Anthem, thy name is “American Idol.”
You know what we’re talking about, right? Those slow-building songs that land in midtempo purgatory and blast out a checklist of cliches: Hope? Check. Gratefulness? Check. Inspirational? Check. Timeless quality? Ah. We’ll get back to you.
Every season of “American Idol” – Season 20 wrapped Sunday, with the crowning of Noah Thompson as the new champ – culminates with the winner shakily singing center stage while trying to control a kaleidoscope of emotions. The middling performances we can forgive, but the lackluster construction of those “coronation” songs? No excuses, really.
But can anyone but the most ardent Jordin Sparks fan recall the name of her crowning song? Caleb Johnson’s? Nick Fradiani’s?
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Yes, we understand. These all-purpose plug-and-play offerings bestowed upon contestants – save for Chayce Beckham, the first “Idol” winner to write his tune – are forgettable. And with most of them, that’s actually a blessing.
But a handful warrant continued recognition, so we’ll salute them – while also ranking the history of “American Idol” coronation songs from worst to first.
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20. Lee DeWyze, ‘Beautiful Day’ (2010)
Of all U2 songs to cover, sure, Lee, pick one of their most treasured that also won three Grammy Awards. Talk about unrealistic expectations. There is a mildly appealing gravelly texture to DeWyze’s version, which otherwise sounds like a glorified karaoke bar performance.
19. Taylor Hicks, ‘Do I Make You Proud?’ (2006)
No, not a lot of pride emanating from this one. But despite this, Hicks’ schlocky anthem of gratitude still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
18. Scotty McCreery, ‘I Love You This Big’ (2011)
More than a decade after his win, it’s still incongruous hearing that bass-heavy voice come out of the most aw-shucks dude on the planet since Opie Taylor. This standard ballad of devotion might have fared better without such a childish title and chorus, which really just sounds dopey coming from a then-17-year-old.
17. Trent Harmon, ‘Falling’ (2016)
Even if you enlist Keith Urban to write your coronation song (along with Dallas Davidson and Brett James), the result might be just another generic blue-eyed soul anthem that even a key change and Harmon’s soaring voice can’t salvage.
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16. Laine Hardy, ‘Flame’ (2019)
Despite positioning himself as primarily a country singer throughout his run, Hardy was bestowed with an innocuous pop-rock thumper (“Put your light, put your light, put your light up,” rinse and repeat) that didn’t, um, ignite top 40 radio. Nor did it buoy his burgeoning Southern rock career.
15. Noah Thompson, ‘One Day Tonight’ (2022)
With lyrics that target the holy trinity of country music – God, girls and Norman Rockwell families – the song meshes easily with the Kentucky native’s unpretentious performing style. The gently-swaying tune is also completely nondescript, which means it’s destined for major chart success.
14. Chayce Beckham, ’23’ (2021)
The combination of Beckham’s whiskey-hued voice, vivid lyrical storytelling and obvious country flair were packaged adeptly enough to send the song to No. 25 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. But more important, this is the first self-written coronation song in “Idol” history, so extra kudos for Beckham.
13. Kris Allen, ‘No Boundaries’ (2009)
On paper, this optimistic skyscraper of a song – co written by then-“American Idol” judge and veteran songwriter Kara DioGuardi with Cathy Dennis and Mitch Allan – is an easily digestible anthem with a message of assurance. But it’s obvious that EVERYONE thought Adam Lambert would take the crown and imbue this power ballad with his trademark drama.
12. Maddie Poppe, ‘Going Going Gone’ (2018)
Given Poppe’s leanings toward rootsy folk-pop, this Mumford & Sons-esque foot-tapper is one of the more palatable “Idol” offerings in recent seasons. A catchy song written with purpose and matched ideally with the victor’s style – what a concept.
11. Jordin Sparks, ‘This Is My Now’ (2007)
So many Disney-worthy themes are nestled in this shiny ballad: the emergence of the shy girl and living in the moment among the most literal. As guitars rage melodically, Sparks surges through it with massive notes and earnestness.
10. Candice Glover, ‘I Am Beautiful’ (2013)
This string of I-am-worth-it platitudes would be unbearable if not for Glover’s wallop of a voice. In her early 20s at the time of her victory, Glover imbues the song with a hint of skepticism and much maturity.
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9. Just Sam, ‘Rise Up’ (2020)
The choice of Andra Day’s 2015 empowerment hymn proved a wise one, as Just Sam has a voice worthy of Day’s R&B gem. The recent “Idol” champ doesn’t add any original details, but her gliding vocals effortlessly steer the song.
8. Caleb Johnson, ‘As Long As You Love Me’ (2014)
Despite debuting with this catchy pop rocker written by The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins, the guttural-voiced Johnson seems unfairly forgotten. This crunchy fist-pumper has the dubious distinction as the first “Idol” winner’s song that failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
7. Ruben Studdard, ‘Flying Without Wings’ (2003)
The velvet-voiced Studdard coated this cover of Westlife’s 1999 ballad with his silky tones and made even those dedicated Claymates still pouting about a Clay Aiken loss smile at his authenticity.
6. Nick Fradiani, ‘Beautiful Life’ (2015)
Part pub singalong, part song-that-sounds-like-a-Bon-Jovi-castoff, this is a definitive earworm with the pedigree of a co-write by Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. You must have ice in your veins if you aren’t moved to clap along – for real or in your head – once the chorus kicks in.
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5. Carrie Underwood, ‘Inside Your Heaven’ (2005)
Of course no one could have guessed the level of success that would await Underwood, but this glossy confection of lite-country-pop would still sound suitable in her live shows. Even before landing in the stardom spotlight, that voice was capable of greatness.
4. Fantasia Barrino, ‘I Believe’ (2004)
Poised from the start, Barrino slays this R&B-inspirational ballad (co-written by former “Idol” contestant Tamyra Gray), which sent it to a No. 1 debut on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. David Cook, ‘The Time of My Life’ (2008)
An alt-rock guitarist-singer at heart, Cook had to soften his edges a bit for his arrival song, the winning entry from the “American Idol” Songwriting Competition (written by Regie Hamm). With a sturdy singalong chorus and its message of no regrets, the song flourishes under Cook’s raspy guidance and a swirling melody.
2. Phillip Phillips, ‘Home’ (2012)
The best-selling release in “Idol” history is also one of its best, period. Shades of the Dave Matthews Band color Phillips’ vocals as well as the song’s tone, combining for an acoustic guitar shuffler that aims to soothe.
1. Kelly Clarkson, ‘A Moment Like This’ (2002)
No, this is not just a sentimental pick for the OG “American Idol.” It’s simply a fantastic song for its purpose, a celebration of achievement wrapped in Clarkson’s burgeoning roar of a voice.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: All 20 American Idol winner songs ranked worst to best