What do you remember most about American Idol at its peak? Is it the amazing performances? The moment the wrong David won the seventh season? Be honest—it’s the hilariously awful auditions that opened each season. I could bet you dollars to donuts that more people remember the greats like William Hung than anyone who actually won the competition.
Fun fact: Not everyone who auditioned got to perform in front of Randy, Paula, and Simon. There were way too many people for that, and it would have taken forever. Instead, each contestant that made it on television went through a screening process that determined that they were… well, not good at singing, necessarily, but entertaining enough to be on TV—for better or for worse.
Here’s a list of the best auditions that made it on TV… but not for the reasons they’d hoped!
10 Stefanie Sugarman Sings “Knockin’ Da Boots”
Was Stefanie destined to be a long-standing contestant on American Idol? Probably not. But did she deserve to be on TV? You bet! She’s an energetic dancer that demonstrated a lot of charisma and pride… but little talent. I think her problem was she put a little too much emphasis on her moves, and that affected her singing.
And you can tell that she expected her charm to do most of the heavy lifting, as she thought she could go back into the audition room a second time to try and change the judges’ minds. Don’t quit your day job, Stef! Which was… marketing cheese? You know, that really fits her.
9 Sarah Goldberg Sings “Dreaming of You”
Sarah was confusing for a lot of reasons. Why was she dressed like a cowgirl? Why did she decide that she no longer needed her hat? Why did she seem so sad about it? And finally, why did she think she’d get to go to Hollywood?
They straight up asked her if she thought she could sing, and she said, “No!” Points for honesty, I guess. And despite all this, Sarah still got upset when she was rejected.
As she told her little sob story about her inability to sing, being tone deaf, and how her friends would make fun of her, she revealed the real reason she came to audition—somehow, she thought they would teach her how to sing. For a competition. That aired on national television. Her breakdown in front of the judges is mind-bending to watch.
Sarah begs and pleads to let her be the most unique American Idol ever—the first one that can’t sing. And this is after five seasons of incredible talent. “You don’t have to sing to be an American Idol.” Girl, what?
8 Tamika Bush Sings “Greatest Love of All”
Honestly, Tamika wasn’t a terrible singer—probably the best singer on this list. As Randy said, she’s just not a “solo” singer. But everyone can agree that Tamika was a diva. Given one tiny piece of constructive criticism and she flew off the handle! “You’re not up here being judged about how you sing,” she said, “and you’re not singing, are you?”
Tamika, honey, you clearly don’t understand how this works!
Simon cut to the heart of her problem with this great piece of advice: “Go to an audition where they lie to you.” Ice cold! Then, as she stormed out of the room, she said, “Y’all got problems, y’all got major issues.” Projecting much? The funniest part of this tape is the kind words she has to say about the judges after the audition—they even used it to keep people tuned in after a commercial break!
7 Mary Roach Sings “I Feel the Earth Move”
You can tell right away how… unique this audition is going to be when Mary describes her vocal style as a combination of pop rock, Broadway, jazz, and R&B.
She also said she loves hairdressing, makeup, and fashion while looking like… that. To her credit, her choreography wasn’t bad! She made lots of fun movements as she sang that normally wouldn’t distract from the vocal performance (not that the moves themselves were at all graceful). But, as Simon’s painfully long and awkward pause suggests, Mary did way worse than an “eight.”
Simon really lets her have it then, calling her performance the worst he’s ever seen and her voice the weirdest he’s ever heard! Like many of the people on this list, Mary doesn’t believe the most brutally honest man on television. Their confrontation takes a weird turn—she mentions that she has a ton of different voices, and Randy makes a joke by asking if they’re all in her head. She didn’t deny that, which has some dark implications. The weirdness continues as Mary openly tells the judges what her voices think about all of them. Talk about creepy.
6 Koby Sings an Original Song
Not to be confused with the cut of beef, this Koby (with a y) has a background in musical theater! The show spends a lot of time getting to know her, showing pictures of her on stage at her performances, including the role she had at the time this was filmed. It’s certain that her portrayal of Ulla in The Producers was fantastic.
