The 13th season of "American Idol" kicks off this week, and we once again enter the seemingly endless morass of auditions. You know which ones we mean -- the tryouts that balance a few a capella gems alongside soul-crushing awfulness, if the past dozen years are anything to go by. But the launch is an opportunity to not only consider the show's future, but also look back at the accomplishments of one of the biggest shows ever, even if it's no longer exactly that.

So we've gathered the 13 best performances since that out-of-nowhere first season back in 2002. These videos demonstrate that even if "Idol" never gets its mojo back, it can still claim a legacy that no other singing competition show can compete with.

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  • "Mad World" Adam Lambert (Season 8)

    Lambert's operatic vocals made him a season-long frontrunner, but the performance that made him the one to beat (which he eventually was) is this measured, moving and smoke machine-heavy rendition of Gary Jules' cover of the Tears for Fears tune.

  • "Natural Woman" Kelly Clarkson (Season 1)

    Kelly Clarkson was the first and greatest "Idol" winner, the one that cemented the show's legacy. The then-20-year-old Texas belter's Top 8 performance of Aretha's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" got the fans out of their seats and proved that the show truly could find a needle in a haystack.

  • "Over The Rainbow" Jason Castro (Season 7)

    Polarizing dreadlocked dreamboat Castro proved that powerhouse vocals weren't the only way to make an impression on the "Idol" stage. Though his "Hallelujah" got the most attention, this ukulele-led take on the "Wizard of Oz" classic, as made famous by Hawaiian legend Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, was the one that truly soared.

  • "Alone" Carrie Underwood (Season 4)

    That said, powerhouse vocals are still what "Idol" is all about and the mistake most contestants make is singing songs by powerhouse vocalists like Whitney that they can't help but compare poorly to. But they do it because when the gamble pays off, as it did with Carrie's cover of this beloved Heart song, the can't help but win (even with that hairdo).

  • Kris Allen, "Heartless (Season 8)

    Kris Allen is one of the show's least-deserving winners, a merely good singer with really good looks who won over the show's tween fanbase and benefited from the anti-Adam Lambert backlash. That said, his acoustic cover of this autotuned Kanye West tune was legitimately great.

  • "Summertime" Fantasia Barrino (Season 3)

    Fantasia basically won season three thanks to this tear-stained take on the timeless Gershwin song. And the eccentric singer did it by jumping all those octaves without even standing up.

  • David Cook "Hello" (Season 7)

    Cook suffered from terrible hair and average performances until he decided to do this grunge-y cover of Lionel Richie's adult contemporary classic, making it all the more powerful by playing his own guitar and performing his own arrangement. Later that season, he did the same to "Billie Jean" and moonwalked his way to winner's circle, though that arrangement was first done by Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.

  • Allison Iraheta "Cry Baby" Elimination performance (Season 8)

    Allison was arguably the show's best-ever rocker chick, which still didn't help her make the top two. But when the 17-year-old did leave, by reprising her cover of Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby" with actual tear staining her cheeks, she nail the show's best-ever elimination performance.

  • "Love Song" Candice Glover (Season 12)

    Season 12 was the nadir of "Idol's" pop cultural relevance, but even a low-point season has highlights, and the highest was was the eventual winner's powerful version of Adele's cover of the Cure classic, prompting ever hyperbolic Randy to declare it "one of the greatest performances" in the show's history, dawg.

  • Crystal Bowersox, "Me and Bobby McGee" (Season 9)

    The hippie chick also known as MamaSox was an almost unimaginable "Idol" contestant, which was what made her presence so remarkable. And the best distillation of her whole aesthetic was this Joplin tune which turned the AI stage into the world's biggest coffeehouse.

  • Casey Abrams "I Put A Spell On You" (Season 10)

    Hirsute singer Casey Abrams was a weirdo, which helped him stand out, with great taste, which helped him stand out even more. But when he screamed along to this cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, he pulled off a performance that finally put the attention where it belonged -- on his fantastic vocals.

  • Jordin Sparks, "I Who Have Nothing" (season 6)

    Jordin Sparks was admittedly the best of one of the show's lesser seasons, but that didn't mean the teen couldn't belt out a tune, as she ably proved with this strings-laden rendition of the much-covered Ben E King song.

  • Phillip Phillips, "Home" (Season 11)

    "American Idol" began to be written off as a cultural contender in this 11th season -- winner Phillip Phillips even had a boring name. But he also had the show's best-ever coronation song, an original number that capitalized on the rise of homespun bands like Mumford & Sons and remains inescapable three years later.

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