American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 26, Haley Reinhart, “Benny and the Jets”

Hated her on the show, love, love, love her now.

Hated her on the show, love, love, love her now.

Time is a funny thing, especially when it comes to American Idol.

We remember how great some contestants are for one or two performances. We forget that for at least the first four seasons, Randy Jackson was incredibly strong as a judge, providing insightful critiques and little nonsense.

When I was putting the list together, I focused on the winners of each season first and went from there. Funny thing when I came to Season 10 – there wasn’t much from champ Scotty McCreery or Lauren Alaina. Why? Because they didn’t do one thing that blew anyone away. They dominated the season because, for whatever reason, the country music explosion took over Idol.

It’s not like they were Carrie Underwood trying out different genres. They were as predictable as a Taco Bell dump. We were hit over the head with country song after country song and looking back at it now, can you remember one moment from either that made you go “Whoa?” (not counting Scotty’s tryout when he famously belted out in his baritone, “babylockthemdoors and turns those lights down low”)

I’m willing to bet if they replayed the season with the same cast, the winner would be Haley Reinhart over Pia Toscano. It’s funny for me to say because when she was on I hated her. No idea why. I just didn’t like her growls (I was a big Jacob Lusk fan and had a mancrush on Paul McDonald, who gets added to the list of “Idols who could have done really well if they didn’t suck at picking songs”).

I was shocked when I re-listened, because she didn’t get one song in the Top 30. She got two (second one coming down the road). And the two who were ahead of her got the same amount as me. How she didn’t win is beyond me, especially with performances like our No. 27 American Idol performance of all-time, Reinhart’s version of the Elton John hit, “Benny and the Jets.”

THE SITUATION: It was Elton John week and we got all the songs you’d expect; McDonald sang “Rocket Man,” Toscano sang “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” Stefano Legano (remember him!) sang “Tiny Dancer,” Alaina did “Candle in the Win” and Casey Abrams did “Your Song.”

Haley closed the night with Bennie and the Jets. It wasn’t a horribly risky performance, but it was slow enough that she could show off her voice and up-tempo enough that she wouldn’t bore us to tears. It’s so important early to not bore the audience because voters will just flat out ignore you. To win Idol, you need tremendous performances in the first three weeks and in the Final 4 and 3, or just sing a particular genre at the height of its popularity.

HIGHLIGHTS: The arrangement is just about perfect. It’s just different enough from Sir Elton to catch your attention. With the delicate piano at the start, Haley – just oozing sexiness – sat on top of the piano and absolutely blows the opening stanza out of the water.

Then we get our first growl.

Then the keys start to pound.

And then more growls come.

At the time they weren’t my favorite, but let’s cut the bullshit – her voice was unique to the show and it wasn’t something we’ve heard since. She didn’t use them nearly as much as we remember, but she uses them to accentuate certain notes and it’s captivating.

Don’t know if this is a highlight, but we have to mention the awkwardness as she tries to get the crowd to waive their arms side to side. Painful – until she starts singing “BEN-NAY … BEN-NAY … BEN-NAY AND THE JETS.”

Her stage presence is innocent yet strong, but the confidence coming out of her voice is unmistakable. Her late run on “Benny and the Jets” is dead-nuts perfect, so much so that J-Lo gets into it from the judging table. Either that or she had to dump.

WHY IT’S HERE: I had no intention of including Haley Reinhart anywhere on this list. My research started with winners, then went to YouTube where there are tons of compilation videos that show the best performances ever.

Those compilations only show clips, which meant I needed to hear a clip that caught my attention and then listen to it in its entirety and I was almost embarrassed for hating on Reinhart after re-listening.

It’s a damn shame she didn’t win the show, but I’m sure being on this list provides great relief to her and her fans.

PREVIOUSLY: No. 27, Elise Testone, “Whole Lotta Love”

NEXT UP: The best performance from the Idol who got screwed the hardest in the history of the show.