I thought about doing a All-Time Greatest American Idol Performances list to kick off the 10th season, but that's so cliche, and it's all pretty much the same everywhere you go. You're going to see Fantasia's "Summertime", Kelly Clarkson's "Stuff Like That There", David Archuleta's "Imagine", Kris Allen's "Heartless", Adam Lambert's "Mad World", etc.
So instead of going there (again), I'm going to list, by season, what I think are the most underrated performances in Idol history - performances that have been overlooked amidst the contestants' more celebrated numbers.
Everyone remembers Kelly Clarkson's "Stuff Like That There" during the Top 6 show as the moment that she truly took control over the competition or her "Mariah note" in "Natural Woman during the Top 8 show. But I think her Top 10 performance of "You're All I Need To Get By" is what really started her ascent from overlooked underdog to immediate challenger. The whole package really showed off her pipes (despite a bout with laryngitis), her personality, and her innate likeability, probably the most important qualities to have in order to win this show, especially if you're a female.
Season 2 was all about Ruben Studdard vs. Clay Aiken, and their performances of "Superstar" (Ruben) and "Solitaire" and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" (Clay) were the most talked-about performances of the season. Top 3 week was practically a formality for the inevitable Cluben finale, but I thought Kimberley Locke stole the show that night with her last song, "Inseparable".
Fantasia's "Summertime" from Top 8 night seems to be generally accepted as the greatest Idol performance of all-time. I'm not as attached to that performance as the rest of the Idol-verse, maybe because I didn't see it in real time. The one performance from Season 3 that really blew me away was Jennifer Hudson's "Circle Of Life" on Top 9 week. Jennifer had done nothing to convince me she was going to be a major player on this show until that week. Her performance on Elton John week made her the top vote-getter of the week after just barely surviving the week prior. Also making this moment so memorable was the audience reaction. Look towards the right of the screen at 2:05. WHATEVIA!
On top of the front-runners Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, Season 4 had so many polarizing contestants like Constantine Maroulis, Scott Savol and Mikalah Gordon that contestants like Anwar Robinson were often forgotten. But he came out of the semifinals as one of the favorites after performances like "What A Wonderful World" during Top 16 week.
Chris Daughtry was the breakthrough star from this season even if he didn't win. Or even make the finale. Elliott Yamin didn't make the finale either, but I still contend that he would have won against either Taylor Hicks or Katharine McPhee if he had made it to the Top 2. His Top 20 performance of "Moody's Mood For Love" got both Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson out of their seats (not that that was hard to do for Paula, but still ... he was the second performer of the night!)
Oh Season 6. So maligned. But there were a lot of memorable performances in this season - Jordin Sparks' "I Who Have Nothing" and "A Broken Wing", Blake Lewis' "You Give Love A Bad Name", Melinda Doolittle's "My Funny Valentine" and "I'm A Woman", Lakisha Jones' "This Ain't A Love Song". Phil Stacey was eliminated after singing this song, but, let's be honest, with two people being eliminated that week thanks to the Idol Gives Back reprieve, his elimination probably had nothing to do with his performance that week of "Blaze of Glory".
I could go on and on about some of the amazing performances that year - David Cook's "Hello", "Billie Jean", "Always Be My Baby". David Archuleta's "Imagine". Brooke White's "Let It Be". Jason Castro's "Hallelujah". Michael Johns' "It's All Wrong But It's All Right". And I probably could do a whole Top 10 list of underrated performances from Season 7 alone, including Carly Smithson's "Here You Come Again", Brooke's "Love Is A Battlefield". Hell, even David Hernandez's "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone". But I'm going to go with one of David Cook's more "forgotten" numbers, his Top 5 performance of "All I Really Need Is You" on Neil Diamond week. As Simon said that night, he made it feel like the song could have been written that year instead of 30 or so years ago. And Cook really put his stamp on it - romantically acoustic in the beginning, leading up to a big swelling chorus. I am still very butthurt that they had him do "I'm Alive" for the studio recording that week instead of this one.
I think you're forever going to see Kris Allen's "Heartless" and Adam Lambert's "Mad World" on Idol lists. But you could argue that Kris's "Ain't No Sunshine" on finale night and Adam's "Tracks Of My Tears" on Motown night were actually better performances.
Well, I think it's safe to say we won't be seeing a Season 9 performance on many (any?) best lists, so I could probably pick any decent performance from this season and call it underrated. I guess I'll go with Casey James' "Don't" since it got him in the Bottom 3 that week despite being, in my opinion, the best performance of the night.