Ever wonder why the winners REALLY cry at the “American Idol” finale? I think it’s because they often have to release “I Believe a Moment Like This is My Now and is the Time of My Life Because I’m Flying Without Wings Inside Your Heaven”-type pap as their first singles. I’d be bummed too.
It’s too bad that almost every past coronation song has been such a piece of sentimental, Hallmark-y dreck, but some have been more listenable than others. So here’s my ranking of the “Idol” coronation songs, from best to worst. Where does Candice Glover’s “I Am Beautiful” fit in? Read on…
(Side note: Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze’s coronation song was the already-market-tested “Beautiful Day,” by a little band you may have heard of called U2, so I’m skipping Season 9 on this list and sticking only to originals or songs that were largely unknown in the U.S. at the time.)
1. Phillip Phillips, “Home” (Season 11) – The moment I heard Phillip sing “Home” on the Season 11 top two performance show, I knew it would be my all-time favorite “Idol” coronation song, and I knew it would be a smash hit. Sure, the Mumford & Sons comparisons were inevitable. Even Mumford & Sons mistook “Home” for a Mumford & Sons song. But being compared to Mumford (or Coldplay, or Arcade Fire, or Edward Sharpe, or the Lumineers) really isn’t such a bad thing, is it? This was the first coronation song in “Idol” history that sounded current, relevant and — dare I say it? — actually cool. It’s hard to believe now that P-Squared didn’t want to release this song as his first single, but considering how it has since sold more than 4 million copies, he’s probably glad now that Jimmy Iovine made him record it.
2. Kelly Clarkson, “A Moment Like This” (Season 1) – This, of course, is the coronation song by which all traditional coronation songs must be judged. It’s a just a good song — good enough that Leona Lewis recorded it as her coronation song when she won “The X Factor U.K.” in 2006. Sure, the lyrics are a bit hokey, but who didn’t get a little choked up on Season 1’s finale night when Kelly fanned her misty eyes and crooned, “I can’t believe it’s happening to me”? A moment like that only comes once.
3. David Cook, “Time of My Life”(Season 7) – Why did the “Idol” powers-that-be make poor David, a rocker, sing a line like “I’m lookin’ for that magic rainbow”? (Come on, the only singer who can get away with a line like that is Kermit.) David was one of the breakthough contestants who really pushed this show forward artistically, and he deserved better than cringeworthy lyrics like that Bette Midler-esque line about “findin’ my wings” or a whole verseful of muddled metaphors. However, cliché-riddled drivel aside, melodically this coronation song (which was penned by “Idol” songwriting contest winner Regie Hamm) was one of the best, and David delivered a convincingly emotional (but not over-the-top) vocal. It’s actually one of the most successful coronation songs, sales-wise, second only to Phillip’s. Seeing Courtney Galliano and Mark Kanemura beautifully waltz to it on the fourth season of “So You Think You Can Dance” personally helped me appreciate it more, too.
4. Fantasia, “I Believe” (Season 3) – Fantasia is my favorite “Idol” winner, ever. To borrow an oft-used phrase of praise from the judges, the woman could sing the phone book and make it sound fabulous. Fantasia totally took “I Believe” to church on the Season 3 finale, and I was a believer. The borderline-cheesy song unfortunately didn’t showcase Fantasia’s edgier side (that came later, with the underrated “Hood Boy” and “Bore Me” and this year’s Side Effects of You), but I still get goosebumps when I hear her belt this gospel-tinged anthem, due to her impeccable voice alone.
5. Carrie Underwood, “Inside Your Heaven” (Season 4) – Usually when the two “Idol” finalists compete against each other performing the same coronation song, it’s pretty clear for whom the tune is better suited. But I didn’t feel that way in Season 4. Both Carrie and that season’s runner-up, Southern boy Bo Bice, possessed a country twang that worked well with this Desmond Child-produced power ballad — and, in an “Idol” first, both single versions did well commercially. Carrie’s recording went to number one on the Hot 100, Bo’s went to number two, both were certified gold by the RIAA, and both songs were nominated at the Billboard Music Awards for Top-Selling Hot 100 Song of the Year (surprise: Carrie beat Bo at that, too). I actually preferred Bo’s version, which had a certain Aerosmithian stadium-rock quality to it, but sweet Carrie probably felt more comfortable warbling a line like “the sun and the moonlight, all my dreams are in your eyes” than bad-boy Bo ever did.
