In a season light on star-making performances from guys not named Archuleta, “American Idol” had a “moment” Tuesday night when an emotional David Cook roughed up guest judge Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.”
The Train-meets-Nickelback-style cover — which, for the record, some of us thought was a trainwreck of mush-mouthed, grunty vocals plowing into a car crash of muddy accompaniment, but that’s just us, apparently — drew rave reviews from the judges, who pegged it as one of the most original, gutsy performances so far this year.
The Cook-ie party of praise got us thinking about seven other “Idol” breakout performances that still stick in our brains. Some of those contestants went on to win big — while others peaked too early. Our list after the jump.
· Melinda Doolittle: Short on personality, but long on pipes, the Season 6 contestant totally owned the standard “My Funny Valentine,” which helped her hold on and come in third place last year.
· Clay Aiken: Claymates will tell you that every clayformance was a breakout, but the Season 2 runner-up really made his mark with a towering cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which became the B-side to his first hit single.
· Kelly Clarkson: The first season winner showed all subsequent “Idol” contestants how it’s done when she switched up her pop/R&B talents to take on the big band classic “Stuff Like That There.” That — along with that polka-dot dress, pearls and some serious attitude — helped make Clarkson a star.
· Fantasia: Speaking of making something old new again, the Season 3 winner notched what judge Randy Jackson dubbed the best performance in “Idol” history when she tore down the “Porgy and Bess” signature tune “Summertime.” The best part? She said she’d never heard the tune before she picked it.
· Ruben Studdard: The Velvet Teddy Bear pretty much got drooling props every time he opened his mouth during Season 2. Yeah, his post-“Idol” career has fizzled. But when he wrapped the Carpenters’ “Superstar” in his velvet embrace, it brought down the house.
· LaKisha Jones: The judges never let us forget that it’s all about song choice. And like all those other fools who pick Whitney, Mariah, and Celine songs, Season 6 fourth place-finisher Jones looked like she was setting herself up when she selected Jennifer Holliday’s show-stopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” — and not just because Season 3 finalist Jennifer Hudson had already torn it down. But Jones surprised us all when she nailed it, setting the bar for taking on untouchable songs.
· Blake Lewis: I’m going out on a limb here with Season 6 runner-up Lewis’ beat-boxified take on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” At this point, we can all agree (including the twelve of you who bought Lewis’ debut album) that his insistence on shoehorning boxing into nearly every song is annoying. But Lewis branded himself as one of the most original finalists in “Idol” history with this radical reworking of the classic-rock chestnut.