The Most Epic American Idol Auditions Ever

The iconic series "American Idol" initially premiered in 2002, and despite seeing numerous changes since its conception, it is still going strong. Throughout its long-standing run, the singing competition that turned undiscovered talent into superstars saw an endless amount of unforgettable performances. From Carrie Underwood to Jennifer Hudson, these artists' killer vocals made it clear from the start that they were already stars in the making. Still, not everyone proved to be an undiscovered talent. Aside from showcasing many truly great artists, "Idol" has also shown that not everyone has an ear for singing.

While the show's eccentric performers and their eye-catching costumes were certainly entertaining, they, unfortunately, didn't quite have the melodic quality expected in a singing competition. But, of course, amid the good, the bad, and the not-so-great were a number of auditions that stood out for all the right reasons and proved to be truly stunning. Though not every great tryout led to these performers winning their season of "Idol," it's unquestionable that these fantastic singers gave the best of the very best performances. Arguably, some of their fabulous renditions could even rival the original song. Here are some of the most epic "American Idol" auditions ever. 

Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood's take on 'I Can't Make You Love Me'

Long before she became a well-known Grammy-winning singing sensation, Carrie Underwood was just another "American Idol" hopeful who admittedly told Randy Jackson that she was nervous about her audition. But, of course, Underwood didn't need to worry; she proved to be likable right from the start. During her interview, the singer spoke about living a "simple" day-to-day life on a farm, stating that she loved animals and would even get up early to help her dad feed their cows. Underwood expressed her desire to move on to the next round, saying that she'd never even been on a plane but "wanted to go to Hollywood really bad."

After telling the judges that she would be singing Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," Underwood gave a captivating performance, with judges Jackson and Paula Abdul nodding their heads and smiling in response to Underwood's pleasant vocals. The initial critique from the critical Simon Cowell? "Very good." Underwood's stunning rendition naturally earned her a ticket to Hollywood, and she even showed off another special talent of hers at Cowell's request. "I have the ability to cluck like a chicken," she announced before going on to prove her statement. Nevertheless, imitating animals was far from Underwood's most impressive skill shown that day.

Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson's 'Express Yourself'

Nowadays, the Grammy-winning Kelly Clarkson is known for being a pop superstar. However, back on the first season of "American Idol," Clarkson was just another promising talent with a big dream. In her interview with Ryan Seacrest, a recently turned 20-year-old Clarkson told the host that she was going to be a fashion designer if singing didn't pan out as a career path. She even stated that her very 2000s denim top used to be pants that she'd repurposed. But, of course, once Clarkson walked in and performed Madonna's "Express Yourself," it became clear that the talented singer didn't need a backup plan.

The lively Clarkson even palled around with the judges, pretending to critique Randy Jackson while sitting alongside Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. With her bubbly personality and incredible vocals, all three judges said yes to Clarkson going to Hollywood. However, Cowell jokingly added in one condition: That she tell Ryan Seacrest to "redo his highlights." Clarkson obliged, and Cowell is shown laughing at her comment before the doors to the judges' room close. Though it would seem that Clarkson was born to be a star, she would later tell The Guardian in a 2011 interview, "I had no idea what the show was until the third audition," she says. "My goal was just to be a backup singer — I never intended to be in front."

Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks' heartfelt 'Because You Love Me'

"American Idol" contestant Jordin Sparks would go on to win her season of "Idol" and later become a well-recognized singer and Grammy-nominated artist. Still, before all that could happen, a hopeful teenage Sparks first had to audition for the show. In her tryout, the optimistic 16-year-old stated that she had a longtime passion for singing, and had been eagerly waiting to meet the age requirement so she could appear on "Idol." After some friendly hellos, Sparks said that she would be singing Celine Dion's "Because You Love Me," a song which an approving Simon Cowell stated that he "loved."