6. Ruben Studdard, “Flying Without Wings” (Season 2) – Rooooben was “Idol’s” first big R&B star (and one of its only R&B stars, sadly), and this Babyface-produced version of a hit by British boy band Westlife — with its gospel overtones that foreshadowed Ruben’s future Christian music career — was a good introduction for him. It suited his big, soulful voice well; the Velvet Teddy Bear’s choir-singer delivery and permasmile somehow made the sappy lyrics about everlasting friendship and sunrises and little children’s joyful faces seem believable.
7. Taylor Hicks, “Do I Make You Proud?” (Season 5) – Taylor was at his best on “Idol” when he was either goofing off (wearing a purple velvet tuxedo, dancing like a drunk father of the bride to Doobie Brothers oldies) or being unexpectedly tender and serious (“You Are So Beautiful,” “Trouble,” “Something”). This song, sadly, did nothing to bring out either side of the Soul Patroller’s split personality. It wasn’t deep or poignant enough to really create a memorable finale moment for Taylor, nor did it give him an opportunity to shake a leg and cut loose and play his harp. (Runner-up Katharine McPhee wasn’t even forced to sing it; she got her own song, “My Destiny,” which, come to think of it, wasn’t any better.) However, this song will go down in history for a) making David Hasselhoff cry and b) getting revised as “Do I Creep You Out?” by Weird Al Yankovic, as Al’s first-ever “Idol” parody. So that’s something.
8. Kris Allen, “No Boundaries” (Season 8) – Oh dear. This histrionic chest-beater, which then-“Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi later puzzlingly admitted she’d co-written with the assumption that it would be sung by a female, was completely wrong for poor Kris. Lyrics like “Every step you climb another mountain/Every breath is harder to believe/You’ll make it through the pain/Weather the hurricane/To get to that one thing/When you think the road is going nowhere/Just when you almost gave up on your dreams/They take you by the hand and show you that you can”…well, they made David Cook’s quest for that magic rainbow seem positively Dylan-esque. These lyrics were also overcrowded into the most breathless, mush-mouthed coronation chorus ever, making it near-impossible to sing live. Kris wisely, discreetly dropped the song from his Idols Live Tour setlist early on (replacing it with a better-received Killers song), and he also didn’t include it on his post-“Idol” album.
9. Scotty McCreery, “I Love You This Big” (Season 10) – This song would have been cute sung by a 7-year-old to his mommy in a school recital, not by a 17-year-old with the booming baritone of a full-grown man. And when Scotty performed it on “Idol” and opened his arms wide during the chorus, as if to provide a visual demonstration of just how big his love really was, it was all a bit too literal.
10. Candice Glover, “I Am Beautiful” (Season 12) – The coronation song for the newly crowned champ does tap into Candice’s whole story arc about female empowerment, growing in confidence, being happy with herself, blah blah blah. It’s a nice sentiment…but suffice to say, “I Am Beautiful” will not be beating the radio-play and quadruple-million sales records set by last year’s Phillip Phillips with “Home.” It probably wouldn’t even outsell Jessica Sanchez’s “Change Nothing.” I’d also be surprised if it got on the radio at all. A major talent like Candice deserves a better first single than this.
11. Jordin Sparks, “This is My Now” (Season 6) – I am not one to conspiracy-theorize (okay, yes, I totally am), but it was pretty obvious when both eventual runner-up Blake Lewis and eventual winner Jordin got this song, the fix was in. This was not a song befitting a beatboxer! Maybe Blake should have been relieved that he didn’t have to release this blowhard ballad as his first single. This is still my least favorite coronation song — and it was the first coronation song not to go to number one on the pop charts, with good reason. And as for the 12-steppy lyrics about “breathing in the moment” and “finding the strength to take that step of faith”…well, they belonged more on an Anthony Robbins motivational tape than on any modern pop album recorded by a teenage girl. The Yoda-speak title was kind of weird, too.
What’s your favorite — or least favorite — “American Idol” coronation song?
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