American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 12, David Cook, “Billie Jean”
In Season 1, American Idol was a terrific singing show.
Season 2 wasn’t bad. Season 3 wasn’t great. Minus Underwood, Season 4 was boring. Season 5 was an outright disaster.
Season 6 Blake Lewis changed things up a little; his beatboxing style brought viewers who didn’t want to hear karaoke and he damn near one the show.
That’s when producers realized adding instruments would add more viewers.
And that’s when David Cook changed the show forever.
Cook had a voice. It might not have been good enough to win – man-crush on Cook aside, he probably was the sixth or seventh best pure voice on the show that season – but when you paired it with his talent on the guitar and ability to manipulate music, he was doing things nobody had seen before. He was Vince Carter in the Slam Dunk Contest.
And when he came out with “Billie Jean,” all we needed was Kenny Smith screaming “It’s Ovah!”
THE SITUATION: Where was David Cook heading into the top 10? Let’s think.
He wasn’t as hunky as Michael Johns (RIP). He wasn’t a teenage talent like David Archuleta. He didn’t have Carly Smithson’s voice (although America hated her once news came out about a previous recording contract) or Syesha Mercado’s, for that matter. Brooke White was a more talented musician.
So singing a song from the year they were born, everyone was puzzled when Cook said he was doing Billie Jean to close the night.
Now’s where I note that nobody knew he was doing an arrangement by Chris Cornell and since this was before Twitter and Facebook, there was no social media to get super pissed on.
It was a very mediocre night for the Top 10.
All Cook did was win Season 7 with one performance.
HIGHLIGHTS: It’s dark. Dark music and Idol don’t usually get along.
Starting off without his guitar was a great look because it showed he could sing. Cook had the stigma of being the rock guy, only getting by because of his guitar, but this song changed all that.
He smoothly runs through the start of the song and right before the song gets to the chorus, he starts getting aggressive with his tone.
Then the chorus hits and, boom, mind explodes.
You have to remember that this kind of performance had never been done on Idol. Never. Songs were always sung as they were, or a cover of a really old cover, or pretty damn close to the original.
Yes, this was a cover of a cover, but who, besides music nerds and Seattle grunge heads, knew Chris Cornell’s B-side cover of a Michael Jackson song?
WHY IT’S HERE: If Cook doesn’t sing Billie Jean, Idol changes forever. David Archuleta wins the show in a landslide and pop star after pop star wins the show as WGWG never get a chance.
There’s also the argument that he ruined Idol and started the WGWG revolution, but let’s be honest – you’re taking someone who can sing and play and instrument over someone who can sing unless that person is life-changing good. The show’s big voices of the past wouldn’t have lost to a WGWG. Cook wins most years because of his voice, because of his ability to play music and because he wasn’t afraid to go up there and do something nobody saw coming.
PREVIOUSLY: No. 13, Jason Castro/Lee Dewyze, “Hallelujah”
NEXT UP: How do win American Idol in the Top 8? The answer, much like the livin’, is easy.