As time went on, leading ladies with voices that could cut through Top 40 radio’s clutter gave way to easygoing strummers operating in the vein of Jason Mraz and Gavin De Graw. Danny Gokey (Season 8, Placed 3rd)Season eight was perhaps Idol’s pinnacle; it also had a contestant who might have been the closest villain analogue Idol has ever had to offer: Danny Gokey, an early-odds favorite whose wife had passed away shortly before he auditioned with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” He stuck around for a long time, vanquishing contestants with okay-enough performances that would sometimes tip over into horror (recall the Gokey Scream) and sometimes be just really boring (the anodyne “What Hurts the Most”) and too often be capped with that heart-hands gesture and never, ever result in his being in the show’s bottom three.
R&B became more of a way to spice up folk-pop than a genre with its own solid footing in pop, or at least in the Idol top two. The willingness to stand up for artistic choices, even if doing so results in some British acidity being flung back. “It’s a singing competition,” Simon Cowell would drone again and again when he found someone’s performance not quite up to par. His snide comments about “loving” his fellow contestants in a strictly “Godly way,” which came before season-eight runner-up Adam Lambert came out on the cover of Rolling Stone, played both to his fanbase and to those who were looking for reasons to vote him off.
At the very least, she led people to believe that Pia Toscano was a diva worth saving. Lisa Tucker (Season 5, Placed 10th)Singing a song made famous by a former Idol contestant might be one of the show’s biggest risks during the live portion of the season — especially if that song is the property of inaugural Idol Kelly Clarkson. Gil (Season 1, Placed 8th)How are you going to turn down someone who auditions for American Idol with “The Star-Spangled Banner”?
“I just wanted to do a big, belty song,” the then-16-year-old Tucker said in defense of her choice to sing “Because of You.” Sure, Clarkson penned it when she was Tucker’s age, but at the time, the track was still a lite-FM staple, and the comparisons where she fell short came up too easily. Adanna Duru (Season 14, Placed 10th–11th)Duru’s performance of the Dreamgirls devotional “Love You I Do” gained steam after a too-breathy start, but it wasn’t enough to save her from the early ax. Kristen O’Connor (Season 13, Placed 13th)Performed Kelly Clarkson’s “Beautiful Disaster.” Was neither beautiful nor a disaster, just a worst-case scenario. Amanda Overmyer (Season 7, Placed 11th)The “rock-and-roll nurse” at least gets points for honesty. R.” that was torpedoed even further by its lead-off position in the episode — she told Simon Cowell that she was using Idol to preview her live show for her fans, whether they would be catching her on the series’ accompanying tour or at a bar in her hometown. Especially when he lets the high note show off his falsetto?
(Thanks to the variance of talent pools and Fox’s faith in Idol’s ability to pump up its ratings, the number of finalists has varied from season to season; the final run’s finalist-tally of ten matches that of its first year.) As a warm-up for this final run through the Idol choreography, we’ve decided to rank those singers who have reached the almost-winner’s circle.
Idol’s finalist slate, and the songs they sang to rising-then-falling ratings, doubles as a vague map of how “pop” shifted its boundaries in the early 21st century.
During the series’ second half, the hegemony of white guys with guitars — WGWGs — held on to the top, with one key exception; those artists who played a little more fast and loose with the show’s themes were dispatched after adding sizzle to the finals’ early weeks. He was lying, but he meant well, and anyway, the audience knew what he meant: “You can’t win if you sound like that.” (An important note: As in the Idol world, sometimes the terrible can actually be the best for the purposes of each individual season’s dramatic arc. Which they did, setting the stage for a finale with two singers (Lambert and Kris Allen) who had honed their talent on-air — and become nail-polish-matching friends in the process. Lee De Wyze (Season 9, Winner)The suspicion that Idol’s voting mechanisms were fundamentally broken kicked into overdrive at the end of season nine, when one of the two finalists put the opening line of “With a Little Help From My Friends” to the test.
