American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 16, Blake Lewis, “You Give Love a Bad Name”

The innovator at work

The innovator at work

Has anyone ever gotten more out of one performance in the history of American Idol than Blake Lewis?

Let’s cut through all the bullshit; vocally, Blake wasn’t Idol-worthy. This was the era before instruments where you needed a voice to win the show. Blake didn’t have the voice.

But if anyone ever documents the history of the show, Blake is one of the most important contestants the show has ever had.

His performance of “You Give Love a Bad Name” – the No. 16 song on our American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time countdown – single-handedly changed how contestants performed on the show. It proved you didn’t need to do note-for-note covers. It proved you were allowed to change arrangements and do something different. It introduced the word “risky” to the Idol lexicon. It was also good enough to get him to the final.

Think of all the top performances pre-Blake Lewis; they’re all exact covers or exact cover of a cover of the original. Post Blake contestants became a lot more original and for the next few years, the content of the show was unmatched.

No, Blake Lewis didn’t have one of the greatest voices we’ve heard on the show.

But when you change the show the way he did, you can’t not be on the list.

THE SITUATION: We heard Blake Lewis’ beatbox routine and his ability to spice up songs, but even in the Top 6, he was, at best, the fifth best performer. Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones were so talented vocally and Chris Richardson seemed like a pop star in the making.

Blake was coming off a Bottom 3 standing in the Top 7 and needed a good performance in the Top 6; his first go, “Imagine” wasn’t great, but with it being “Idol Gives Back” week no one was eliminated with a double elimination set for the following week. It was going to be Blake’s time unless he came up with something big.

With Bon Jovi’s songs the theme and the Jovi as the mentor, Blake Lewis came up with a performance that sent him right to the final and changed Idol forever.

THE HIGHLIGHTS: Blake had really used the beatbox to add color to performances; it wasn’t really a featured piece. Things changed and we knew it was going to be interesting when Jovi said “16 measures of him not singing on a show that’s supposed to highlight singers makes me wonder.”

The start was brilliant, but not in the way most memorable performances are; we didn’t get that big note or slow start. Instead, Blake went with the sound effects of putting a vinyl record on a player, complete with static from the needle (for you young people who are totally confused by the last sentence, Wiki it).

Vocally, he’s almost overpowered by the background singers to start, but once the drummer kicks in and Blake makes his voice reverberate, you know you are seeing something you’ve never seen before.

Let’s not say his vocals are great. They’re not. They’re OK at best. But the addition of the effects makes this performance ridiculous. His beatbox solo adds so much; it made you want to watch and made things interesting.

WHY IT’S HERE: Blake Lewis was one of the first performers Idol has had. Taylor Hicks was a performer, but he still had a hell of a voice.

Until Blake did what he did, nobody had ever been that original with an arrangement – which Randy Jackson actually says in perfect English after the performance; it’s a rarity because soon after this season, Randy stopped speaking English and started speaking Dawg – on American Idol. We had country singers “take risks” by singing rock, or some guy sing a chick song, but we never had a guy take a song, totally remake it in a completely different style.

Blake Lewis is an originator and when you change history on Idol, you get on the countdown.

PREVIOUSLY: No. 17, Phillip Phillips, “Home”

NEXT UP: The super hunk longshot makes everyone jealous.