Women in Music 2016

Bubbling Under the 'American Idol' Top 100 Performances: Who Just Missed the List?

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Mandisa performs in concert at Duffy Square in Times Square on July 10, 2015 in New York City. 

The biggest problem with compiling the top 100 greatest performances in American Idol history is that there are far more than 100 performances worthy of being on the list.

So in the spirit of the Billboard charts, here is a Bubbling Under tally, with 21 songs by finalists who weren’t included in Billboard’s top 100 but were still great enough to rank among the very best in the 14 years of Idol history. (They are listed here in alphabetical order by artist.)

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“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Lauren Alaina​ (season 10)
When the 16-year-old from Georgia sang for the judges, she told Steven Tyler that her parents’ song was “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” and then, with her family in the audition room, proceeded to sing the Aerosmith hit for and with the new Idol judge. Later in the season, Alaina reprised the song as a solo performance.

“Come to My Window,” Kimberly Caldwell (season 2)
Caldwell, who turned 21 while she was competing on Idol, rocked out with the Melissa Etheridge song and then had the surprise of her life. “The next day, Melissa called me on my cell phone and said, ‘Your performance was a moment that I’ll never forget and you did such an amazing job. Thank you,’ and I thought, ‘Are you kidding? Thank you!’ She was lovely and said, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help you, let me know.’” It was the first time that an Idol heard from the artist whose song they performed on the Fox series.

“God Bless the USA,” Kristy Lee Cook (season 7)
Simon Cowell, known for not loving country music, praised Cook’s performance and surprisingly knew she was singing a Lee Greenwood song. He told the Oregon resident, “It was the most clever song choice I have heard in years.”

“When I Fall in Love,” Kevin Covais (season 5)
Famed in Idol history for talking back to Simon Cowell and for being nicknamed Chicken Little, Covais proved he belonged in the competition with his rendition of this Doris Day song (later a hit for Nat King Cole). As fine a performance as it was, it was also Covais’ final week on Idol, as he was eliminated from the show during that week’s results telecast.

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“Angel,” Anthony Fedorov (season 4)
Fedorov went to his Idol audition ready to sing hits by Richard Marx, Marc Anthony and Jon Secada. Producer Patrick Lynn had him perform songs by all three before putting him through to executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. In his second round, Fedorov went with one of his all-time favorites: Secada’s 1993 hit “Angel” and then sang it again for the three judges and guest judge LL Cool J. Four years after his season, Fedorov met Secada at a BMI dinner. “He gave me a hug and thanked me for singing ‘Angel’ on Idol."

“Straight Up,” Andrew Garcia (season 9)
One of the smartest song choices in the long run of Idol, Garcia made a lasting impression during Hollywood Week with his acoustic version of Paula Abdul’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” Matt Giraud​ (season 8)
In one of Idol’s most emotional nights, Giraud was the first contestant in the series’ tenure to be saved by the judges. The finalist from Kalamazoo, Michigan, cried, the judges cried (some of them), the audience cried, and you might have been crying at home too. The save immediately followed Giraud’s reprise of Bryan Adams’ 1995 No. 1 hit “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” -- an even better rendition of the song than he had performed the previous evening.

“God Bless the Child,” Mikalah Gordon (season 4)
Taking on a Billie Holliday classic is no easy task, but the 17-year-old from Las Vegas proved herself on the top 20 show and, with this performance, assured that she would remain on Idol for three more weeks.

“Up to the Mountain,” Kree Harrison (season 12)
In between Hollywood Week and the top 20 show, the contestant from Port Arthur, Texas, sang this Patty Griffin song during a Las Vegas round and won raves from the judges. A familiar Idol song choice, with previous performances by Kelly Clarkson and Crystal Bowersox, the song allowed Harrison to demonstrate her natural gift for music and an assured professionalism.

“What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Amber Holcomb (season 12)
It’s daring to take on a song associated with Barbra Streisand, but Holcomb succeeded with this Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand song, written for the film The Happy Ending. Tough call between this selection and her rendition of “My Funny Valentine” when naming her best performance.

“Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Tyanna Jones (season 14)
Frankie Lymon was 13 when his version hit the Billboard charts, so this rock-era classic was more than an appropriate song choice for Jones, just 16 when she competed on Idol. Despite her young age, the Jacksonville, Florida, teen was a vocal powerhouse on Idol, with so many impressive performances that it was difficult to narrow them down for this list. We could have just as easily gone with her renditions of Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope,” Bobby Day’s (and later Michael Jackson’s) “Rockin’ Robin” or Little Mix’s “Wings.”

“God Bless the Child,” Jacob Lusk (season 10)
Lusk was named a favorite Idol alum by a pair of this season’s contestants, and his reading of the Billie Holliday favorite (also Bubbling Under by Mikalah Gordon) is one of the reasons why. Randy Jackson told Lusk his performance was one of the best in the history of Idol.

“This Woman’s Work,” Michael Lynche​ (season 9)
One of Kate Bush’s most emotional compositions, her 1989 single became better known in the U.S. when it was turned into an R&B hit by Maxwell in 1997. Lynche won praise from the judges for his sensitive rendition on the episode that featured the eight men in the top 16.

“Bésame Mucho,” Sanjaya Malakar (season 6)
Sanjaya might have been the object of derision from some quarters, but he redeemed himself with his penultimate performance, looking sartorially sharp on the top eight show as he sang the 1940 Latin classic “Bésame Mucho.” Maybe it wasn’t enough to make people forget the “ponyhawk” he sported while singing No Doubt’s “Bathwater,” but it did help the controversial finalist stay on the show for one more week.

“I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” Mandisa (season 5)
She may have finished ninth, but Mandisa has proven herself over and over on the Billboard charts, where she has collected 25 No. 1s on the various Christian tallies. If she ever wanted a career in secular music, this performance of a Dinah Washington hit from 1954 would be all she would need to convince a record label to sign her.

“Hey Ya!” Qaasim Middleton (season 14)
Middleton may not be the strongest vocalist to ever compete on Idol, but when judging an artist’s performance ability, his showmanship would rank extremely high. He achieved a peak with this performance of a No. 1 hit from Outkast, which was great enough to convince the judges to grant him their once-a-season save.

“Carry On Wayward Son,” Amanda Overmeyer (season 7)
​Overmeyer commanded the Idol stage many weeks in a row with her repertoire of rock songs, including an Erma Franklin hit most closely associated with Janis Joplin, “Piece of My Heart.” Even though the judges compared Overmeyer to Joplin, she reached a pinnacle with her cover of Kansas’ first Hot 100 chart entry, a No. 11 hit for that group in 1977.

“Story of My Life,” Alex Preston (Season 13)
The singer/songwriter from Mount Vernon, New York, often chose wisely when it came to song selection, covering hits like Jason Mraz’s “A Beautiful Mess,” Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” and Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team.” But Preston’s smartest song choice and best performance was his take on One Direction’s “Story of My Life” on the top three show.

“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” Chris Richardson (season 6)
For “British Invasion” week, Richardson went with a song that was a hit 20 years before he was born: Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” The resident of Chesapeake, Virginia, performed it as if he had been singing it all his life, yet ended up in the bottom two. Still, he wasn’t eliminated and remained in the competition for six more weeks.

“Wild Horses,” Katie Stevens (Season 9)
Now one of the stars of MTV’s Faking It, Stevens was only 16 when she competed on Idol. She was the subject of much discussion among the judges as to whether she should sing country (Simon Cowell thought so) or R&B (Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson voted yes). There was another option -- she excelled with this rock ballad, her cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.”

“I’m Here,” Burnell Taylor (season 12)
The New Orleans-born singer who turned 20 during his time on Idol had never seen the stage musical version of The Color Purple when he auditioned with this song from the score. Yet, the young musician poured genuine emotion into his performance, revealing his natural talent. Taylor brought the song back a short time later, when the 10 men in the top 20 were allowed to choose any song they wanted.