It’s like 13 seasons of lectures about song choices never existed. Lindsey Cardinale (Season 4, Placed 12th)“I think 30 million TV sets in America had their volume turned down simultaneously,” Cowell deadpanned after this Louisiana-born hopeful’s version of “Knock on Wood.” 159.But Lazaro, a Floridian with a speech impediment who sailed into that year’s finals through the admittedly baller move of singing a song by just-installed judge Keith Urban, hung on long enough that year to make Idol obsessives wonder if his Vote for the Worst endorsement was the equivalent of a Teflon suit.He wound up being that year’s Last Man Standing, going out (ironically?In what would be her final competitive performance — a yarling version of “Back in the U. (Her 11th-place finish, alas, removed the former scenario from possibility.) 143. Alas, he was boxed in by themes in the later weeks, and while his rework of “My Cherie Amour” gave the chorus’s French a slight Latin spin, his fluttery voice was ill-served by “How Sweet It Is,” which led to him being bounced. Amy Adams (Season 3, Placed 10th)The best thing you can say about Amy Adams as a performer is that she isn’t nearly as bland as Jay Leno, whom Simon Cowell claimed held a familial resemblance to this pink-haired pop wannabe. Jorge Núñez (Season 8, Placed 12th–13th)Getting voted off after week one of the finals is always tough.Jim Verraros (Season 1, Placed 9th–10th)“If you win this competition, we will have failed,” Simon Cowell told this Illinois-born singer after his version of “When I Fall in Love,” which the tart-tongued Brit deemed “ordinary.” His subsequent loss in a coin toss to eventual winner Kelly Clarkson led to him meandering through the big-voice-requiring “Easy” during Motown Week, instead of the more peppy “Get Ready,” and eventually being cut. Being snapped at by Simon Cowell after taking on a difficult-in-many-ways Michael Jackson song (“Never Can Say Goodbye,” which is tough to distill in less than two minutes) only adds insult to injury. David Hernandez (Season 7, Placed 12th)Cute and sexy, but his overeager version of “I Saw Her Standing There” could have used a couple of tips from Magic Mike. Kevin Covais (Season 5, Placed 11th)Chipmunk-cheeked and bespectacled, this Long Island teen’s performances of “Part Time Lover” and “When I Fall in Love” were more enthusiastic than technically proficient.(The more, uh, limited vocal ranges of this era’s pop stars have suited Rodriguez much better, it seems.) 148.Thia Megia (Season 10, Placed 10th–11th)This America’s Got Talent castoff was mostly notable for her incredibly tone-deaf interpretations of old songs, among them a version of “Smile,” during which she couldn’t stop grinning.) on a wobbly performance of “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” 164.Corey Clark (Season 2, Placed 9th)The first Idol scandal to result in a contestant leaving the show during the season centered on this California-born soul singer, who was booted not because of his coffeehouse-worthy version of “Drift Away” during that season’s Country Rock night, but because he’d been charged with battery and resisting arrest in Kansas.He garnered what Cowell called “the grandma vote,” but his good humor and ability to clap-back at the tart-tongued Brit garnered him “Covies” from other corners. Mikalah Gordon (Season 4, Placed 11th)This low-voiced Las Vegan’s potential was torpedoed by song choices that were too big — from Billie Holiday’s heavy “God Bless the Child” to Taylor Dayne’s feat of breath control, “Love Will Lead You Back.” 136. Daniel Seavey (Season 14, Placed 9th)Forever an Idol footnote after he came up short in the show’s inaugural live-tweeted vote, this musical polymath leaned heavily on Ed Sheeran in the come-up rounds and ripped off Andrew Garcia’s strummy cover of “Straight Up” in the first week of the finals.Vanessa Olivarez (Season 2, Placed 12th)A sassy yet breathy performance of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” during the second season’s salute to Motown led to … His downfall, however, would prove to be Hall & Oates, whose “You Make My Dreams” gave him the chance to flub a lyric and blow an octave leap.In its early years, Idol stridently looked back, with only the occasional sop to present-day music and a laser focus on vocals above all.Carrie Underwood’s season-four victory allowed Idol to mark some territory in Nashville, while Chris Daughtry’s fifth-season deployment of Shinedown and Live helped nudge open the door to performers bearing instruments, who were finally allowed inside the Idol sanctum in season seven.He capped his run off with a tweak of Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About,” replacing the chorus’s “How about love” with a sly “Other than hair.” 165.