However, she’s not as great a performer as the editors at Fox hyped her up to be! While she certainly had spunk and talent, it somehow culminated in a terrible audition. Koby hit the judges with an irritating original song, loud notes that went on for too long, and a lot of terrible melismata (or spanning several different notes across a single syllable). Then things go way south when Koby confronts the judges’ criticism with her demand for a golden ticket. Yikes! It’s like she said at the beginning of the clip: “For every yes, you’ll get ten nos.”
5 Anastacia Freeman sings “Unbreak My Heart”
Another beacon of confidence, Anastasia Freeman stumbled her way onto the audition stage and into our hearts. The audience can’t help but root for her, especially as she gets so emotional in the lead-up before the audition. The awkwardness begins immediately, however, as the first thing she does in front of the judges is stumble in her high-heel boots, then she asks if she can take them off. Okay, we’re doing auditions barefoot now.
Her weak singing voice did nothing to help her situation, then comes a move that’s become a classic for contestants like Anastacia: She asked the judges if they were laughing at her. In an also-classic response, they deny it. But then Nicki Minaj does something a little mean—she counts down so all the judges can give Ana a simultaneous “no.”
Ouch! The post-audition interview was great, though. She expressed how she’ll never listen to Carey’s music again and that she never listened to Minaj’s music, claiming that she worships the devil anyway.
4 William Hung Sings “She Bangs”
You can’t make a list like this without this classic! William Hung’s name is practically synonymous with “Funny American Idol Auditions.” You have to admire the enthusiasm he puts into lighting up the stage. He put so much confidence into his words when he said, “I have no professional training!”
What sets him apart from the other contestants on this list is that he took the judges’ fair criticism in stride—he never got upset and moved on with his dignity intact. Despite having no talent in the conventional sense, Hung still enjoyed some moderate success as a performer. He amassed an adoring cult following and even released an album in 2004 called Inspiration!
3 Monique Gibson and Christopher Baker
We’ve got a double whammy here: two friends that gave awful auditions—together!
Monique’s audition gets off to a terrible start as Simon immediately blasts her outfit as she walks in, saying it looks like she was dressed by three different people. Monique laughed it off, though, and Simon had to endure her hoglike squealing anyway. For some reason, she thought a number of different songs would get through to the judges.
At least she believed in her friend, Christopher. But she really shouldn’t have. The third best part is when Simon said, “There wasn’t a single note in tune,” and Chris takes that as a cue to keep singing. The second best part is when Simon asked why he was staring at him. The first best part is Randy asking if he’s in pain!
And after all that, Chris declared he’d try again in a lower tone. Bro, it doesn’t matter what tone you sing in if it’s all out of tune. Remarkably, it did improve his performance a little bit, according to Randy. But it wasn’t enough to convince anyone, including the security team.
Stick around for the end of the clip, when both of these stars badmouth the judges with an improvised song.
2 James Lewis Sings “Go Down Moses”
Sometimes comedy comes to us in the simplest forms, and James here is no exception. He was a non-baritone that tried to be a baritone, and the results were awful. I love the way he pronounced “people,” though. “Let mah pippul goooo!”
The way Randy hid his face while he and Paula couldn’t stop giggling is infectious. His singing sounded like the lowing of cattle. “I’ll come back next year, and I’ll do more contemporary songs,” said James after the audition. “I won’t do like old Christian songs.” Yeah, buddy. That was the problem.
1 Aven Moore Sings “Tomorrow”
These auditions really peaked in the show’s earlier seasons! Aven Moore claimed that he wouldn’t let himself get too excited, but he ended up trying too hard. His performance was less than subtle, forcing way too much vibrato and long note-holding. The funniest image is the judges checking their watches to see how much time has passed for those last notes.
Please stay to watch the end of the clip for the zinger given by Ryan Seacrest!