Original songs are a staple of American Idol. Whether it’s the memorable auditions, Hollywood week breakout performances, or cheesy original singles. Here’s a look at some of my favorite originals performed on American Idol.
Part 1 Best Originals That Aren’t Winners Singles
Most of these choices come from the ABC era, which has encouraged singers who write their own songs. American Idol didn’t allow original songs in competition until season 10 when semi-finalist Tim Halperin performed his original song “The Last Song.” I tried to include a variety. I may have missed a few moments, but these are the 10 that stood out to me. I ranked them but all are very good.
1. Angie Miller Season 12: You Set Me Free
This was the biggest moment that solidified front runner status with an original, and it normalized people taking risks with an original on Idol. The judges were in awe. The song was so good that 19 recordings released a version on iTunes. Angie now goes by Zealyn and still writes music.
2. Julia Gargano Season 18: Growing Pains
I may be biased, but I still go back and watch Julia’s audition when she sang “Growing Pains.” It was so beautifully penned and artistic. It made Katy Perry stand up and give her a hug. Voters later chose her to perform the song on Live with Kelly and Ryan.
3. Hollywood Anderson Season 14: My Best Friend
This was back in the Fox days. It is a shame that Hollywood didn’t shine later in the season. It is rumored he came back and auditioned last season, but it was never confirmed. If he did, he didn’t make it far. With a name like Hollywood, you better stand out ,and this song was so good that Jennifer Lopez said she wanted to record the song but the way he sang it, made her not want to. (Bonus: season 8 alum Adam Lambert guest judged for Keith Urban that day.)
4. Catie Turner Season 16: 21st Century Machine
Catie opened the ABC era with this amazing original. She seemed like a joke contestant, but Catie was not playing around with this song. It was so relatable. The line “am I just a cog in the 21st Century Machine” is still one of my favorite lyrics I ever heard.
5. Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon Season 17: Almost Heaven
Jeremiah’s tone was so mind-blowing in this audition. This original gave me the most chills out of any I have heard on Idol. The song moved many.
6. Ash Ruder Season 19: Bryan’s Song
Ash Ruder’s “Bryan’s Song” was the best original of this season. The song is about her challenging relationship with her father who struggled with alcoholism and how she’s proud how he’s grown. It was conversational and her voice sounded like it belonged on country radio. Sadly, Idol never showed her again. “I’m just wondering. Hey, dad how do I get it right?” was such a beautiful line.
7. Harper Grace Season 16: RIP
Harper was a shock boot at Top 24, her year on Idol. “Yard Sale,” her first moment on the show, sounded like a country radio song. She proved she could write a pop song as well. “RIP” is still one of my favorite vocals to date. It sounded so current and Harper proved she’s one of the best writers to ever be on the show.
8. Liahona & Ammon Olayan Season 19: Bang
It’s not often that an Idol original is such an earworm. Popstar Liahona and brother Ammon had such chemistry on this original. If the song was pitched to Meghan Trainor or some popstar, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took it.
9. Maddie Poppe Season 16: Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up
Maddie’s audition was montaged, so this Hollywood week performance was the first time the show really showcased her. And she stood out as a front runner. She performed the song again live, before winning the season. Katy Perry said it reminded her of her young self.
10. Alejandro Aranda Season 17: Out Loud
Alejandro Aranda, also known as Scarypoolparty’s audition of “Out Loud” was a musical moment that had the judges wowed and is one of Idol’s most viewed, and talked about auditions to date. Considered a groundbreaking Idol performance, It’s been streamed almost 8 million times on Spotify.
Honorable Mentions: Effie Passero (“A Troubled Mind”), Brandon Elder (“Gone”), Harper Grace (“Yard Sale”), Catie Turner (“Pity”), Alejandro Aranda (“10 Years”), Mickey Duran (“My Demise”), Jonny West (“Makin’ Love”), Rocky Peter (“Wrong Places”), DJ Johnson (“Scars”), Ava August (“Ghost of You”)
Watch for Part TWO tomorrow: Winners singles RANKED