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13. Sundance Head, ''Stormy Monday''/Chris Sligh, ''Kiss From a Rose'' (season 6)
Sundance and Chris made similar first impressions in American Idol season 6: They were burly, affable, and controversially groomed (hedgehog goatee and Sideshow Bob curls, respectively). But by the time each man was done, it was his voice that mattered most. Sundance's soulful ''Stormy Monday'' had fans predicting he'd crack the top 12 easily (alas, he got booted in the final week of semifinals), while eventual tenth-place finisher Chris boasted that his lovely ''Kiss From a Rose'' had Paula crumbling in his ''chubby little hands.''
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KELLY CLARKSON (Season 1)
Are we really going to remember Jazmin or Kelly after tonight? Oh, wait. Kelly actually made the cut. How is it possible that the utterly forgettable (even Simon admitted he couldn't remember her) ''R-E-S-P-E-C-T'' singer got a spot in the finals before Angela, whose rendition of ''Run to You'' would have made Whitney proud? Still, Justin must have been relieved since she is no competition for him. —Jessica Shaw, June 27, 2002
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10. Amy Adams, ''Rescue Me'' (season 3)
While she's best remembered for her fuchsia hair and bubbly personality, tenth-place contestant Amy Adams had a serious set of pipes and a little bit of sex appeal too, both of which were on full display in her flirtatious, spot-on rendition of ''Rescue Me.'' Hey, anyone who can make Simon blush on their first meeting has earned a spot on this countdown.
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9. Lindsey Cardinale, ''Standing Right Next to Me'' (season 4)
Listening to Lindsey's note-perfect audition — and the way it left guest judge Gene Simmons flubbing his words — it's hard to believe she'd wind up finishing twelfth, behind the likes of Scott Savol and Mikalah Gordon, no less. And while it's easy to play Thursday-morning critic, if Lindsey's rich, crystal-clear tone had translated to Idol's big stage, she might've crashed the inevitable, season-long Carrie Underwood-Bo Bice party.
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11. Kimberley Locke, ''Somewhere Over the Rainbow'' (season 2)
Idol's eight-season history is littered with big-voiced divas straining to hit their glory notes. But none have been showier — or more successful — than third-place finisher Kimberley's soaring yet controlled reinterpretation of the Wizard of Oz classic. Forget Simon's backhanded compliment about Kimberley championing ''vocals over image'' — any way you look at it, the woman's audition is a beauty.
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12. Fantasia Barrino, ''Proud Mary'' (season 3)
You don't see too many Idol wannabes audition with up-tempo numbers, and with good reason: It's hard enough to stay on key before Simon, Paula, and Randy without having to worry about rhythm. That's why Fantasia's effortless cover of the CCR/Tina Turner show-stopper is so memorable. Accompanied only by the steady snap of her own fingers, the season-three winner proved she was a force to be reckoned with from the very first note of her Idol journey.
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9. Taylor Hicks, ''A Change Is Gonna Come''/''Swanee River Rock'' (season 5)
It was all right there from the beginning: The soulful rasp, the signature gray locks, the spastic dancing. Randy and Paula loved it; Simon loathed it. But whether you're in the former camp and cheered Taylor on to his season-five crown, or the latter (Simon voted against sending Taylor to Hollywood and insisted he ''should be singing backgrounds''), it's impossible to forget exactly how ''Soul Patrol'' became a part of the Idol lexicon.
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7. Brandon Rogers, ''Always on My Mind'' (season 6)
If Idol's sixth season was the one that never really got off the ground, then Brandon was its poster child. His ''Always on My Mind'' had luxurious tone and emotional depth — and his runway-ready good looks didn't hurt, either. Nope, the dude never fulfilled his early promise (not even close!), but his audition was a rare moment of perfection in a Sanjaya-led year of calamity.
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10. Justin Guarini, ''Who's Lovin' You'' (season 1)
He's been reduced to an Idol punch line, thanks to his anemic record sales and a starring role in the wretched From Justin to Kelly, but watch the guy's seamless, self-assured audition again with fresh eyes. As Simon himself points out, it's a privilege to sit back and listen to undiscovered talent this terrific.
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2. Frenchie Davis, ''And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going'' (season 2)
Oh, what might have been had Frenchie not been DQ'd from the competition over those racy modeling photos that popped up on the Internet. Indeed, as the curvaceous songbird coyly told Ryan Seacrest before her audition: ''I can sing...and I'm cute!'' And what an understatement! Her Earth-shattering version of Dreamgirls' signature number was enough to score a round of applause even from crusty Simon. Which raises the question: How long must we wait till she scores a major-label deal?
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1. Paris Bennett, ''Cowboy Take Me Away''/''Take Five'' (season 5)
If every night had been ''Jazz Standards Night'' on season five, Paris might've gone further than her fifth-place finish. As it was, though, the occasionally too-precious teenager hit her peak on her very first trip before the Idol cameras, delivering a one-two country-blues punch so nuanced and lovely, it left a stunned Simon asking, ''Where have you been hiding?'' Indeed, for once, we were making weird squealing noises right along with Paula.