After 15 seasons since its debut in 2002, Fox’s “American Idol” is finally singing its swan song.
The series was a ratings juggernaut and a fan favorite at the peak of its popularity. Within the show’s first 10 years on the air, “Idol” alums produced 345 Billboard chart-toppers across all genres.
“I think ‘Idol’ is the most impactful show in the history of television,” Jeff Zucker, the then-chief executive of NBC Universal, told the New York Times in 2007.
The show is responsible for grooming singers who have become modern music icons: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, to name a few. The series’ final shows will air April 5, 6 and 7, culminating with the crowing of the 15th and final Idol.
In honor of one of television’s greatest successes, here’s a look back at some of the best “Idol” performances of all-time:
Kelly Clarkson, “Natural Woman” (Season 1)
The inaugural Idol Kelly Clarkson is the show’s best-selling alum on an international level, but fans knew they were watching a rising star as she competed on Season 1. While many of her performances were memorable, Clarkson’s version of Aretha Franklin’s classic showcased her range.
Carrie Underwood – “Alone” (Season 4)
Carrie Underwood is now a dominating force in country music, but her time on “Idol” proved she can sing virtually anything. Her choice to sing Heart’s 80s rock ballad “Alone” was unexpected, but the dynamic performance was arguably her most remembered “Idol” moment.
“I will make a prediction: Not only will you win this show, you will sell more records than any other previous ‘Idol’ winner,” Judge Simon Cowell said following the performance.
Katharine McPhee – “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (Season 5)
Simon Cowell selected Judy Garland’s signature “Wizard of Oz” song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for Katharine McPhee to sing during the “Judge’s Choice” portion of the Top 3 performance night. The ethereal, smooth and virtually impeccable vocals McPhee delivered helped to solidify her spot in the finale.
David Cook – “Hello” (Season 7)
David Cook’s “Idol” run ended in triumph, but he said “Hello” to the possibility of success in the competition early on. His Top 16 rock rendition of Lionel Richie’s 1984 smash showed he was capable of tackling any genre and any song thrown his way.
“It would be a hit today and it should be a hit today,” Judge Paula Abdul said after Cook sang. “You change things up and you make perfect choices. I believe you’re going to be a great, shining star.”
Kris Allen – “Heartless” (Season 8)
Season 8 champ Kris Allen made a gutsy song choice at a crucial moment in the competition. Being in the Top 3 and looking to lock down a place in the finale, he chose a newly released Kanye West song for the night’s “Contestant’s Choice” round. The cool, acoustic version of the hip-hop hit was an unexpected but genius move.
“It was bold, it was brave and it was fearless. To stand on that stage with an acoustic guitar? People would never do that,” Judge Kara DioGuardi said to Allen about the performance.
Haley Reinhart – “Bennie and the Jets” (Season 10)
Haley Reinhart was robbed of the “Idol” title in Season 11. Her iconic performance of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” during the Top 11 Redux week is proof of this sentiment. The sultry, up-beat performance – which began with Reinhart lounging atop a red piano – was infectious. Judge Steven Tyler said it best in his post-performance comments to Reinhart: “You. Sing. Sexy.”
Phillip Phillips – “Volcano” (Season 11)
Phillip Phillips was destined to win Season 11 from the start, but his Top 4 performance of Damien Rice’s “Volcano” night made his quest for the crown much easier. The haunting, raw, simple rendition on a darkened stage left viewers wanting more. Judge Jennifer Lopez called it “one of the most beautiful, poignant moments a contestant has ever had.”
Joshua Ledet – “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (Season 11)
The Top 4 contestants of Season 11 were asked to sing songs they wish they’d written, and Joshua Ledet picked a monster of a song. He completely annihilated his rendition of James Brown’s classic. Ledet was rewarded with a standing ovation from the judges and a spot in the Top 3.
“Neither man nor woman has ever sang that good with that much compassion on this show ever. I could go home right now. I never heard anything like that in my life,” Steven Tyler said.
Candice Glover, “Lovesong” (Season 12)
From the very first note of Candice Glover’s performance “Lovesong,” viewers knew they were witnessing magic. Her rendition of The Cure’s song was simply showstopping, and the judges agreed. Keith Urban got down on his knees to worship Glover after she finished singing, and Mariah Carey ran up on stage to throw glitter over Glover’s head.
“On the behalf of my fellow judges, let me say that was one of the greatest performances in the history of ‘Idol,’ in all 12 years,” Randy Jackson said.
Jena Irene, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (Season 13)
For the Top 4 theme of “Love Songs,” Jena Irene performed a piano-driven version of Elvis Presley’s ballad. Judge Jennifer Lopez was noticeably emotional throughout the heartbreaking performance and dropped an F-bomb on national television, which the production team quickly tried to edit out.
“That took such immense courage to perform that song in that way. I think its rare for the American public and the worldwide public to get an opportunity to see something like what you just did,” Judge Harry Conick Jr. said. “Very simply put, it was incredible. Absolutely incredible.”
“American Idol” may be ending forever, but the show – and these performances – has cemented its place in television history.