THE BEST AMERICAN IDOL SEASON — A EUROVISION-STYLE COUNTDOWN (3RD PLACE)

Collectively, the group of 4th placers is actually stronger than this group even if it featured three of the best vocalists ever to grace the American Idol stage.  There is a mix of middling contenders who outlived their welcome, some stalwart survivors who saw action in the dreaded bottom three several times on their way to this placement, a well acclaimed underdog, and two front-runners who fans perceived was unjustly eliminated at this stage (in other words, should’ve seen action in the finale).

I will highlight five 3rd placers on this list.  So here are the ones who ranked from 6th to 10th place in my list:

Cinq (5) pwah(n)t – Syesha Mercado (Season 7)

Quartre (4) pwah(n)t – Danny Gokey (Season 8)

Trois (3) pwah(n)t – Vonzell Solomon (Season 4)

Deux (2) pwah(n)t – Jasmine Trias (Season 3)

Un (1) pwah(n)t – Casey James (Season 9)

I know there are detractors out there who would’ve placed Danny Gokey at the bottom of the heap especially with that notorious rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and the way he pimped his dead wife especially during the early part of his Idol journey, but we have to consider that aside from that horrible performance, he was an otherwise strong vocalist.

Six (6) Pwah(n)t – Kimberley Locke (Season 2).  This big-voiced diva so intimidated the other female contestants that no one with the exception of Frenchie Davis would be willing to be grouped with her during Hollywood group round.  Well, I suppose their fears were justified as Kimberley and Frenchie gave a legendary performance of Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold”.   Her Idol journey through the finals was rather bumpy just like Syesha Mercado and Hailey Reinhart, figuring in the Bottom 3 four times.  Well, anyway, at least she finished this high and eventually went on to a sustainable career, with a bunch of chart hits on the adult contemporary and dance charts.  Besides the aforementioned “Band of Gold”, I’ll also highlight her performances of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”.

Sept (7) Pwah(n)t – Haley Reinhart (Season 10).  This bluesy growler was not expected to last that long–she managed to get enough votes to make the finals, but the first few weeks she didn’t make a striking, memorable impression, and only managed to survive by the skin of her teeth.  Everything changed during the second Top 11 week, with a scintillatingly sexy and bluesy rendition of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”.  Though she still had some missteps along the way after that, she then arguably gave her season its best highlights (unlike the Top Two, who simply coasted along with their fanbases without providing any memorable performances).  I had to highlight four instead of the usual three:  besides “Bennie and the Jets”, there’s also the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” and Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” (the last featuring a literal trip and fall, though Haley recovered quickly).

The top three in this round are arguably among the best vocalists ever to grace the American Idol stage.  The points scored do not reflect the caliber of their talent or how close they are level-wise–in many ways ranking these three incredible singers is a matter of splitting hairs.

Huit (8) Pwah(n)t – Elliott Yamin (Season 5).  When I saw his name amongst the ones who made the Top 24 in his season, I was thinking he would be like cannon fodder.  It didn’t help that his looks in the early stages (especially his audition and Hollywood week)  lacks any kind of charisma.  But his voice has proven to be the ticket for him to win the audiences over that as the weeks wore on he turned into an underdog who is capable of usurping the front-runners.  It also helped that from that unfortunate crew cut he grew his hair out that he looked close-to-handsome at the end of his Idol journey.  In terms of record sales, he eventually became the second-biggest selling artist from his season behind Daughtry, and had a big Top 20 hit with “Wait For You”.  The three main highlights from a great body of work include Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” (which Simon Cowell labeled a “vocal masterclass” and reduced Paula Abdul to a weeping mess), his semifinal performance of “Moody’s Mood for Love”, and his take on Elvis Presley’s “If I Can Dream”.

Dix (10) Pwah(n)t – Melinda Doolittle (Season 6).  Until the outcome of this season’s Top Three results, this lady ruled the roost amongst the third placers.  For consistency, it is hard to find anyone whose body of work are universally of a high caliber as hers–she was never in danger of being eliminated until she was shockingly booted out at Top Three.  It was supposed to be a showdown between her and Jordin Sparks, so in some ways as much as I saluted Blake Lewis’s innovations, I resented him for blocking Melinda’s destiny in the finale.  Anyway, though she doesn’t sell as many records as Elliott Yamin, she still remains in extremely high regard, and I just simply adore her commentary and insights on Michael Slezak’s Idology on TVLine.com.  Three standout performances from a universally excellent body of work are the Great American Songbook standard “My Funny Valentine” (originated by Mitzi Green), the bluesy “I’m A Woman” (originated by Christine Kittrell, popularized by Peggy Lee), and “taking it to church” with Bon Jovi’s “Have a Nice Day”.

Douze (12) Pwah(n)t – Joshua Ledet (Season 11).  I’m reluctant to remove Melinda from her top perch to pave the way for this guy, but even Melinda herself was more than willing to relinquish it as she’s a huge fan of him–just watch the viral video of her watching his performance of “When A Man Loves A Woman”.  He got a reputation of being a “standing ovation generator” with the 15 or so ovations he received from the judges for his live performances, and with his intense gospel-based singing style early on he was compared to Season 3 champion Fantasia Barrino, and was given the nickname “Mantasia”.  And the judges could not help but speak hyperboles after almost every performance of his, with J. Lo even declaring that he’s one of the best singers of the past 50 years.  Is he deserving of such hype?  I think he did earn at least half of those standing ovations, and he was really effective in channeling those soul legends of yore–vocally he is indeed up there with the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Jackie Wilson.  But I think all those hyperboles given by the judges was the factor that led to Joshua’s premature boot.  As much as Melinda gave a more consistent body of work than this fellow, this guy indeed generated some intense, genuinely soul-stirring performances, with four of them (which I shall highlight below) belonging among the best performances of all time on American Idol.  Besides the aforementioned “When A Man Loves A Woman”, other major moments from this guy include James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”, Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama”, and to counteract criticism that all he does is scream and holler, his delicate take on India.Arie’s “Ready for Love”.

Garnering the dreaded nul (0) pwah(n)t?  Season 1’s Nikki McKibbin (I still could not forgive her for outlasting Tamyra!).

Joshua made Season 11 continue to pull further up front of the pack.  But let’s see how the other seasons stack up:

1.  Season 11 – 72 points

2. Season 5 – 62 points

3. Season 10 – 58 points

4. Season 7 – 50 points

5. Season 4 – 43 points

6 (TIE). Season 3 – 40 points

6 (TIE). Season 8 – 40 points

8. Season 6 – 31 points

9. Season 1 – 24 points

10. Season 9 – 23 points

11. Season 2 – 21 points

The American Idol season finale is upon us.  How would this year’s Final 2 stack up against all other seasons?  We’ll find out after the final results are announced.

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