable Mr. Maroulis, anyone who thinks Constantine sang that song better than Mindy Doo needs their entire body examined, starting at the head and working down.
While we're at it – Billboard honored Jasmine Trias's version of "All By Myself", but omitted LaToya London's, which nipped it in the WNTS approval ratings by just 69 points. You cannot make this stuff up. London, in fact, is one of only two contestants to have two WNTS showstoppers overlooked by the world's foremost music industry magazine, as Don't Rain On My Parade is also nowhere to be found. She's joined by Crystal Bowersox, who had an 89 honored but both of of her 90s omitted – Long As I Can See The Light and Give Me One Reason. Those two must both owe someone at Billboard a lot of money.
(Before you write in: yes, we're well aware Clay Aiken also had two 90+ performances that didn't make Billboard's cut. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me is a no-show. However, as we mentioned earlier, we consider "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Solitaire" to be pretty much two halves of the same performance.)
A total of 63 songs in the WNTS Top 250 appeared on Billboard's list, and 45 of our Top 100. Three of their honorees occurred prior to the semifinals, so we have no approval ratings for them. Of the other 97, just four, if we counted correctly, fell below 50.
Seasons Five and Seven placed the most performances on the list, at eleven apiece (see table at right). Season Ten had ten. Seasons Twelve and Thirteen brought up the rear with just four performances each.
We think Billboard may be displaying a bit of hyperopia here, as several of the post-Simon Cowell seasons feel very underrepresented. Granted that AI12 was essentially Candice Glover & The Pips, but Angie Miller and Kree Harrison were usually pretty darn good. Harrison's Here Comes Goodbye would certainly be in our Top 100. Similarly, while the AI13 talent pool brought new meaning to the term "top-heavy", it's difficult for us to agree that a season that tied Season Three for most 5-star performances deserved just four spots on Billboard's list.
AI3, incidentally, pulled a remarkable feat: its eight entries were by eight different contestants. That's a little hard to swallow considering it too was a very top-heavy season. The fact that none of the eight was Amy Adams's Sin Wagon is doubly confusing.
What contestant had the most performances on Billboard's list? No surprise here: one Kelly Brianne Clarkson led the way with four. David Cook and Adam Lambert had three apiece, and a plethora of Idols had two: Clay Aiken, Kris Allen, David Archuleta, Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, James Durbin, Candice Glover, Taylor Hicks, Allison Iraheta, Jena Irene, Josh Ledet, Blake Lewis, Kimberley Locke, Constantine Maroulis, Scotty McCreery, Paul McDonald, Katharine McPhee, Haley Reinhart, Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, and Elliott Yamin.
While our staff's opinions of duets and trios is well documented (summary: "shoot us now"), there have been a few good ones over the years. Surely room could have been found for Lambert and Iraheta's Slow Ride. Speaking of Lambert, his version of Whole Lotta Love may have been eclipsed by Elise Testone's, but it was magnificent nonetheless. (Adam Lambert might wind up with the most performances on Nick's personal Top 100; he might also wind up with multiple entries on his Bottom 100, too. When he was good he was very, very good; when he wasn't.......he, um, wasn't.)
The probability of typos above is astronomical, as we had to key in the entire list by hand. If you find any, please let us know.
If we have one specific and very pointed criticism of Billboard's choices, one thing beyond the nutty omission of "My Funny Valentine" that we will take them severely to task for, it's this: their authors hugely over-valued performances by contestants who either finished near the top of their respective seasons, or who have had reasonably successful post-Idol careers.
We suppose this is to be expected of that particular outlet. After all, Billboard Magazine is all about categorizing success. They're undoubtedly pre-disposed to anything that might appear at the top of one of their charts, plus they surely wouldn't want to offend any of their high-powered subscribers in the music industry.
That said, we find this emphasis on final placing to be something between unforgivable and disqualifying. Seriously, Billboard: only two of the best 100 performances in American Idol history were delivered by contestants who finished tenth or below? (Didi Benami's audition and David Hernandez's "Papa", if you're wondering.) A whopping 87 of 100 came from those who finished Top Six? Gosh, that must mean that both the show's judges and its voters must have done an extraordinary job over the years of weeding out talent in a fair, justified, sensib--......BWA-HA-HA-HA-(*SNIFF*)-chuckle. Sorry, we kept a straight face for as long as we could.
Clearly this is absurd, and unfortunately, it's our main takeaway from the article. We appreciate the maxim that nothing succeeds like success, but that's no reason to institutionalize it. Season Eight alone had at least five performances by semifinalists that would make our short list of the best 200 or so. Season Twelve had two, arguably three, quarterfinalists dismissed outrageously by the judges (whose minds had clearly been made up beforehand) before the nation even had a chance to vote. Every Idol fan of a certain age remembers the disaster that befell the franchise on the night of March 11, 2010. (That night in fact changed the entire Reality TV industry: to the best of our knowledge, no singing competition since has allowed voters alone to choose a season's finalists, including American Idol. There is always a Wild Card show or the equivalent.) None of those contestants delivered a performances that was Top 100-worthy?
Coincidentally, earlier this week correspondent Phan waxed philosphical about AI3's Lisa Leuschner, who was a rose among seven thorns in the worst competition episode in Idol history. (We usually write "lowest-rated" rather than "worst", as you know, but here, c'mon now – who would that euphemism be kidding?) Phan felt, justifiably, that Leuschner deserved much better than a 61, and that her rating was held down by reviewers who were flat-out disgusted by the entire night. He's probably right.
The entire premise behind American Idol is that it gave "normal" people – church choir soloists, struggling singer-songwriters, regional theater actors, and other Everymen and Everywomen – a chance to earn the right to sing in front of a national audience. Very few went on to stardom, but a great many made their mark in one 90-second blaze of glory. It would be a pity if other authors followed Billboard's lead and only memorialized the ones who had a "career". That's not what the last 15 years have been all about.
- The WNTS.com Team