With American Idol kicking off its 12th season tonight, we've decided to take a look back at the decade-plus history that our all-time greatest music reality show has given us: The wacky judges, the over-ambitious contestants, the fan favorites (like these guys!) and oh so much Ryan Seacrest—we've got it all here. (Not so coincidentally, it's TV WEEK! here at Popdust.)
So before Nicki and Mariah put up their dukes for the first time tonight (while Keith Urban flashes covert S.O.S. messages at the camera from the side), take a trip through the ghosts of Hollywoods past with this definitive series recap, broken down by 14 of the show's quirkiest, most lovable cliches.
THE AWKWARD CONTESTANT-JUDGE FLIRTATIONS
KARA DIOGUARDI & CASEY JAMES (Season 9)
To be sure, the shots of Kara staring adoringly at Casey James every time he appeared on stage were probably just an editing trick. But there's no faking what went down in James' audition, where she made him literally take off his shirt before letting him go through to the Hollywood round.
STEVEN TYLER & SHANNON MAGRANE (Season 11)
Steven Tyler was plenty gross around women during his two years on Idol, but never grosser than when telling Shannon Magrane's dad that his 16-year-old daughter was "beautiful, hot, humid and happenin'."
SIMON COWELL & CHRISTINA CHRISTIAN (Season 1)
Before his image calcified, S1 Simon Cowell was actually kind of a nice guy! Witness his bashful confession that he's got a crush on Christina Christian—who let Hugh Grant sit at the judging table that week?
JENNIFER LOPEZ & STEFANO LANGONE (Season 10)
Stefano was at the center of a complicated love rhombus during his season (rumor was, Casey loved Haley who loved Stefano who loved Pia), and things only got spicier when J. Lo entered the mix. Fans may have called out "You're married!" at her, but hey, she wouldn't be for long.
PAULA ABDUL & COREY CLARK (Season 2)
Of all the uncomfortable flirting between judges and contestants over the years, this is the only instance that ended in the bedroom—or so Corey Clark would have you believe. An independent counsel later determined there was no evidence the romantic affair detailed in Clark's e-book They Told Me to Tell the Truth, So...: The Sex, Lies and Paulatics of One of America's Idols ever happened.
To read on to our favorite "Take Me Seriously As An Artist" Moments, click NEXT!
(Or read our picks for our favorite controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE "TAKE ME SERIOUSLY AS AN ARTIST" MOMENTS
CASEY ABRAMS, "NATURE BOY" (Season 10)
It might have irked Jimmy Iovine, but Casey Abrams's decision to go with Nat King Cole's classic track instead of Phil Collins was a much better showcase of his talents than his free-jazz-tinged "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
NAIMA ADEPAPO, "DANCING IN THE STREET" (Season 10)
With Simon Cowell and his insistence that Idol was a singing competition gone, this Wisconsin-born singer decided to act out the lyrics of Martha and the Vandellas' classic on the Idol stage.
KELLY CLARKSON, "RESPECT" (Season 1)
Kelly performed "Respect" way back during Hollywood Week, and bringing it out for the finale was a canny move: Her confidence showed just how much she'd blossomed during the season, and how much she deserved the inaugural Idol title.
PAUL MCDONALD, "COME PICK ME UP" (Season 10)
Bringing Ryan Adams into the Idol mix was so unexpected, this contestant had to introduce his song choice by alerting viewers that, no, he wasn't talking about Bryan.
SIOBHAN MAGNUS, "PAINT IT BLACK" (Season 9)
Siobhan's slow-burn interpretation of the Rolling Stones' dark track culminated in a piercing note—and established her as one of the more curiosity-stoking contestants of Season 9.
To read all about the most memorable and fan-devastating Idol departures, click NEXT!
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE FAN-REVOLT-INSPIRING DEPARTURES
MELINDA DOOLITTLE (Season 6)
Doolittle's fan revolt came from someone with a little more clout than most: After she was eliminated on the verge of the finals, Simon Cowell told Good Morning America that Melinda was the rightful winner of season six.