Showing off plenty of range, Sparks gave the judges an impressive performance that received positive reviews, with a bit of constructive criticism from Cowell. While Randy Jackson stated that he was "blown away" by Sparks' singing, Cowell called her act "a bit too cutesy, a bit over the top." In contrast, Paula Abdul openly disagreed after he expressed disapproval at Sparks smiling through her rendition. Yet, even after stating that she was "too sugary," Cowell admitted that he liked Sparks. Nonetheless, he opposed Randy Jackson's statement when he said that "everything was perfect." Cowell remarked, "You're gonna do well, but it wasn't perfect." Looking back on Cowell's words, the audience would undoubtedly agree that by winning the season, Sparks did considerably more than just "well."

Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino's 'Killing Me Softly' and 'Proud Mary'

Today, the fabulous R&B artist Fantasia Barrino is a Grammy-winning singer, actress, and producer (via IMDb). However, in 2004, Barrino was an unknown talented teenager with dreams of making it big. During her "Idol" interview, the then-19-year-old hopeful told viewers what reactions she expected to get from the judges. While Barrino stated that she believed Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul would "like" her performance, she said that she expected "a little trouble out of Simon [Cowell]" but added that she was "ready" for him.

Once she was before the judges, Barrino stated her excitement and said she was "determined" to make it as an artist regardless of how her "Idol" experience worked out. The young contestant then gave an impressive, attention-grabbing performance of "Killing Me Softly." As predicted, Jackson responded to the "Truth Is" artist with positive feedback, saying, "This girl can sing," while Abdul called her "a strong, wonderful singer." While Cowell's initial reaction was also favorable, he questioned her role in the competition, wondering if her "distinctive voice" would ultimately become a disadvantage. At Jackson's suggestion, Barrino sang another song and showed the judges another side of her voice with a delightful rendition of "Proud Mary." Her second tryout similarly got positive feedback, and this time Cowell stated, "I actually think you're one of the best we ever had." As fans know, Barrino would ultimately go on to win her season.

Clay Aiken oozing confidence during 'Always and Forever'

He would go on to be a successful singer, actor, producer, and director (via IMDb), but before all that could happen, Clay Aiken first had to get his foot in the door. The "Idol" hopeful tried out for the second season of the series and walked into his audition fully confident of a positive outcome. Still, Simon Cowell appeared less than impressed by Aiken saying that he was "the American Idol" and asked the assertive contestant if he'd watched the show. Aiken stated that the prior season "had some good talent" but said, "As far as the Top Ten goes, I could have been up there." He added, "I could've gotten number one, number two at least."

Aiken announced he would be singing "Always and Forever," delivering a performance that genuinely lived up to the singer's prior statements. Though his vocals were unquestionably stunning, Cowell bluntly stated that Aiken didn't "look like a pop star" but admitted that he had "a great voice." Randy Jackson similarly echoed Cowell's words, finding it "weird" and "wild" that a contestant that didn't physically meet their expectations could be a fantastic singer. Unshaken, Aiken noted that they should "let America decide" and move him on to the next round. The judges agreed that Aiken should get a ticket to Hollywood, with Jackson adding that Aiken "had a really good voice." True to his words once again, Aiken would be the runner-up for his season of "Idol."

Melinda Doolittle's unforgettable 'For Once in My Life'

She would go on to become an "Idol" fan favorite and later release her debut album to positive reviews from outlets like The New York Times, but back in 2007, Melinda Doolittle was an unknown talent taking a chance on "American Idol." In her interview, the professional background singer initially appeared timid and seemed somewhat nervous about taking on the spotlight. When asked by Simon Cowell if she "hated" the artists she sang backup vocals for or wished that they'd "fall off the stage" so she could take the spotlight, Doolittle responded, "Oh goodness, no." She explained that she enjoyed her job and "loved being in the background," calling it her "comfort zone." However, the artist admitted that she had to face her fears and challenge herself.

Doolittle then sang Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life," giving a fantastic rendition of the song. The response was positive, with Paula Abdul saying, "You're good, you're really good." However, Randy Jackson remarked that Doolittle "looked scared to death," and questioned whether a background singer could command control like a star. While Simon Cowell did share a similar concern, he noted that the series had seen plenty of confident contestants that weren't "very good" while, in contrast, the shy Doolittle was "a brilliant singer." Cowell stated, "One million percent yes, " in response to moving on. Jackson added that she was "sensational" and "one of the best auditions ever," to which Cowell said, "I agree."

Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks' 'Change Is Gonna Come' and 'Swanee River'

His hair might have made him stand out among the younger "Idol" performers, but it was Taylor Hicks' voice that ultimately separated him from the rest of the contestants. During his interview, the Season 5 hopeful stated that he was a life-long performer with a passion for music and "entertaining people." Hicks added that his look was a result of "going gray when I was about 15 or 14," after which he noted that he was happy with his appearance, saying, "I'm not trying to be somebody different, I'm not having somebody trying to make me look any different." Hicks then went into the audition, telling the judges he'd be singing Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come."

Showing off melodic vocals that definitely pleased viewers, Hicks appeared incredibly passionate as he performed. Once it was time for his critique, Paula Abdul went first, exclaiming that she was pleasantly surprised, declaring that Hicks could "definitely sing." Still, she asked him to give the trio "20 seconds of something else." Hicks then did a mesmerizing rendition of "Swanee River," which received praise from both Randy Jackson and Abdul. Ever the skeptic, Simon Cowell stated that it was "not just about the voice," adding that he didn't believe Hicks was a likable performer. Cowell ultimately said no, expressing that the contestant should be a background artist and wouldn't make it far in the competition. Hicks would eventually go on to win his season.

Katharine McPhee's commanding 'God Bless the Child'

Eventually, Katharine McPhee's unquestionable talent would lead her to become a successful artist and actress (via IMDb). However, before she would become a regular on the small screen, a 21-year-old McPhee first had to audition for the show that would launch her success. Appearing before the judges, a young McPhee declared she was "very excited" about trying out for the series. She then told the trio that her mother was in the music profession, working as a voice teacher and a singer. Being the self-professed daughter of a stage mom meant McPhee's "Idol" audition could have gone several ways. The singer even agreed with Simon Cowell's comment that her mother was "possibly living her career" through her daughter.

The "Smash" star then stated that she would be singing "God Bless the Child," before going on to wow the judges with a commanding performance that the notoriously harsh critic Cowell called "absolutely fantastic." The singer-songwriter then received a similar critique from Randy Jackson, who called her the "best voice I've heard so far this auditioning season." The trio continued to lay on the praise for the "Scorpion" star before Cowell eventually said, "You are sailing through to Hollywood." Ultimately, McPhee's impressive voice earned her runner-up in Season 5.

Adam Lambert's attention-grabbing 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

With a background in theater, it's no wonder that Adam Lambert delivered so many attention-grabbing performances on the "Idol" stage. But before the singer-songwriter would go on to become a Grammy-nominated star, he first had to get through his "Idol" audition. In his interview, the "Whataya Want From Me" singer told viewers about his entertainment background, stating that he was a long-time performer. Lambert noted that after watching the previous seasons of the series, he wanted to pursue the opportunity for himself. "I want to go out there and fearlessly just give 'em a show," he stated.

Lambert made a bold choice and told the judges he would be singing "Bohemian Rhapsody." True to his word, Lambert offered an emotional and captivating rendition of the Queen classic. His take earned him praise straightaway, with Paula Abdul saying, "I think you're a really good singer." While Simon Cowell agreed with the statement, he also had no problem expressing his concern saying that while Lambert's voice was good, he also found the "If I Had You" singer to be "theatrical." Regardless, Cowell still gave Lambert a yes, as did Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. After Lambert walked out with his ticket to the next round, Abdul stated, "He's the best we've [seen] in every city." The musical creative would go on to be the runner-up for the eighth season.

Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips belting out 'Superstition'

Phillip Phillips might have been that last contestant of the day during the Savannah auditions, but he was far from forgettable. While the "Home" artist would eventually go on to win Season 11 of "Idol," Phillips undoubtedly proved he was a star right from the start. During his interview, the 20-year-old spoke about working at his father's pawn shop and stated that his dad "supports me 110%" with his musical career. The show even talked to Phillip's father, who gushed over his son's talent. "'American Idol' will change his life because this is what he loves," said Phillips Sr.

