American Idol, Katherine McPhee
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American Idol host Ryan Seacrest said yesterday that producers are trying to figure out an appropriate homage for the late Whitney Houston — who had reacted positively to a possible season 11 guest-mentoring spot just days before her death. Whitney had always been one of those untouchable, “hmmm…maybe don’t go there” artists on musical competition shows, but there were always a few brave souls who got in there and wanted to feel the heat with their idol.

Jennifer Hudson’s wow-worthy “I Will Always Love You” tribute at last night’s Grammys got us thinking about other American Idol contestants who dared to cover one of the greats. Below is our roundup of the 10 best Whitney Houston performances on Idol. You don’t really need to look very much further. Don’t (you DARE!) walk away from me. Just listen below, and let us know who you think wore Whitney best.

Season 2: Trenyce, “I Have Nothing”

TRENYCE! Oh hey girl! Haven’t thought about you in…forever. This was gorgeous. Way to set the trend for American Idols refusing to hold it back again, this passion inside.

Season 3: Jennifer Hudson, “I Have Nothing”

I love her matter-of-fact “I think I’m a powerful singer as well” (not to mention her Sister Act obsession). It’s cool to see how much more she’s developed since Idol. Her vocal’s a bit hollow, especially at the beginning. But of course she’s great!

Season 5: Katharine McPhee, “I Have Nothing”

Randy Jackson thought the song was “too big for her” (doesn’t he know she’s about to be big on BRRRRROADWAY?) The judges were right, but I had to include this one, because a) she gives Paula the best stinkface at 3:11; b) she does hit a few strong notes; c) seriously, her boobs; d) was “Well, for those who don’t have their volume on, I’m sure you’re gonna get plenty of votes” Seacrest’s best unintentional insult ever?

Season 6: Lakisha Jones, “I Have Nothing”

I’ll always think of Lakisha as one of the strongest voices ever on American Idol.

NEXT PAGE: Some people DIDN’T sing ‘I Have Nothing’!

Season 6: Melinda Doolittle, “I Believe in You and Me”

She got eliminated the night after Randy picked this song for Top 3. It’s not the most exciting performance in the world, but I think more than anyone else, Melinda mirrored Whitney’s tendencies for pitch-perfect melody and vocal light and shade. She knew when to reign it in and wasn’t trying to out-powerhouse anyone.

Season 7: David Archuleta, “When You Believe”

IT’S A BOY! Lil’ Archie took on this Whitney/Mariah combo meal for the Top 7’s Mariah Carey night. I’d forgotten about his lovely falsetto! Season 9’s Siobhan Magnus would later cover the same song during the Top 7’s “Inspirational Songs” night.

Season 10: Pia Toscano, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

Last season’s weepy wailer finally brought some uptempo-ness with this one, prompting Steven Tyler to perk up (wake up?) and pronounce, “You are why this show is called American Idol.” Third place finisher Haley Reinhart also gave Whitney a shot this season, but it was in that awkward period where she was still finding herself, and “I’m Your Baby Tonight” in sassy ’80s wear didn’t quite fit into Haley’s niche as this flowy white jumpsuit-friendly one did with Pia.

BEST WHITNEY AUDITION? Lisa Tucker, “One Moment in Time”

Not an official performance, but Simon Cowell called season 5’s Tucker “the best 16-year-old” to ever audition. Season 7’s Carly Smithson and season 10’s Karen Rodriguez also had luck singing Whitney covers for their first impressions. (I like Carly’s even more than Lisa’s.)

NEXT PAGE: Who sang Whitney best? VOTE!

Time to vote….

After Sunday’s Grammys tribute, I have to think Jennifer Hudson would win in a landslide. But did you think someone else was the best? Did the second episode of NBC’s Smash blind you to all performers who are not Kat McPhee?

Oh and just for fun — here is the Worst Whitney Houston Effort on American Idol. DANCE!

Season 2’s Jennifer Fuentes works at the circus now! So perfect.

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Ask Annie anything about ‘Idol’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture.

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