The night of May 20, 2003, changed everything. Pre-5/20/03, everyone knew that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was a song by Simon & Garfunkel. But post-5/20/03, it became Clay Aiken’s signature song after he performed it during the finals of American Idol season 2.
Ever since then, we’ve seen a few contestants on singing competition shows take on this very tune, and the most recent one was just this week on The Voice. Have any of them been able to match up to the brilliance of the Idol runner-up’s rendition? Let’s delve into each performance and find out.
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Every year on American Idol, there’s usually always one performance that stands out as the best of the season (see: Fantasia’s “Summertime,” Carrie Underwood‘s “Alone,” Katharine McPhee’s “Over the Rainbow,” etc.) For season 2, that was Clay Aiken’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The entire country was glued to their TV screens as the finals unfolded with the two most talented singers in the competition battling it out for the top prize; it was Ruben vs. Clay, the Velvet Teddy Bear vs. the unlikely star.
Clay took to the stage for the last performance of the night before voting would open for the final time. And he absolutely blew everyone away. Accompanied by a choir, Clay belted his voice out with ease and drawing us all in along the way. And then came the final note when he sang “Ease your mind.” That note still sends chills up my arms.
Everyone believed that Clay had just been crowned the winner with that performance. And even though he came in second (though there’s obviously the controversy over who really had the most votes), that performance goes down in American Idol history as one of the best moments of all time. (And it was such a big hit for him that he released it as the first track on his CD single, which I own, by the way.)
How can you top that, really? In season 10 of Idol, Jacob Lusk tried to take on the Simon & Garfunkel classic during the Top 8. I said back then that it sounded like he was gurgling water at times, and I’m still hearing it when watching it back again. The final notes were no doubt impressive, but he does things with his voice sometimes that can be very annoying.
Season 12’s Lazaro Arbos auditioned with this song, but we’re not even going to go there because, let’s face it, it’s Lazaro. Plus, it’s hard to compare a simple audition that’s only part of the song versus a live performance with a full backtrack and everything.
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The Voice has also had a couple singers take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” First, Chris Mann from season 2 took it on during the first week of the live shows. And there’s an argument to be made in comparing Clay to Chris because both have a fantastic range and can hold out notes with ease in a way that not every male singer can do.
They’re both very similar in a way (in their musical styles), but for this song, while Chris Mann sounded great, he wasn’t quite able to live up to the standard bearer that is Clay’s, though that’s not to take away from how talented he is and how great his voice sounds here. There was just something magical about Clay’s performance that’s hard to recapture.
And then we come to Tessanne Chin, who performed the song this week during the Top 5 of The Voice season 5. If anyone could battle it out with Clay, it’s her. Apparently, she’s been through some tough situations that she and her coach Adam Levine are choosing not to talk about on the show, which is fine and I respect her privacy.
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But regardless, she gave a very moving and emotional performance. And her voice was crystal-clear with not a note out of tune. And during the last half, there were times I just closed my eyes and moved along with the song. It was beautiful and, finally, we have someone who has been able to match Clay Aiken. (Her cover landed at #1 on iTunes.)
So who won this battle? We can narrow it down pretty easy by eliminating Jacob Lusk and Chris Mann, leaving us with Clay Aiken and Tessanne Chin. Both did exceptional, and I can’t say anything bad about either.
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But for me, I have to give this to Clay Aiken because there was something about his where we knew we were watching something magical, to bring up that word again. Like I said, the whole country was tuned in watching that performance, and we were witnessing a moment that wouldn’t be replicated again and wouldn’t be matched until this year. Those power notes at the end were the cherry on the sundae — sorry to get all cheesy, but it’s true. That performance, along with the finale match-up of Ruben vs. Clay, is now embedded into pop culture history.
Do you have a favorite cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”? Are Clay and Tessanne tied, or do you think one has an edge over the other? Vote in the poll below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
The Voice airs Mondays at 8pm and Tuesdays at 9pm on NBC.
(Image courtesy of FOX and NBC)