ALEX LAMBERT (Season 9)
Alex Lambert was a White Guy With Guitar who sounded almost exactly like Ray LaMontaigne—slot him in for a Top Four finish, right? And yet, somehow he didn't even make the finals, getting kicked off in the season nine semis, ahead of far inferior WGWGs Tim Urban and Lee DeWyze.
CARLY SMITHSON (Season 7)
Carly Smithson's run on Idol was marred by rumors that she had been a plant (Smithson had recorded an album in 2001, but was out of contract by the time she was on Idol) but by the time she was eliminated, the fans had changed their tune. Why was Smithson given the boot after her fine performance and not Brooke White, who had forgotten the words to her song? As always, the vicissitudes of Idol voting remained a mystery.
ADAM LAMBERT (Season 8)
OK, so Adam Lambert was never technically "eliminated," he just didn't win his season. But that didn't stop his fans from obsessing over a conspiracy theory in which AT&T provided free phones to Kris Allen fans in an attempt to swing the competition. (The phone giant, an Idol sponsor, admitted to giving out the phones, as well as instructions for sending out mass voting texts, but denied it was trying to engineer an Allen win.)
TAMYRA GRAY (Season 1)
In Idol lore, Tamyra Gray's season one elimination served the same purpose as Richard Hatch's first Survivor win: Shocking proof that in reality shows, our traditional expectations of who did and didn't "deserve" to win didn't matter a tiny damn.
FRENCHIE DAVIS (Season 2)
Two facts that spotlight how the entertainment industry had changed since 2003: One, Frenchie Davis was considered a threat to win American Idol despite not being a white guy and two, that she was railroaded off the competition for posing for pictures that would now not be out of place on Rihanna's Instagram.
SIOBHAN MAGNUS (Season 9)
Did Idol producers print the wrong phone number on a Facebook fan page to send Magnus' votes to competitor Aaron Kelly? Probably not, but that didn't stop fans from forming a campaign trying to get her back on the show.
PIA TOSCANO (Season 10)
Is the predominantly female voting audience of Idol biased against women? It certainly appeared that way in S10, when five female contestants were systematically voted off at the beginning of the finals, including seeming frontrunner Pia Toscano. But don't feel too bad for Toscano; she got a Tonight Show appearance out of the whole thing, a rare thing for any ninth-place finisher.
CHRIS DAUGHTRY (Season 4)
In American Idol as in politics, there is only one explanation for an unexpected result: a conspiracy. In the case of Daughtry's fifth-place elimination, the theories centered on a glitch in Idol's phone software that directed his votes to Katherine McPhee. Idol reps denied any wrongdoing but then, they would say that, wouldn't they?
JENNIFER HUDSON (Season 3)
There have been outcries after almost every elimination on Idol—you can't perform in front of millions of people for weeks without attracting a few fans—but only one ouster inspired a Knight of the Realm to decry the institutional racism in American society. After Jennifer Hudson was eliminated in season three, Elton John took to the media to criticize the results: "[Hudson, LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino] have incredible voices. The fact that they're constantly in the bottom three—and I don't want to set myself up here—but I find it incredibly racist." Luckily, both Hudson and Barrino got the last laugh over the unnamed racists: Fantasia won the season, and Jennifer got the Oscar.
To read about the five most inexplicable fan favorites in Idol history, click NEXT!
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE INEXPLICABLE FAN FAVORITES
KEVIN COVAIS (Season 5)
He called himself a "sex symbol." Others called him "Chicken Little." America called at least a few times to get this guy to 11th place.
JON PETER LEWIS (Season 3)
For whatever reason, Simon cleverly branding this 30-something singer/songwriter a "pen salesman" took him to 8th place.
MATT ROGERS (Season 3)
Picture your friend's "fun dad" doing karaoke.
