The Most Iconic Times ‘American Idol’ Honored Aretha Franklin

Justin Jenkins
Lauren Ashley Beck
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Aretha Franklin had one of the most legendary careers in music history. Her influence can still be felt as singers continue to list her as one the voices that inspired them to sing. Franklin’s music catalog is one that when aspiring singers choose to cover her songs, they better get it right. From voice to tone, to the resonance of the notes she would hit, it is no wonder why she is considered the greatest singer of all-time.

With Season 20 of Idol underway there will be a new batch of hopefuls who will choose to showcase their powerful voices by singing one of Franklin’s songs. We are looking at contestants who had their Aretha Franklin moment on the show.

Kelly Clarkson

With a fedora and an oversized tie, Kelly Clarkson wowed the audience with her rendition of Franklin’s 1968 hit “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Clarkson performed the song during the Top 8 1960’s episode. In a spontaneous moment a fan brought the Idol champion roses onto the stage. During the climax of her performance, Clarkson hit a high note that she hasn’t attempted since her American Idol days. This was the Grammy award winner’s second performance where she sang a classic from Franklin.

Kelly Clarkson Part 2

Clarkson performed Franklin’s number one hit “Respect.” For the Emmy award winner the classic song became synonymous with her during Season 1 of American Idol. Not only did Clarkson perform “Respect” during Hollywood Week, but she also performed it again during the Top 30. The singer perfected her version of the single by the time she performed it for a third time during the American Idol Season 1 finale. People remember Clarkson’s rendition so much that she was asked to perform the song during a tribute to Franklin at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in 2018, the year of Franklin’s passing.

Grace Kinstler

When Grace Kinstler walked into her Idol audition during Season 19 the judges did not know what to expect. The then 20 year old blew Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie away with her powerful voice. Grace’s performance showed that even 18 years after Clarkson first performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” the song has continued to be a timeless hit. Bryan praised Grace’s rendition and told her she was on par with Hudson and Clarkson’s first auditions. He also said Grace’s performance was the first time he cried hearing a contestant sing in four years. The singer went on to place third during her season.

Nia Renée

17 year old Nia Renée kept her composure when she walked into the judges playfully cow tipping at Perry’s suggestion. The judges were tired and needed something to help energize them. Nia did just that. The aspiring singer’s rendition of Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” was called the best audition of the day by Bryan. Nia’s confidence oozed through the screen. Unfortunately Nia’s time on Idol came to an end during Hollywood Week, but her singing career is far from over.

Jennifer Hudson

The Oscar winner’s dream of playing Franklin in a movie came true in 2021. The singer was hand selected to take on the queen of soul and her rise to the top of the music industry. Before Hudson was showered with praise for her role in Respect she began her journey to becoming Franklin during her Season 3 American Idol audition. For her Idol audition in Atlanta, Hudson sang Franklin’s “Share Your Love with Me.” All three judges voted yes and sent her to the next round. Hudson dominated in Season 3. Her Top 7 elimination shocked viewers as well as the judges. Hudson has one of the best stories from Idol. Although she did not walk away the champion, the singer has one of the most successful careers since her season spanning across music, television, and film.

Grace Franklin

Music royalty appeared on the Season 20 premiere of American Idol. Franklin’s granddaughter Grace Franklin recently auditioned for the singing competition show. Grace chose the somber hit “Ain’t No Way” for her chance to go to Hollywood Week. Although she was told that she had a sweet tone, Bryan and Richie did not send the aspiring singer through. Perry tried her hardest to fight for the 15 year old. Still, Grace is continuing her music pursuit in hopes of coming out of her grandmother’s shadow.

Katherine McPhee

Back in the day some of the biggest artists worked together without many fans knowing. From songwriting to producing hits for their peers, some artists would go on and cover a certain song and make the song their own. One of the most famous examples of this is Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love you.” It took years for fans to know it was actually a Dolly Parton song first. This is also the case with Franklin’s 1973 classic, “Until You Come Back To Me.” The song was first established by music legend Stevie Wonder. During Season 5 of American Idol Katherine Mcphee captivated viewers with her rendition of the hit song.


The Season 3 American Idol champion also had a full circle Aretha Franklin moment in her career. Like most singers Franklin was a huge inspiration for Fantasia. The singer’s Top 3 performance of “Chain of Fools” gave guest judge and frequent Franklin collaborator Clive Davis chills. The viewers as well as the judges praised Fantasia’s energetic performance. The singer also had a chance to play the queen of soul on the Tv series American Dreams.

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