After 14 years, 15 seasons and the births of a whole litter of superstar singers, Simon Fuller’s TV baby is all grown up and about to fly the nest. But, we couldn’t let the curtain come down without compiling a list of our personal favourites from across all 15 seasons of the show. From winners to runners-up and everything in between, this list was SO fun to make and it’s not until you sit back and listen to the talent the show was produced since it’s conception in 2002, that you feel somewhat nostalgic for a time when reality singing competitions weren’t so staged and predictable. Thanks for the memories, Idol.
15. Constantine Maroulis – Bohemian Rhapsody
Performing Queen’s megahit is no small task but Constantine Maroulis took it on and then some. He proved his rocker credentials and after the show, his enormous voice took him all the way to the Great White Way, where he was nominated for a Tony award for his role in the original Broadway cast of Rock of Ages.
14. Fantasia Barrino – Summertime
Simon Cowell called season three champ Fantasia the best contestant to compete in any competition and her rendition of the Porgy and Bess standard Summertime goes some way to back up that point. This performance is pure 1920s jazz gorgeousness. As well as winning the show, and a Grammy, she also received rave reviews for her role as Celie in Broadway’s The Colour Purple.
13. Melinda Doolittle – Home
Home, from The Wiz, is a notoriously hard song to sing but Melinda Doolittle stepped into the ruby red slippers of one Ms Diana Ross to belt her way to the final of season three. Prior to her elimination, she had never been in the bottom two, proving just how popular she was with fans.
12. Pia Toscano – I’ll Stand By You
Possibly one of the most controversial eliminations in Idol history was in week nine when Pia Toscano tumbled out of the competition, to the shock of fans and judges alike. With stunning looks and a voice to match, it is still a shame she didn’t progress further. Fun fact: Pia auditioned for the show five times.
11. Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
The only duet to make our list was technically not part of the competition but Joshua and Jessica’s take on the George Michael/Aretha hit was a vocal masterclass. Church boy Joshua and pint-sized Filipina Jessica (arguably the real winner of that season) stormed it and proved to be a powerhouse pair.
10. Haley Reinhart – Bennie and the Jets
Raspy-voiced and with a long mane of curls, Haley Reinhart always seemed like she was not supposed to be of this era. Oozing sex appeal, her take on Elton John’s 1973 song was wild, nuanced and wholeheartedly her. And dare we say, better than the original. Sorry Elt.
9. Adam Lambert – A Change is Gonna Come
Lambert followed in the footsteps of past contestant Syesha Mercado by performing the Sam Cooke soul song and, like her, knocked it out of the ball park. With a huge set of pipes and an androgynous style all of his own, Lambert came second in the competition but has gone on to have a successful career – oh and he’s now the lead singer of a little band called Queen.
8. Candice Glover – Love Song
Candice Glover said she wished she had written The Cure’s 1989 track. But Love Song, more recently covered by Adele, seemed like it had been written by her. The eventual winner of Season 12 bared her soul in this stunning performance, one which caused judge Mariah Carey to take to the stage to give her approval.
7. Katharine McPhee – Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Now, the iconic Judy Garland song from The Wizard of Oz has been done to death on reality singing shows. But, never before, and possibly since, has it been sung by a contestant with such vulnerability and beauty, whilst still being powerful. When she tips her head back to belt the last chorus – well, it’s the stuff Idol legend is made of.
6. Kris Allen – Make You Feel My Love
Another winner, Kris Allen’s rendition of Make You Feel My Love is without a doubt one of the best. And, there is a LOT of them out there. His boyish good looks and country charm were always a crowd-pleaser but it was intoxicating performances like this that made sure he grabbed that record contract, ahead of another hot favourite, Adam Lambert.
5. Adam Lambert – Mad World
The only Idol alum to make two appearances in our list, we couldn’t leave out Adam Lambert’s chilling take on Mad World by Tears For Fears. He proved he could sing anything; rock, Michael Jackson and this spine-tingling torch song. A star was born.
4. David Archuleta – Imagine
John Lennon’s most famous track is one that not many haven’t heard. What is lesser-known is the stunning Eva Cassidy version, which baby-faced David Archuleta brought to the masses in season seven. The 16-year-old narrowly lost out to David Cook, with 44 per cent of the vote.
3. Carrie Underwood – Alone
Season four winner chose Heart’s seminal 80s power ballad to prove she was more than just America’s country sweetheart and ended up serving up our editor Anth’s personal favourite-ever Idol performance. Managing to outsing the infamous powerhouse AI backing vocalists, Carrie was all big hair and steely determination – no wonder she was crowned champ.
2. Jordin Sparks – Broken Wing
Country music has never really taken off in the UK but in the states, it is one of the most popular and lucrative genres. Jordin Sparks’ rendition of American country titan Martina McBride’s Broken Wing showed a different side of the singer and put her firmly in the running to win season 6. McBride was a mentor that week on the show, meaning a then-17-year-old had to sing it in front of the song’s originator. Not only did she impress McBride, she impressed the judges, the audience and America and remains the youngest winner in the show’s history.
1. Kelly Clarkson – You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)
It all began back in 2001 with Kelly Clarkson and she remains one of, if not the, most successful winners of the show. This song became somewhat of a signature for her and she also went on to perform it on the rather strange World Idol, against winners from across the world (including our Will Young) Ignoring the dodgy Britney Spears-inspired get up, Kelly’s vocals on the Carole King hit are exactly how you nail a song and win a competition. Two words: WHISTLE TONES.