JOHN STEVENS (Season 3)
Even though he struggled with any genre that didn't let him impersonate Dean Martin, this corny-beyond-his-years teenager crawled his way to sixth place.
SANJAYA MALAKAR (Season 6)
A lesson that even if you can't sing, you (and your hair) can still get this reaction from girls:
To get your needed fix of SEACREST, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
ALL THINGS SEACREST
THE WEST-COAST SPOILER (Season 9)
"Packed radio show tomorrow...got tonight's voted-off idol lacey brown," Seacrest tweeted at 8:43 p.m. PST March 17, 2010. Only one problem: The show didn't air on the west coast until 9 p.m. With his 140-character slip-up, Seacrest caused that week's results show to its lowest-ever rating in the 18-49 year-old demo.
INSTITUTING IDOL's OWN SOPHIE'S CHOICE
Starting S4, Ryan Seacrest had a fun game he liked to play with Idol contestants one every few seasons. Once the competition got down to an odd number Seacrest would split the contestants into two groups, leaving the odd one out to choose which group they thought was safe and which they thought was in danger. It's an evil game, and there's only one way to win: Sit down and refuse to play.
"WILL YOU...GIVE THIS NOTE I WROTE TO TOM CRUISE?" (Season 11)
He appeared to finally be making an honest woman—though some would have disputed the honesty of the whole relationship—of his longtime girlfriend, country star Julianne Hough, but it was all just a setup for a Rock of Ages joke. SEEEAAAAACREEEEEEEST!!!!!
DON'T CALL ME "SWEETHEART" (Season 6)
Seacrest's host's interruption of a particularly dismissive Simon review of one contestant irritated the Brit judge, who retorted "Who's asking you? No, no, you do the links, sweetheart." Usually the utmost professional in the face of drama, the "sweetheart" appelation caused an uncharacteristic break in the host's cool, and an all-too-rare Simon-Seacrest spat ensued.
THE SCOTT MACINTYRE HIGH-FIVE ATTEMPT (Season 8)
At once cheery, obtuse and slightly awkward, Seacrest trying to high-five American Idol's first blind contest was him at his most Seacrestian.
For the ten greatest diva moments in Idol history, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
JORDIN SPARKS, "I (WHO HAVE NOTHING)" (Season 6)
It was singing this song that proved Jordin had, in fact, everything it took to become the season 6 champ.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD, "ALONE" (Season 4)
Her insta-classic performance of the Heart chart-topper demonstrated Carrie's astounding range and ability, well beyond her country twang.
KELLY CLARKSON, "STUFF LIKE THAT THERE"
America's collective though after this flirty (check that eyebrow choreo!) and remarkably controlled performance: "She's gonna win."
HALEY REINHART, "HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN" (Season 10)
"Take me seriously!" demanded Reinhart. "You got it!" answered America.
FANTASIA BARRINO, "SUMMERTIME" (Season 3)
One of the most emotional and memorable on the Idol stage would make Fantasia a surefire candidate for the Broadway stage.
MELINDA DOOLITTLE, "MY FUNNY VALENTINE" (Season 6)
The back-up singer breathed new life into the 1937 standard, all while showcasing the heights and depths of her out-of-this-world range and polished phrasing.
JESSICA SANCHEZ, "MY ALL" (Season 11)
"I feel that she will kill," predicted J Lo, quite correctly.
JENNIFER HUDSON, "CIRCLE OF LIFE" (Season 3)
Hudson went from middle of the pack to "Hm, maybe she'll win an Oscar someday" with this performance.
KATHARINE MCPHEE, "SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW" (Season 5)
The Smash star miraculously managed to make this song completely and totally her own. Judy who?
LATOYA LONDON, "DON'T RAIN ON MY PARADE"
The perpetually classy LaToya gave Barbra a run for her money with this Funny Girl (and now Idol) show-stopper.