The charismatic musical artist then walked in with his guitar, telling the judges in response to a question from Jennifer Lopez that he'd come to the audition with his parents and adding that his mom was particularly excited to meet Ryan Seacrest. The audition even showed the adorable interaction between Phillips' mother and the host. From there, things really took off as Phillips performed his stunning version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." The response was incredibly positive, with Lopez saying, "It's like you have electricity going through your body." Then, at Randy Jackson's request, Phillips grabbed his acoustic guitar and gave a second mesmerizing performance singing the Michael Jackson classic "Thriller." After showing off plenty of talent, there was nothing left for the judges to do but send Phillips to Hollywood.

Jennifer Hudson's impressive 'Share Your Love With Me'

She would go on to win an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe (via IMDb). Still, before Jennifer Hudson became a household name, she was just another talented "American Idol" contestant with the dream of making it in show business. According to her audition, the cheery Chicago native had just wrapped up working on a Disney cruise ship before making her way to the "Idol" tryouts. However, the "Empire" actor stated that her audition would exceed any theatrical Disney performance. In response to Randy Jackson's prompting, Hudson agreed that she was the next American Idol.

The "Dreamgirls" actor then performed Aretha Franklin's "Share Your Love with Me." Naturally, the talented Hudson gave an attention-grabbing rendition that was truly one to remember. It came as no surprise that the responses were all positive. Immediately Randy Jackson called Hudson "brilliant, absolutely brilliant" before adding that she was "the best singer I've heard so far." Paula Abdul shared a similar sentiment stating that the "Smash" actor "could sing her behind off." Even Simon Cowell praised the award winner before all three judges agreed that Hudson should definitely move on to the next round. Though she would ultimately come in seventh place, Hudson would continue to see plenty of success in the entertainment industry, proving that talent truly does take you all the way to the top.

Kellie Pickler singing 'Since U Been Gone' and 'A Broken Wing'

She would go on to have a successful career in entertainment, releasing music and having her own Daytime Emmy nominated talk show, "Pickler & Ben." Still, before Kellie Pickler could become a star, she'd have to make it past the judges in her Season 5 "Idol" audition. In her interview, the cheerful 19-year-old told "Idol" viewers about her life with her grandfather. She revealed that her mother left when she was a baby and her father had "been in and out of prison" for most of her life. Yet, despite her hardships, the young contestant radiated optimism.

Once in the judges' room, Pickler voiced her excitement, stating that she loved singing but admitted that she rarely sang in front of other people. While this could have indicated a not-so-great performance, Pickler's rendition of "Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" proved the young contestant had an incredibly commanding voice. Pickler's offer to sing another song had Paula Abdul in agreement, and the talk-show host provided another performance to show off her powerhouse vocals, singing "A Broken Wing." Pickler received plenty of praise, though Simon Cowell said she was "oversinging" slightly. Still, all three agreed that Pickler was something special and sent her on to the next round.

Todrick Hall's original song

Multi-talented creative and self-proclaimed "social media personality" Todrick Hall has not only made a name for himself in entertainment, but he's also a Broadway star. Still, with all of his accomplishments, not everyone remembers that Hall was also on "American Idol." Nevertheless, his standout audition will definitely bring back memories of this fabulous artist's performance on America's iconic singing competition.

The delightful Hall wanted to make sure his tryout was unquestionably captivating. So once he was ready to perform for the judges, Hall announced that he would be singing a special original piece that he'd written with "Idol" in mind. Hall's song was a melodic parody that incorporated the judges and the antics of prior contestants. While his clever lyrics clearly amused Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and guest judge Joe Jonas, Simon Cowell appeared less than impressed. Even so, all four judges said yes, earning Hall his ticket to Hollywood. He would ultimately make it to the Top 16 before being eliminated.