10. Carly Smithson & Michael Johns, "The Letter" (American Idol, 2008)
It is a complete and total shame that Carly and Michael didn't finish higher in American Idol's Season 7 - but it was a season filled with talent in a way that hasn't really been mirrored since and, of course, someone had to go home each week. They reunited on the live finale show for this cover of the Box Tops' 1967 hit and sang the hell out of it - and made it FUN, something that is rarely genuine and all too often manufactured on the reality show stage. Their voices blend perfectly and make me wish that they recorded a CD of duets.
9. David Cook - "Billie Jean" (American Idol, 2008)
Haunting and subversive - the performance that launched the beginning of a new era of guys-and-guitars on American Idol. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any performance that followed this one that could even come close to matching its quiet ferocity. The sense that you are watching a true rock star in the making - it's intoxicating and all-too-thrilling.
8. Allison Iraheta - "Cry Baby (Elimination Performance)" (American Idol, 2009)
With hardly any time to recover from the injustice that was Danny Gokey being deemed safe after his horrendous performance of "Dream On", Alison Iraheta took the stage for her elimination performance - the rare moment where she improved on her original performance and showed the audience that she could sing circles around Danny. Her voice cracks with the raw emotion she infuses into her performance. Absolutely devastating.
7. Haley Reinhart - "Bennie & The Jets" (American Idol, 2011)
An essential performance for Haley that elevated her from a frequent place in the Bottom 3 to a Top 3 finish in a season whose end was predetermined by the producers from the start. The kind of performance that reinvented her persona on the show and generated genuine buzz around her. An absolutely genius song choice and one that made me fall in love with Haley and her incredible voice. Haley would go on to kill it in weeks to come (see her amazing versions of "You And I", "House of The Rising Sun", "I Who Have Nothing", "Rihannon", and "Who Is And Who Should Never Be") - but I have picked this performance because it made me believe. And what more can you ask for, really?
6. Chris Rene - "Young Homie" (X Factor, 2011)
I think Chris so far on the X Factor has suffered from a particular and all-too-sad talent show syndrome - peaking too early with an incredible performance (see: Andrew Garcia, "Straight Up") and never reaching that height again. Was it his sad story? Was it his smooth delivery or his intensely personal lyrics? Whatever made this performance such a success, it is one worth watching over and over again. Currently this video has amassed 8.9 million views on YouTube in just two months.
5. Adam Lambert - "Mad World " (American Idol, 2009)
Interestingly enough, the first time I heard his performance I rated it only a solid "B". It's the kind of take on the song that grows on you over time, organically, as the meaning seeps in your soul. Everything about this performance was perfect, from the arrangement to the haunting blue light. Subtle and understated - in direct contrast to many of his in-your-face previous performances (see: "Black Or White", the sitar-singed version of "Ring Of Fire"). Beautiful and ethereal. The kind of performance people are still talking about 2 years later.
4. Drew - "It Must Have Been Love" (X Factor, 2011)
I don't know how someone so young (just 14 years old) has the maturity and the forthright honesty in her voice to make me believe every word she sings so completely. But it is so evident from this unbelievably crystal clear performance that Drew has the purest, most heartbreaking interpretation of almost every song she sings. This version of Roxette's amazing 1991 hit takes on a new, fresh light through the lens of Drew's voice.
3. Matt Giraud - "Let's Get It On" (American Idol, 2009)
Matt Giraud was the infamous Judges' Save in the first season where such a trick was employed - and one of my favorite American Idol contestants ever. Matt faltered during several weeks and soared during many more of the weeks. But it was his cover of Marvin Gaye's perrenial classic "Let's Get It On" that won him a permanent place in my heart. Matt could be the successor to Justin Timberlake in this all too gorgeous version of the song.
2. Carrie Underwood - "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" (American Idol, 2005)
I had to include this as it is in the Top 25 Most Played songs on my college laptop. I had never heard this song before hearing Carrie's version and I loved how she seemed to tell a story in just a minute and thirty seconds. She sings softly at all the right places and belts it out in all the remaining places. It's a song that is difficult, with lots of words and not a lot of space to sing them, and Carrie tackles it in a way that is effortless. Watching this performance, it is clear why Carrie walked off with the Season 4 Idol crown.
1. Vicci Martinez - "Jolene" (The Voice, 2011)
It is a fucking shame that I can not find the original live performance on YouTube. It was beyond breathtaking and the kind of performance that brought me to tears each time I saw her perform it. The studio version of the track is embedded below. Vicci makes the audience - and, certainly, me - believe each word she sings with a desperate ache that is so rare in a musician these days - let alone one who is broadcast to an audience of millions, rather than one who is breaking hearts and bar stools in a dingy bar somewhere.