For Idol's best gone-but-only-mostly-forgotten one-week wonders, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
CONTSTANTINE MAROULIS, "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY" (Season 4)
He might not have won Idol, but this performance of Queen's mini-rock opera probably helped pave his path to Broadway.
CHIKEZIE, "SHE'S A WOMAN" (Season 7)
This Beatles cover doubled up on its surprises: It started off in Americana mode before shifting into high gear, and was pretty fun. Unfortunately, the high praise he received from this performance gave him the confidence to whip out the harmonica the next week.
PIA TOSCANO, "RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH" (Season 9)
Her spunky take on Tina Turner wowed the judges, but got her booted from the show—inspiring a hue and cry from people who weren't even regular viewers. Maybe it was the jumpsuit?
TRENYCE, "PROUD MARY" (Season 2)
Attention aspiring Idol divas: Taking on Tina Turner might torpedo your chances. Trenyce's performance of Tina's signature song during Top 5 week was a barnburner, but it wasn't enough to keep her in the competition.
MICHAEL LYNCHE, "THIS WOMAN'S WORK" (Season 9)
"Big Mike" showed off his gorgeous falsetto with this performance of Kate Bush's aching song from She's Having A Baby, and it set the table for the judges to save the eventual fourth-place finisher from elimination a few weeks later.
For a whole lot of quality Simon bitchiness, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, breakthrough performances, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE BITCHY SIMON MOMENTS
THE POORLY TIMED EYE ROLL (Season 6)
Simon picked the worst possible moment to employ his famous eye roll after Chris Richardson sent his thoughts to the victims the Virginia Tech shootings.
LAWYER UP! (Season 3)
After an auditioner claims she's been taking singing lessons for a year, Simon suggests she "get a lawyer and sue her." Vocal and legal advice for the price of one!
AN EXERCISE IN CONTRAST (Season 3)
Simon tells Heather Piccinnini what every girl wants to hear: “You’re beautiful, but you’re ugly when you perform.”
SIMON ACTS LIKE HE'S SEEN A GHOST (Season 7)
To contestant Garrett Haley: "It looks like you've been shut up in your bedroom for about a month. You look…verging on haunted. You need some fresh air."
BUSH BABY, BUSH BABY, GIVE ME YOUR HAND...
Simon calls contestant Kenneth Briggs a "Bush Baby." (Accurately.)
For the ten breakthrough moments in which an Idol was truly born, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, disaster performances, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE BREAKTHROUGH MOMENTS
JASON CASTRO, "HALLELUJAH" (Season 7)
Idol's dreaded wonder revitalized interest in Jeff Buckley's version of the Leonard Cohen standard, driving the singer/songwriter's rendition of the song to #1 on iTunes, cementing "Hallelujah" as an Idol standard, and (briefly, anyway) making Castro a contestant to be reckoned with in Idol's seventh season.
CHRIS DAUGHTRY, "HEMORRHAGE (IN MY HANDS)" (Season 5)
Daughtry's career as an adult alternative staple was forecast with his too-perfect performance of Fuel's "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)," which he would later perform with the band themselves and even rip off some for his own megahit "It's Not Over."
DAVID ARCHULETA, "IMAGINE" (Season 7)
The baby-faced Archuleta made his first big impression on the Idol stage with a slowed down, Otis Redding-style take on John Lennon's utopian standard, causing Paula to tell him that she wanted to "squeeze your head off and dangle you from my rearview mirror," which was probably a compliment.
BLAKE LEWIS, "YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME" (Season 6)
Three words: Bon Jovi Beatbox. Neither Idol or Jon Bon would ever be the same.
ADAM LAMBERT, "BLACK OR WHITE" (Season 8)
We knew that Adam Lambert was stylistically similar to the likes of performer greats like Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury, but it wasn't till his electrifying performance of MJ's "Black or White" that we started thinking he might be worthy of being discussed in the same sentence with them.
