American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 21, Crystal Bowersox, “People Get Ready”

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She was written off by many before she even reached Hollywood.

She ended up being one of the most beloved contestants in American Idol history.

Saying you hated Crystal Bowersox in Season 9 is like saying you hate grilled cheese. Nobody really hates grilled cheese; it’s reliable, really hard to screw up and usually after devouring one, you immediately want more.

Bowersox came in as the dirty hippie. She didn’t look the part of your typical female Idol and was really the first female competitor to get called an “artist” as opposed to a “singer.”

She had her own style and she wasn’t going to waver from it regardless of what the judges said. She played her guitar folksy and flawlessly and her voice was very Janice Joplin, but not so much that she was a cheap knockoff. American slowly fell in love with her and her story; a Type 1 diabetic, a single mother and a woman who just wanted to play her music.

She had a lot of great performances and if I was included Hollywood Week songs, her version of “Natural Woman” – where the wannabe contestants sang backup during her audition – would be on my Top 30.

Crystal Bowersox was as real as any Idol as we’ve seen on the show and she showed how genuine her performances were in our No. 21 American Idol Performance of All Time, the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

THE SITUATION: Midway through the live shows, it was a two-horse race between Bowersox and eventual winner Lee DeWyze, with Casey James as the darkhorse to beat either of the two.

In the Top 7 round the theme was “Inspirational Songs” which couldn’t have been any more perfect for Bowersox. The only other competitor who showed the same passion on stage was Michael Lynche and he was so believable because he missed the birth of his child to be on the show.

Bowersox was closing the night, which wasn’t filled with mediocre performance after mediocre performance (DeWyze was the leader in the clubhouse after his version of “The Boxer,” but it was far from his best; the song just didn’t fit what we’d come to expect from him) the night was hers for the taking.

The song selection was genius. Some of the best performances we’ve seen on Idol have come during Motown Week and while this was about inspiration, Bowersox’s decision to take a Motown group’s song written by the genius that is Curtis Mayfield was perfect. The song itself is versatile because it’s so brilliantly written and Bowersox had proved to be quite good at rearranging songs to make them fit her style.

This performance would be no different.

THE HIGHLIGHTS: Up to this point, Bowersox had been told by the judges that she needed to stop playing her guitar because it was becoming “a crutch” or something like that. It’s that line of critiquing that ruins contestants; nobody told Michael Jordan to stop dunking because it was becoming to predictable. They pulled the same shit with Adam Lambert and his screeching and he came back with some of the best performances ever (forget I said this).

This was no different. Bowersox, who had come out every week looking like a performer playing coffee houses on a Tuesday night, showed up with no guitar in a stunning black dress and being backlit as she sang the opening verse a capella – stealing a page from No. 22, Bo Bice with “In a Dream” – it was one of the best starts to a performance we’ve seen in the show’s history.

The band kicks in perfectly. The background singers are accentuating Bowersox so perfectly and you forget for a minute this is the same girl we’ve seen week after week play her guitar.

When she hits those notes transitioning into the chorus – check the 1:36 mark – it officially becomes the moment when everyone realizes Bowersox is so much more than a crunchy girl with a guitar. She’s a voice.

The song never loses steam and it provides one of the most emotional things we’ve seen on the show. As Bowersox finishes, something clicks. She doesn’t get the final line out because she’s too busy fighting off tears.

We find out in the post-performance interview why; toward the end she saw her father in the crowd and it was the first time he’d seen her perform on the show. It isn’t some BS excuse or staged event done by a contestant to garner votes or earn points with the judges. It was real life joy.

There have been times where performers have faltered over lyrics and been torn apart for it; this was not one of those performances where she blanked. She was genuinely caught up in the moment and the emotion was felt by everyone – even Simon Cowell, who praised the performance, saying “it was in a completely different class than everything we heard tonight.”

WHY IT’S HERE: Bowersox didn’t win even though she probably deserved the crown (to be fair, Lee DeWyze was a heck of a contestant; he never really had a bad night the whole season and ends up as one of the more underrated Idols there have been) and this performance will go down as the second best individual performance of the season and her only appearance on the Dudes Review Idol Top 30 as an individual (SPOILER ALERT).

Bowersox really changed the game for female performers on the show because she didn’t fit any stereotype; she wasn’t the pop princess or the black soul singer. In an era of the show where the WGWG (white guy with guitar) dominated, she was the first GWG (girl with guitar) on Idol and really the only one who’s truly made a mark.

She proved as long as you’re real, the music is the only thing that matters.

PREVIOUSLY: No. 22, Michael Johns, “It’s All Good But It’s All Right”

NEXT UP: A performance that will make your brain turn to Play Doh wondering how that voice comes out of that guy.