American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 20, Clay Aiken, “Bridge over troubled Water”

White guy, black voice. Rick Astley 2.0.

White guy, black voice. Rick Astley 2.0.


I am not a Clay Aiken fan.

Before you get all worked up over nothing, realize this doesn’t mean I dislike the man as a performer either.

When American Idol’s second season aired, I was working at a newspaper in nowhere Pennsylvania and that meant no prime-time TV. This was before DVR – or at least affordable DVR – but since Idol was still a big deal, I read stories about the show as it crossed the Associated Press wire.

My challenge in putting this list together was going to be a season like Season 2 because I was relying on word of mouth and follow-up research. You lose an emotional attachment with a performance, but you’re able to break it down so much easier because you are reacting to what your ears here.

And when Clay performed Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Under Troubled Water” my ears told me I had to include this performance on the list.

It’s the only song from the season I have in my Top 30. I listened to a lot from the season. I heard Kimberly Locke. I heard someone called “Trenyce.” I listened to a lot of Ruben Studdard.

None of them had a performance like Clay Aiken did and while Ruben one, his performances didn’t give me goosies. As much as we make fun of J-Lo for saying it, if you don’t get goosies you can’t be in the Top 30.

And that’s why Clay is here.

THE SITUATION: The way this went down I have no idea how Clay didn’t win this season.

It’s the Top 2 – just Clay and Ruben. Clay is closing the show and he needs a big number.

His voice was the biggest surprise of the year; he was a dorky ginger – who everyone assumed was gay, an assumption we later learned was correct (not that it matters) – but when you closed your eyes and heard him, you were awestruck. How did that voice come out of that body?

For better or worse, he was a little white dude with a big black guy’s body. He was Casper on the outside, all soul inside. And he saved his best for last because that’s what competitors do.

THE HIGHLIGHTS: Before we talk about the singing, let’s get this out of the way – Clay Aiken singing as the only white person on stage is a little funny (Check that – it’s not HD, but I think there is one white girl in the choir. Point remains) because it’s clear he sings like a black dude. And that’s awesome.

The entrance is unmatched. The choir starts the song as Clay slowly makes his way to the mic. It’s so pimp.

Clay’s start could have been better. He stumbles for a moment, but it’s barely noticeable unless you’re a psychotic Idol reviewer.

His range is awesome. Just awesome. He doesn’t go crazy deep, but he shows it hear and there, but has the ability to lighten his tone so quickly. It’s so effortless.

I love every moment of the performance because there isn’t a huge note he chases; he sings the song the way he wants to. The arrangement is perfect for him because he doesn’t need to do vocal gymnastics to perform it; his voice does the work and he’s in control.

And then the finish.

Whoa.

The last note is the kind of note that should win Idol. It’s big, but the perfect exclamation point for the performance. It doesn’t upstage the song, just finishes it the way it should.

WHY IT’S HERE: The performance as a whole is mesmerizing. The choir is such a great touch. Clay gets a little sassy with his head bobs in some spots, but he’s not overdoing anything. He wasn’t going to sit out there and be something he’s not.

I watched this performance probably ten times to find out why I had to put it on. I couldn’t come up with just one reason; it’s just terrific from start to finish and the pressure of the situation makes it even better.

It really makes me wish I was all over Idol because Season 2 seems like it was a fun one to watch, especially with the development of Clay Aiken.

PREVIOUSLY: No. 21, Crystal Bowersox, “People Get Ready”

NEXT UP: No. 19, A soul sister sings a goth classic? Love it.

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