Some of you may be wondering: why am I ranking the ten best Glee performances ever? To that, I have no real answer other than that I felt like it. A number of factors were considered for the ten songs that made it on to this list – as well as the thousands of other nominees that just missed the cut – ensuring that this would be an accurate evaluation of Glee’s wide-ranging canon of vocal performances. You will not be seeing any Season 5 or 6 performances on this list because, unlike a fine wine or a Pierce Brosnan, Glee did not get better with age. Enjoy:
10) “I’ll Stand by You” – Finn (Season 1, Episode 10)
This is by far Finn’s best solo performance, but I will say that it was a bit odd to see him singing a love song to a sonogram. Awkward moment when his mom walked in on him. Also, I used this version of the song as inspiration for my acapella audition last year. Did I get a part? God no.
9) “Toxic” – New Directions (Season 2, Episode 2)
Taken from the Britney Spears episode, which is an absolute classic, this was… something. I mean, although the kids were, as usual, terrific, I don’t know how I feel about Mr. Schue putting on his sexy dance moves while sharing the stage with his students. I get that he was trying to peacock in front of Ms. Pillsbury, but he could’ve gone about it differently. Either way, an outlandish episode such as this deserves an outlandish performance.
8) “Valerie” – Santana (Season 2, Episode 9)
While I continue to believe that Santana was an overrated singer given far too much screen time, I do not take personal bias into account when concocting these rankings. Santana, to her credit, heard my criticisms, and she delivered in a major way here. Yes, Brittany and Mike Chang’s dance moves obviously steal the show in this one, but Santana gives the vocal performance of a lifetime while simultaneously relegating Rachel to the background. Impressive.
7) “Defying Gravity” – Kurt and Rachel (Season 1, Episode 9)
Yeah so more of this please. I, the Pop Culture Guru, happen to be a big Wicked fan, and seeing Glee tepidly venture into this territory brings joy to my heart. Kurt and Rachel engage in an intense “diva-off” here to see who is worthier of playing Elphaba. Rachel obviously wins because she’s a better singer, but Kurt still did a decent job. All I know is that I enjoyed it.
6) “Somebody to Love” – New Directions (Season 1, Episode 5)
For many years, fans have argued whether Rachel or Mercedes was the best singer on Glee. While Rachel had the most natural talent and confidence, no one could ever beat Mercedes when she was at her best. That conclusion is drawn from many examples, but is most evident with the insane high notes at the end of this performance.
5) “Dream On” – Will and Bryan AKA Neil Patrick Harris (Season 1, Episode 19)
This was one of the only times in Glee history where we got a true battle song. Will Schuester and Neil Patrick Harris play mortal enemies in this one, and they take out their aggression toward one another in the form of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”. Who won this battle, you ask? That award has to go to the drama club director, who, after watching two grown men sweat profusely and give the performances of their respective lives, stares them down and tells them that they won’t get a part in the school’s production of Les Mis.
4) “The Scientist” – New Directions (Season 4, Episode 4)
To be honest with you, I could have done more research on this one. This is a really powerful performance with everyone in the main cast, and there are some tearjerking flashbacks peppered in here and there, but I couldn’t tell you what the hell is going on in the context of the episode itself. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter. The song is f*cking awesome. Each of the cast members give a valiant effort during their time in the spotlight, but, like usual, Rachel steals the show pretty easily.
3) “Don’t Stop Believing” – OGs (Season 1, Episode 1)
The Glee cast performed this song many, many times throughout the show’s run, but, as they say, the sequel is never better than the original (unless we’re dealing with Shrek 2). Putting a unique twist on a beloved song, this performance is exclusively why – and this is all speculation – Glee became popular and was originally picked up for a full season. Rachel and Finn absolutely kill it, and the look on Schue’s face when he realizes that he may be on to something remains a defining image of Glee.
2) “Paradise by The Dashboard Light” – New Directions (Season 3, Episode 21)
It was no small task taking down Jesse St. James and Vocal Adrenaline, but after three seasons, New Directions finally pulled off a Nationals win with this performance. And wow, did they deserve it. Killer vocals? Check. Amazing choreography? Check. Sexual tension? Check. Jesse St. James reaction shots? Check!
1) “Teenage Dream” – The Warblers (Season 2, Episode 6)
So, frankly, this is not really close. This was the moment where the show became… cool. Season 1 was all about a bunch of outcasts struggling to find a safe place and never being fully comfortable with themselves, and while it always stayed like that to an extent, Season 2 – specifically this performance – introduced the concept that these kids could one day be real stars. The Warblers, and especially Blaine of course, are so unbelievably talented, and they turn a decent Katy Perry song into something absolutely amazing. But the best part of this performance may be the look on Kurt’s face when he realizes that his singing doesn’t have to be something that makes him an outsider. If you haven’t watched it, please do yourself a favor, and do so.