13. TIM URBAN, ”Under My Thumb” (Season 9)
Putting aside the fact that the Rolling Stones’ sexually aggressive ditty has no place on the supposedly family-friendly Idol stage, Tim’s emotionally tone-deaf, reggae-fied(!) rendition was cataclysmically jarring. We’ll never forget the sound of the polite Texan straining his voice and reciting the lines ”Under my thumb/ The squirming dog who’s just had her day” as if he were singing ”Kumbaya.” Yowza.
12. MIKALAH GORDON, ”Love Will Lead You Back” (Season 4)
Bad enough that the spunky Las Vegas teenager inexplicably turned Taylor Dayne’s big ballad into a funeral dirge, but even worse, her voice kept cracking like Humpty Dumpty hitting the sidewalk. By the time Mikalah grabbed the mic off its stand and began to approach the audience, it almost felt like a threat.
11. NIKKI MCKIBBIN, ”Always Something There to Remind Me” (Season 1)
It seems too easy to take another swing at season 1’s perennial punching bag, but listen to the nonexistent lower register and the shrieking high notes of Nikki’s Naked Eyes cover, and you’ll hear how far Idol has come over the course of nine seasons. This is what once passed as a top-three contestant?
10. JOSH GRACIN, ”Jive Talkin”’ (Season 2)
There’ve certainly been worse vocals in Idol history than Josh Gracin’s clumsy attempt to countrify the Bee Gees’ 1975 hit. Nope, what forever scalded this moment into our memories was a scary close-up of Josh thrusting his wild-eyed face full-frame into the camera. That was accompanied by some of the most awkward body gyrations on record, as the Marine painfully attempted to act out every line of the song through spastic hand gestures resembling sign language gone horribly awry. Predictably, Josh went home and, thankfully, never came near a disco floor again. —Dalton Ross
9. KEVIN COVAIS, ”Part-Time Lover” (Season 5)
Setting aside for a second that the song manages to somehow be simultaneously too low and too high for his vocal register, is anyone not completely squicked out by the idea of someone nicknamed ”Chicken Little” trying to seductively deliver lyrics like ”Knowing it’s so wrong/But feeling so right”? Awkward, to be sure, and the scrawny, bespectacled Kevin’s debate-club vibe only heightened the impression that he’d been forced on stage by a group of very large high school football players who were threatening to shove him into a locker if he didn’t do it. Little guy never had a chance. —Whitney Pastorek
8. PAIGE MILES, ”Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (Season 9)
Paige’s rendition of the Phil Collins ballad made it the most-covered song in Idol semifinals/finals history (insert hissing and raspberries here), but making matters worse, she missed approximately nine out of every 10 notes. Paige began the performance seated at the bottom of the show’s lighted staircase; if she’d had any dignity, she’d have dropped her mic, sprinted to the top of the steps, and disappeared into the rafters — never to be seen (or heard) on the Idol stage again.
7. HALEY SCARNATO, ”Turn the Beat Around” (Season 6)
She did not turn the beat around. Nor did she turn it upside down. Haley did, however, choke the life out of Vicki Sue Robinson’s disco classic. Clad in barely there short-shorts, the oft maligned contestant frantically raced around the stage like a woman who didn’t have an answer to her own halfhearted improvisation — ”somebody won’t you tell me if you feel the beat!” Chances are most of the audience — limply clapping along to her performance — couldn’t answer in the affirmative either.
6. CARMEN RASMUSEN, ”Call Me” (Season 2)
The Utah teenager’s goat bleat of a vibrato wasn’t quite as tuneless on her Blondie cover as it had been during, say, her evisceration of Billy Joel’s ”And So It Goes,” but the attitude was all wrong — kind of like watching a Girl Scout burst into a biker bar and screech at some Hells Angels to buy her #@*%*@ cookies!
5. JOHN STEVENS, ”Music of My Heart” (Season 3)
”You and Latin music go together like chocolate ice cream and an onion,” said Simon Cowell, describing the congenial 16-year-old’s abominably atonal rendition of ”Music of My Heart” during Idol‘s ill-advised foray into the Gloria Estefan songbook. Still, all things considered, that choco-onion platter might go down easier than a repeat listen to John’s strained and quavery vocal performance.
4. KRISTY LEE COOK, ”Eight Days a Week” (Season 7)
Poor, valiant, misguided Kristy Lee — strapping herself onto the out-of-control barrel horse that was the Idol band’s attempt to countrify (and speed up) a Beatles classic, and falling off with a thud some 90 seconds later, exhausted, bewildered, but still smiling like a frightened pageant queen in her shredded jeans and sparkly silver top.
3. DANNY GOKEY, ”Dream On” (Season 8)
Bad enough that Danny shoved the limbs of a defenseless Aerosmith tune into a wood chipper, but the crime took on epic proportions when the judges tried to distract the audience from his heinous act. (Randy gave an ”A+ for a valiant effort,” Paula handed out an ”A++ for going for it,” and Simon predicted the bespectacled growler would be safe when results night arrived.) In truth, this was a performance that started out ugly (as Danny struggled mightily with pitch and cadence from the opening note) and ended gloriously and maniacally awful, with a cacophonous howl that spewed musical gore onto every person who had the displeasure of witnessing it. Gokey’s advance to the final three at the expense of Allison Iraheta the following night makes this one a true and permanent stain on the Idol machine.
2. SANJAYA MALAKAR, ”Bathwater” (Season 6)
Not even perky guest mentor Gwen Stefani could hide her disdain when Sanjaya tackled the No Doubt hit. And from his out-of-tune, out-of-breath vocals to his botched lyrics to his infamous (and hideous) ”pony-hawk,” the scourge of season 6 lived down to Stefani’s low expectations, bringing to life the lyric ”I know I’m divin’ into my own destruction.”
1. CAMILE VELASCO, ”Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (Season 3)
Accusing Camile Velasco of butchering Elton John’s ”Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” would be a case of assigning blame to the victim. The only correct emotional response to the teen’s rendition — presented in an awkward crouch-and-bounce stance at center stage — would be one of sympathy. Her final, wretched ”ahh-ahh-ahh,” delivered with the indignity of a barnyard beast passing through the slaughterhouse door, was a musical white flag, begging the viewing audience to hang up their phones and put her out of her misery. And that’s exactly what they did.