American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 5, Adam Lambert, “Mad World”

The lights didn't shine on Lambert, but they didn't need.

The lights didn’t shine on Lambert, but they didn’t need.

Every once in a while there’s a performance on American Idol that is so good words are just a waste of everyone’s time. You sit there, listen and enjoy to what’s in front of you.

Adam Lambert was the most dynamic performer in the history of the show. His theatrical background – once worried to be a hindrance with his flair for the dramatic and his high-pitched, well-time screams of emphasis – and ability to rearrange music would have made him the best Idol winner ever had deep-South bigotry not robbed him of a crown he rightfully deserved.

(It should be noted this isn’t intended to take something away from Kris Allen, who was the perfect contestant for the anti-Lambert religious zealots; he was a clean-cut, married guy from the South who was consistently good every week and then had his Idol ‘moment’ in the Final 3 when he delivered the most clutch performance in the history of the show. The religious right could say “Heartless was so good and that’s why I voted for Kris” instead of “I won’t vote for no makeup wearing queer.” If you think bigotry didn’t play a huge role in deciding the winner, you need a reality check)

Lambert made Idol must-see TV. You wanted to see what song he was going to do and how he was going to do it. There was no in-between with Lambert. You either loved him or hated him. His cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is praised for its brilliance almost as much as it’s hated for disgracing Cash’s original. That’s why people tuned it and wanted to watch him.

His cover of Mad World is without a doubt one of the best performances the show has had. You’re not finding a “Best of” list without it but anyone who fails to put it in the Top 5 is just trying to get a rise out of the masses knowing the Glamberts – his perfectly nicknamed fans – come in full force. They’ll click the bad stories to defend their Idol idol as much as they’ll click one that showers him with glittery praise.

So, in a message solely for his fans, before you react to the overall rank of this performance, read the rest of this, then wait for the final four selections to come out and you’ll see why his second-best performance of Season 8 is the fifth best performance in American Idol history.

THE SITUATION: Four weeks into the final, it was more about who was going to lose to Lambert than who was going to win. Lambert had done an amazing job with his first four. His opens with “Black or White,” which wasn’t a good song selection until he sang it better than Michael damn Jackson did.

From there, with total disapproval from Randy Travis – who, let’s be honest, wasn’t a fan of Lambert’s “Lifestyle choices” any more than he was a fan of having a country music legend’s song stripped and song in a style it had never been done before – he does “Ring of Fire” and you couldn’t tell if it was good or bad because this happened:

So after a questionable – or greatest ever, depending on your perspective – he does “The Tracks of My Tears” for Motown Week with a version so good they didn’t release it the way it was performed on iTunes, instead releasing the normal version with Lambert singing over it (I’d like my .99 back please).

He comes back with “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, a funk classic that had been put out to pasture after being killed by middle-aged women at weddings everywhere, but he somehow made the song relevant again.

With his head far above the remainder of the pack, how does he follow?

By taking a cover of a goth rock band’s original popularized by an indie flick that is one of the strangest, darkest movies you’ll ever see.

In other words, the perfect song selection for Adam Lambert.

HIGHLIGHTS: The whole thing.

The darkly lit stage is too perfect. You can barely see Lambert’s face; it’s just a silhouette and that’s all you need. Who cares who is singing this? Just listen.

Every note is perfect. We’d heard Lambert go huge on some notes and Simon even picked him apart for the “Adam moment,” which is wear he’d yell loud just to show he could. On this performance, it was all control.

It’s not like some of the other Top 30 performances where there’s one standout part or one giant note that sticks in your head forever. This performance lacks that huge moment. It’s two minutes (1:57, but who’s counting) of perfect singing and a perfect, subtle, stage performance.

Simon Cowell’s breakdown seals the majesty that is Mad World. With Lambert closing the night and 10 p.m. coming quicker than expected, Cowell says they’re running short on time and adds “I’m the only one who’s going to be talking and I think words are unnecessary, but I want to give you a standing ovation.” That’s heavy praise coming from Cowell, who had given Lambert plenty of praise but handed him a lot well-thought critiques.

This was one performance where Cowell was dead on – words really weren’t needed.

WHY IT’S HERE: So putting it Top 5 was easy.

Explaining why it’s not higher makes sense to me, but perhaps not to anyone who loves this performance.

My only gripe is the arrangement. This was really one of the few times Lambert did a cover of a cover. Tears for Fears did the original, but Gary Jules’ cover – composed by Michael Andrews – that was used in Donnie Darko is pretty much the same thing Lambert sang.

The other reason this isn’t higher is Lambert had a performance from the season that was flat-out better.

It didn’t get the acclaim of “Mad World” or as noticed as “Ring of Fire,” but for what this countdown is about – vocal performance, originality, importance in the contest – it ranks ahead.

Which song?

You’ll just have to wait.

As for the other three Idols who ranked ahead, you’ve got an arrangement that made the original artist/songwriter realize they might have actually written a good song and not just something that sells, the ‘moment’ for an Idol who had a season full of them and the instant you realized an Idol wasn’t just going to win; they were going to be a megastar.

We’re at the point in the countdown where you’re really nitpicking, so any argument for this being higher is going to be just as good for it being right here. Instead or freaking out about it, just enjoy it because nothing this good should bring on any sort of anger.

PREVIOUSLY: No. 6, Jordin Sparks, “I (Who Have Nothing)”
NEXT UP: An arrangement Idol fans will Always remember