LEE DEWYZE, "TREAT HER LIKE A LADY" (Season 9)
Taking on Cornelilus Brother and Sister Rose's '70s hit, Lee DeWyze turned the jaunty pop hit into something soulful and current, setting him on the course to an eventual Season Nine win.
KATHARINE MCPHEE, "BLACK HORSE AND THE CHERRY TREE" (Season 5)
Few pairings of Idol contestant and contemporary pop hit have ever been as natural as Katharine McPhee and KT Tunstall's bluesy singer/songwriter stomp "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," establishing McPhee as an S5 contender and sending the Tunstall original to the top 40.
TAMYRA GRAY, "A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME" (Season 1)
Many contestants in Idol history have taken on "House," the classic ballad most associated with Luther Vandross, but perhaps none better than the first season's Tamyra Gray, who took the song back to its Dionne Warwick performance roots, with spellbinding results.
CLAY AIKEN, "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER" (Season 2)
Aiken's gospel-choir-assisted version of the Simon & Garfunkel standard proved that the scrawny Aiken had a voice that was powerful way beyond his physique.
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX, "ME AND BOBBY MCGEE" (Season 9)
Under the guidance of Miley Cyrus (!!), Crystal Bowersox got in touch with her inner Janis Joplin with a lovely, natural version of "Bobby McGee," causing an excited Randy Jackson to exclaim "THAT'S WHAT IT'S ABOUT!!"
For the 15 most disastrous moments Idol has ever weathered, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, judge goofs, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE DISASTER MOMENTS
LEE DEWYZE, "WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS" (Season 9)
DeWyze may have won his season, but it wasn't thanks to this finale faceplant. Not only did the former paint salesman leave Joe Cocker hanging, but he also sang "What would you do if I sang out of tune" … out of tune.
CHRIS SLIGH, "ENDLESS LOVE" (Season 6)
Remixing a classic song to make it more "modern" was a big thing during Blake Lewis' season, and there was no worse trend-jumping than Sligh's pleasureless Coldplay-ization of the Supremes' "Endless Love."
JUANITA BARBER, "WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN" (Season 2)
Barber aimed at the high notes in this inspirational ballad like a WWII gunner spewing flak: Just put enough stuff up there, and eventually one should hit the target.
NICK MITCHELL, "AND I AM TELLING YOU I AM NOT GOING" (Season 8)
There's a place for humor in American Idol, but that place is not the stage.
DANNY NORIEGA, "TAINTED LOVE" (S7)
Danny Noriega may have been a horrible Idol, but give him credit: He would have made an excellent Stefano Langone.
HAELEY VAUGHN, "THE CLIMB" (Season 9)
As Simon said, "There's a certain irony for you, singing a song about climbing, when you actually fell off." She walked right into that one.
BRANDON ROGERS, "YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE" (Season 5)
In memory of Rogers somehow forgetting all the lyrics to this super-famous Supremes song, all video of his season five performance has been scrubbed from the Internet.
TAYLOR HICKS, "CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE" (SEASON 5)
If there ever was a moment that should have disqualified Taylor Hicks, it was when the man required two tries to kick over his own mic stand.
TIM URBAN, "UNDER MY THUMB" (Season 9)
It's hard to perform a song like "Under My Thumb" without seeming like you're endorsing its misogynist undertones, but that still doesn't excuse turning it into a smiley Jason Mraz ballad.
DANNY GOKEY, "DREAM ON" (Season 8)
Howard Dean : Iowa primaries:: Danny Gokey : Season eight's Top Four
KRISTY LEE COOK, "EIGHT DAYS A WEEK" (Season 7)
Turning a Beatles song into a bluegrass jig isn't automatically a bad idea, but Cook amped up the cheese until the song sounded like something out of the Country Bear Jamboree.
SCOTT SAVOL, "DANCE WITH MY FATHER" (Season 4)
His heart was in the right place. His falsetto was not.
