Given that Summertime is believed to be the most-covered song in the history of the local solar system (Wikipedia reports it's been recorded over 15,000 times), it's quite a challenge for an artist to deliver anything truly novel with the number without going all a-cheese. Particularly when one sets out to do so on a TV show world-renowned for its coagulated dairy approach to entertainment.
Enter Fantasia Barrino. Dressed in a simple pink gown and seated in the middle of the stage, barefoot, with only a single spotlight shining from overhead, the North Carolina teen squeezed every ounce of emotion from George Gershwin's master aria. Barrino got to her knees about halfway through but never stood. She remained fully engaged in the music and the lyrics ("lost in the song" is how she later termed it), punctuating her delivery with theatrical hand gestures: a fish jumping, a bird flying. The unusually high key proved no obstacle, and in fact at least one vocal teacher suggested that it likely helped her maintain proper enunciation of her soft consonants, her traditional weak spot.
Many Idol fans believe that Barrino became so emotional during the performance that she began to cry. Not true. She remained dry-eyed until well after she was through...at least until Randy, who gave her a rare standing ovation, called it "the single best Idol performance of any season." Paula was practically struck lucid by the singing (quite a feat, that), saying simply that it was an "Oscar-winning performance", and a thoroughly impressed Simon playfully noted that Barrino had "never put those lips to better use." Even Barrino's many critics across the Idolsphere were impressed: "Summertime" earned a 95 rating, tops of the season and among the very highest in AI history.
"Summertime" will never be far from the top of the list when media sources rate the greatest AI performances ever – indeed, it's made some prestigious lists of the best television moments of the last decade. What we find remarkable (and often overlooked) is how much had to come together to make the moment happen. The directors set the mood beautifully with the lighting and the split-screen montage shot. The arrangement was strong but not overpowering, and the sound mixers did a fine job adjusting for the song's frequent ebbs and flows of volume. The wardrobe crew didn't go overboard for once. The Idol crew set up Barrino for success, and she took it home from there.
In addition to the misconception of whether or not Barrino cried during her performance, here's another bar bet you can win. This was not the anchor performance of the show, as most people believe (an error we correct in Wikipedia every time someone inserts it, which is common.) In fact, it was fifth of eight; LaToya London closed the show with Somewhere and also reached the 90s. Of course, if you frequent bars where the patrons actually place high-stakes bets about American Idol, you need more help than we can possibly give you.