Television

'American Idol' Winner Maddie Poppe's 6 Best Performances

Maddie Poppe was crowned the winner of American Idol season 16 in Sunday night’s (May 21) finale. It was a bittersweet affair, with Poppe announcing her relationship with runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson, happy-crying through her celebratory performance of single “Going, Going, Gone” -- and getting some assists from past Idol contestants.

Poppe brought a pleasant classicism to this season of Idol. In a show generally jam-packed with renditions of current hits, Poppe’s choices of songs were defiantly old-school; she alternately sang cuts by the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac with equal zeal. And she has the honeyed vocal ability to jump between 20th century forms, whether singing “The Bare Necessities” for a Disney-themed Idol episode or singing “The Rainbow Connection” for a duet with Kermit the Frog. Poppe may have said it best in a post-win interview: “I got to be who I wanted to be.”

In honor of Poppe’s big Idol win, here are six of her finest performances throughout season 16.

Poppe Tackles “The Rainbow Connection” in Audition Room, Wows Lionel Richie

A 19-year-old Poppe, then enrolled at Hawkeye Community College, kicked off her triumphant season with a sumptuous solo version of “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie. All three judges were totally absorbed, especially Lionel Richie, whose grin lit up the room. “Storytelling is the best thing in the world,” he told Poppe. “I have a career based on it. We need you in this show.”

Newly in the Top 24, Poppe Turns in Sassy Rendition of Melanie’s “Brand New Key”

Poppe’s confidence only grew as she ascended the ranks throughout season 16, with a particularly striking vocal performance on April 15’s show. Tackling the 1971 bubblegum hit “Brand New Key” by Melanie, it was a great showcase for her voice to dip, dive and flutter into falsetto. She doesn’t fumble a single audacious vocal run and makes a cutesy song sound commanding.

A Heartfelt “Homeward Bound” Seals the Deal in the Top 14

Less is often more with the material Poppe tackled this season, with some of her most magical moments coming simply from her and her guitar, alone. And it turns out she does a mean Simon and Garfunkel. As Poppe inched closer to the finish line, she stood alone onstage to do the ‘60s duo’s stirring, wandering ode to travel -- and knocked the judges and audience out yet again.

Poppe Seizes the Moment During Disney Night, Tells Idol All About the “Bare Necessities”

Idol’s Disney Night was a nice reminder of some of the quality and longevity of old Disney tunes in the American canon -- hey, Dave Brubeck and Brian Wilson thought so. And Poppe’s jazzy, ukulele-driven version of The Jungle Book’s “The Bare Necessities” displays that she and Disney are a match made in heaven.

A Show-Stopping “God Only Knows” Elicits Tears

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds centerpiece “God Only Knows” isn’t the easiest song to tackle. To put oneself in that spiritual headspace that Brian and Carl Wilson created, you’ve got to pull a specific feeling from deep inside. Poppe’s “God Only Knows”, sung as part of the top five during a Mother’s Day-themed episode, isn’t her most polished performance of all time, but it’s her most sincere, even bringing the singer to tears on the final “without you.”

“Landslide” Brings Poppe to the Finish Line

Perhaps the polar opposite of “God Only Knows” as far as accessibility by a given singer, almost anyone with a set of decent pipes can do a passable (or transcendent) version of Fleetwood Mac's “Landslide.” And that is the song Poppe chose during the finale as part of the Hometown Dedication category. In the right hands, “Landslide” can be a wide-open, blank canvas to let a singer loose on, and it clearly fits Poppe comfortably. Call it a victory lap as Poppe caps off her astonishing development throughout a memorable season of Idol. Even children get older.