JOHN STEVENS, "CROCODILE ROCK" (Season 3)
Somehow, this atrocious performance didn't staunch Idol's mid-decade obsession with finding the next Perry Como On the bright side, though, it probably wouldn't have been much better even if Stevens had managed to hit any of the notes—the song is that bad.
BOBBY BENNETT, "COPA CABANA" (Season 5)
In ten years' time, Bobby Bennett will pop up in an indie film at some third-tier festival, playing a demented schoolteacher with dreams of becoming the next great lounge singer. This performance will be his audition reel.
CAMILE VELASCO, "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD" (Season 3)
There are many bad things about this performance, but by far the worst is the fact that Camile realizes 10 seconds in how out of her depth she is, but has no choice other to continue stumbling terrified through a song she has no clue how to sing.
For some long overdue Idol judge wackiness, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, reinterpretive covers, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE WACKY JUDGE MOMENTS
KARA DIOGUARDI VS. BIKINI GIRL (Season 8)
Stuck in a finale duet that she couldn't get out of with Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell, Kara decided to beat Darrell at her own game by finishing her rendition of "Vision of Love" by ripping open her dress to reveal herself in a bikini underneath. (It was for charity!)
QUENTIN TARANTINO, GUEST JUDGE (Season 1)
"You pulled off the notes and stuff, but...I don't care. Like, I felt there was glass between me and you." QT as full-timer for Season 13!
STEVEN TYLER GETS ZOOLOGICAL (Season 10)
Whatever you say, Steven.
PAULA WHOOPSIES ABOUT A JASON CASTRO PERFORMANCE (Season 7)
"This is hard!" That's live television for you, Paula. You mix up how many times a performer has sung while Simon Cowell rolls his eyes at you.
COME GET A HUG FROM AUNT ELLEN, TIM URBAN (Season 9)
When Ellen's wrong, she says she's wrong. And she says it with a big ol' squeeze.
For five memorable Idol covers that put new spins on old classics, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster perofrmances, sob stories or last-ditch performances.)
THE CROSS-GENRE COVERS
KRIS ALLEN, "HEARTLESS" (Season 8)
Kris Allen's ability to turn songs from nearly any genre into coffee-house-friendly singer/songwriter jams was one of the keys to his S8 win, and never more evident than on his excellent cover of Kanye West's "Heartless."
DAVID COOK, "BILLIE JEAN" (Season 7)
Few would expect that stripping the distinctive beat and legendary bass groove to one of the most beloved pop songs of all-time would do it any favors, but Cook's haunting ballad rendition of the MJ classic (borrowed from Chris Cornell) was a deserved Idol success.
CHRIS DAUGHTRY, "I WALK THE LINE" (Season 5)
Daughtry turning one of Johnny Cash's trademark numbers into a Nickelback song likely caught the ire of some, but there's no doubt he made it his own, and won a lot of fans with his version.
ADAM LAMBERT, "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU" (Season 8)
If you thought Yvonne Elliman's disco original was heart-rending and devastating to begin with, hearing Adam Lambert turn it into a full-on torch song will leave you just about incapable of moving.
TODRICK HALL, "SINCE U BEEN GONE" (Season 9)
A funked-up, slowed-down version of one of the most straightforwardly propulsive pop/rock songs of the last decade should have been a disaster, but Hall's Kelly Clarkson cover was a success, proving "Since" good enough to survive in just about any genre.
For the ten heart-tuggingest, sobbiest sad backstories in Idol history, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster perofrmances, judge goofs or last-ditch performances.)
THE SADDEST SOB STORIES
DANNY GOKEY (Season 8)
The bespectacled singer auditioned for the show only four weeks after the death of his wife, Sophia. He would go on to place third.
SCOTT MACINTYRE (Season 8)
The eighth-place finisher from Season 8 has Leber's congenital amaurosis, an eye disease that left him with a 2% field of vision.
DIDI BENAMI (Season 9)
Season 9's 10th-place finisher dedicated her audition—during which she sang "Hey Jude"—to her former roommate and songwriting collaborator, who passed away in a car accident.
