The 10 Best Performances of “American Idol” Season 12

Can you guess our pick for the best performance of the season? Better yet: Can you guess the ONE male vocalist who made our list?

Maybe you’re done with the twelfth season of American Idol, but I’m not. Before we officially switch off our DVR season pass and lock ourselves in for So You Think You Can Dance, let’s take one last look at the low-rated, but luckily lady-dominated season and pick the 10 best performances.

10. Kree Harrison, “What the World Needs Now”

Kree really impressed me with song choices early on in the series. This girl chose two Susan Tedeschi songs. She picked an effing Faith Hill song that ended up being great and original. And most impressively, she chose this sung-to-death Bacharach tune and improved on its original version (by the lovable Jackie DeShannon) by rendering the song in her glum, disarmingly unembellished voice. Starting out in a cappella? Always a profitable move.

9. Devin Velez, “It’s Impossible”

Spoiler: This is the only male performance to make the list, but that can’t shock you. Devin Velez, in his Tintin-ian cuteness, launched one of the cannier song choices of season 12 with this bilingual rendition. Knowing he had to carve out a voter niche, he reached out to a Spanish-speaking audience and sold this ancient Perry Como track in his innocent, yet resonant chirp.

8. Amber Holcomb, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life”

For someone who was called out for delivering rote renditions of old songs, Amber Holcomb marvelously compensated with glowing stage presence, her heartbreaking bleat, and sheer vulnerability. We needed more of that last tenet in season 12, and on this lovely Barbra track, Amber owned the room with a stately, deeply sweet performance.

7. Angie Miller, “Cry Me a River”

The one time Angie Miller got it totally right: “Cry Me A River” is a gorgeous track suited to Angie’s youthful balladeer energy, and though the Julie London classic feels like a ’60s relic, this was one of Angie’s most “current”-seeming performances. Gone were the Celine stodginess and dated Evanescence angst that plagued some of her other performances.

6. Kree Harrison, “Crying”

What did I tell you about Kree’s song choices? This Roy Orbison tune is lachrymose and teeming with pain, and Kree’s treatment doesn’t shy away from its resounding despair. The performance epitomizes Kree’s main selling point: She’s an astonishingly melancholic performer who won over the Idol vote with buoyant energy and tastefulness.

5. Candice Glover, “You’ve Changed”

Candice was a constant powerhouse on Idol, and because of that, it’s easy to forget (or dismiss) how versatile her performances were. “You’ve Changed” was one of her signature eviscerations, a damning and piercing performance that came off like a climactic monologue in a musical. It’d be fair to call this “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Losing.”

4. Amber Holcomb, “Lately”

We can quibble about how reliable Amber’s vocals were, but you can’t deny that she made you watch her. Watchability is an underrated quality in Idol performances, wouldn’t you say? Whether she was jiving during “Love On Top” or compelling us with urgent whimper-singing on “Lately,” Amber was always one of the most charismatic and eye-attracting performers. On this, she nearly bawled in front of us, and you couldn’t avert your glance.

3. Candice Glover, “I (Who Have Nothing)”

If you didn’t think, “Candice Glover deserves to win this damn pageant” after seeing this performance, I can’t imagine what prevented you. This was one of Candice’s first true exhibitions of emotional range. She proved here she was unafraid of approaching Idol’s past triumphs (as this was once performed, rather legendarily, by Jordin Sparks) and trouncing them with earned gravitas, bold stage presence, and a hint of stank.

2. Candice Glover, “Somewhere”

The West Side Story track you never needed to hear again came roaring back, and this time it was newer, harsher, and somehow more searing than ever. After she’d performed so successfully during previous weeks of the competition, it was hard to guess how Candice Glover could still elevate herself. Here, she went from “frontrunner” to “grande dame, whether she wins this choirgirl cotillion or not.” Pretty sure this performance catapulted everyone else out of the competition and into the audition queue for The Voice.

1. Candice Glover, “Lovesong”

This is the #1 performance for sincerely every reason you can think of. It’s the greatest vocal. It’s the most unpredictable vocal. It is the most inspired song choice of the season. It’s the weirdest song choice of the season. It’s 100% engrossing from beginning to end. It’s a theatrical marvel. And best of all, it’s a comprehensive display of Candice’s varied gifts, namely her knack for song interpretation and confessing. It might be the best Idol performance ever, simply because it features the most performing. Emoting, acting, professing, interpreting — what doesn’t she accomplish? Maybe this season of Idol was low-rated, but the quality of talent and taste in that performance was beyond almost anything the show has ever bequeathed us.