American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 9, Kris Allen, “Heartless”
Kris Allen was about to sing his last song on American Idol.
His chances were slim and none. He was the lovable WGWG, but this was before WGWG really became a thing. Adam Lambert owned Season 8 and Danny Gokey, whose wife had passed the previous year, was the pop/balladeer everyone was rooting for. Allen was just a cog in the machine and about to finish a very respectable third.
And then he came up with the most clutch performance in American Idol history, covering Kanye’s “Heartless,” the No. 9 performance on the Dudes Review Idol American Idol Top 30 performances of all time countdown.
THE SITUATION: The situation was as dire for Allen as previously mentioned.
It’s not that Allen, the scraggly faced, scraggly clothed, atypical WGWG wasn’t good. He had been solid all season, but with the final three how was he getting past Lambert – the best voice in the history of the damn show – and Gokey – who had an incredibly moving backstory and a voice everyone loved – and getting to the final?
The judges picked the Final 3’s songs and looking at the choices, it’s almost like they were trying to make things interesting. Crazy ass Paula Abdul picked “Dance Little Sister” for Gokey to open the show, which didn’t help his cause. Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi picked OneRepublic’s “Apologize” and his performance wasn’t really anything that would make you think he had a prayer to beat anybody. What Lambert sang didn’t matter.
They moved on to the “Contestants’ Choice” and Allen was cooked when Gokey did “You Are So Beautiful.” No way America wasn’t voting for the guy whose wife had died, singing a passionate love song. I mean, America was in fucking tears after this performance and, in all honesty, it wasn’t really all that great.
So with nothing to lose, following Gokey’s incredibly emotional performance, Kris Allen covered fucking Kanye West.
HIGHLIGHTS: Seacrest’s reaction, fake or not, at the start tells the story. It’s like he can’t believe this pretty white boy is gonna take on the most popular rapper in the world. Seacrest looked perplexed like it could even be tried.
Nobody had really gone there with a hip hop song. We’d seen pop songs get covered and turned into cool performances, but other than David Cook belting out “Always Be My Baby,” nobody had sniffed a hip hop song. Therein lies the brilliance of the song choice.
Kanye’s music – at least before he went batshit insane and delved into the darkness that is the Kardashians – isn’t typical rap. It’s actual music. People forget Kanye was a brilliant producer. He sampled songs people didn’t think you could try and sample or sampled them in a way people thought was impossible. Heartless samples the Alan Parsons Project’s “Ammonia Avenue.” It’s actual music and when you listen to Allen, you see how easy it was to transition Heartless into an acoustic hit.
The arrangement is perfect. Singing a Capella, he hits the first few lines of the song, then gets into the guitar. We’re 10 seconds into the song and it’s amazing.
Instead of rapping the song, a la Blake Lewis, Allen sings Kanye’s lyrics. It adds a ton and doesn’t sound forced or fake. It sounds like a No. 1, almost to the point where you’d think Kanye stole the damn thing from him.
The sly grimace at the end is my favorite part. Allen hears the cheers and realizes, suddenly, I have a shot.
He had a little more than that.
WHY IT’S HERE: I don’t think he realized it, but that was the moment Kris Allen won American Idol.
Adam Lambert was a powerhouse on the show, but his late-season performances weren’t matching his earlier ones. It’s not that they weren’t good; it’s just the others were amazing (yeah, they’re on this countdown) that he set the bar so high he couldn’t reach it again.
All that was on anyone’s mind the following week was “This is the guy who covered Kanye” and that got a ton of votes. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that was the only reason, because Adam Lambert’s sexuality was a huge topic of conversation and there were a hell of a lot of voters who took pleasure voting for the married guy from the South instead of the fruity foo-foo who wears makeup.
But I think if Allen doesn’t crush Heartless, he doesn’t get past Gokey and Lambert goes on to win the season. We haven’t seen anything else like it in the history of the show and that’s why it deserves the No. 9 spot.
NEXT UP: Laying the ‘Wood on the competition