JAMES DURBIN (Season 10)
The fiery rocker (and wrestling fan) has both Tourette's and Asperger's Syndrome; he was diagnosed with both when he was nine, shortly after his father died.
ELLIOTT YAMIN (Season 5)
When he was young, the Virginia-born R&B singer had ear surgery that resulted in his right ear losing 90% of its hearing ability. At 16, Yamin was diagnosed with diabetes.
CHRIS MEDINA (Season 10)
In 2009, Medina's fiancée Juliana Ramos was in a car accident that resulted in a brain injury. Medina brought her to his audition and introduced her to the judges; the day after he was eliminated in 2011, he self-released a single dedicated to her.
ANGELA MARTIN (Seasons 7, 8, and 9)
This Chicago native's father was murdered right before she went to Hollywood for the first time; she tried out and made Hollywood Week three times, but never reached the semifinalist stage.
ASIA'H EPPERSON (Season 7)
Two days before auditioning in Atlanta, this Missouri belter chatted with her dad about her upcoming tryout. Shortly after they hung up, Epperson's brother called with news: Her father had passed away in a car accident.
AARON KELLY (Season 9)
This baby-faced Pennsylvanian—who made it to the auditions after wowing the crowds at Idol's Disney attraction—was adopted by his aunt and uncle when he was young.
JIM VERRAROS (Season 1)
While singing "When I Fall In Love" during his audition, he also spoke the words in in American Sign Language; this was a tribute to his parents, both of whom are deaf.
Finally, for five last-second "SAVE ME!" prayers of performances, click NEXT.
(Or read our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster perofrmances, judge goofs or reinterprative covers.)
THE HAIL MARY PERFORMANCES
KRISTY LEE COOK, "GOD BLESS THE USA" (Season 7)
After a slightly manic "Eight Days A Week" and other missteps left her on the edge of elimination, this seventh-place finisher decided to turn an American Idol vote into a vote for America by singing Lee Greenwood's schmaltzy ode to the red, white, and blue, "God Bless The USA."
LAUREN ALAINA, "LIKE MY MOTHER DOES" (Season 10)
In what could only be seen as a blatant attempt to sway all those moms who were taken in by Scotty McCreery's preternaturally deep voice and aw-shucks demeanor, Lauren sang a Kristy Lee Cook shout-out to maternal lineage, "Like My Mother Does," in the Season 10 finale. (It didn't work.)
JASMINE TRIAS, "IT'S RAINING MEN" (Season 3)
The judges' comments after her top-four performance of "It's Raining Men" were so harsh, she shed a few tears on the Idol stage. It probably helped extend her stay, though: "When Jasmine cried, that was worth a million votes," Simon told Extra after she was spared from elimination and sent to the top three.
JERMAINE JONES, THE BAD DAD STORY (Season 11)
The 6'8" "gentle giant" claimed that his dad abandoned him in an effort to tug at producers' heartstrings—but Jones's father straight-up said the story was a lie. This prompted a deeper probe into the deep-voiced singer's past, and when the powers that be found out about his criminal record, he was booted from the show.
MEGAN JOY, "ROCKIN' ROBIN" (Season 8)
You're trying to stick out during an Idol year that has the show's biggest superstar since Chris Daughtry and a slew of other talented singers. How do you stick out while staying inside the theme weeks' sometimes-too-small confines? Megan Joy tried capping off a performance of "Rockin' Robin" with an honest-to-god bird call, which certainly made her stand out.
That's all 100 of our moments, but we're sure there's 100 more we could've just as easily included. Let us know your favorite Idol moments in the comments, or tweet it at us @popdust!
(Or jump back to our picks for our favorite flirty moments, serious-artist attempts, controversial eliminations, oddball fan favorites, Seacrest moments, diva moments, one-week wonders, Simon moments, breakthrough performances, disaster perofrmances, judge goofs, reinterprative covers or sob stories.)