“American Idol” just unleashed its final season preview. It should touch you. You get just the right glimpses of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Phillip Phillips, and a few other winners who filled you with strange, hopeful glee all those years ago.
You remember most of the big names of the series. But there are some others you should recall too. Here are our five favorite underrated performances in the show's history.
1. Katelyn Epperly, “The Scientist” (Season 9)
Ellen DeGeneres was doomed as a panelist when she declared this rendition “too slow.” Iowa native Katelyn Epperly made Coldplay's “The Scientist” a proper ballad with this hushed rendering. She gets better and better as she goes along, adding color and dynamic. I
2. Didi Benami, “Play With Fire” (Season 9)
Didi Benami triumphed (and kind of failed) in a number of rad ways here. What I love: She picked a song meaningful to her, delivered on that connection with an impassioned performance, and gave us a completely new take on a sinister, slow Rolling Stones song. Sure, she almost forgot to sing an entire line, but her violent bleat on the chorus saved the whole thing. “Idol” almost never has performances as urgent and commanding as this.
3. Allison Iraheta, “I Can't Make You Love Me” (Season 8)
One of the sweetest things about “Idol” is watching a 16-year-old newcomer reveal the gravitas of a soul legend. Here, Allison Iraheta attempts one of the maturest ballads to hit the Top 40 in the past few decades, and she pulls it off with weird, way-ahead-of-her-years brassiness.
4. Carly Smithson, “Here You Come Again” (Season 7)
This is the beauty of “American Idol”: You can be served a fantastic performance, yet all you remember is Simon Cowell sniping about outfit choices. Carly Smithson nailed this song, a Dolly Parton classic, and renewed it with sweet, elegiac wistfulness. I want to smack Simon and shred up all his American Eagle thermals watching him review this performance.
5. Candice Glover, “Heart Song” (Season 12)
I saw Candice Glover sing on a holiday special recently, and I wondered if her “American Idol” performances were just as spirited and soulful as I remembered. Uh, oh my God: Why isn't this dame on Broadway or the R&B charts or Mt. Olympus? Her renditions on “American Idol” went beyond tunefulness and soulfulness: They were vulnerable and strong and adult. No affect or contrivance about her. “Heart Song” was staggering, and I'm perfectly comfortable calling it the single best performance in the show's history.