Glee was the show that made A cappella and show choirs cool. During the show’s six-season run, members of the cast sang over 700 songs, sold over 11 million albums worldwide, and – at the peak of the Glee phenomenon – it earned numbers on the Billboard charts that rivalled the Beatles.
The show also single-handedly gave Journey a career resurgence, even though it’s not clear if they really wanted that. But, if you’ve ever had Don’t Stop Believing in your head in the last decade, chances are it was because of Glee.
Thanks to the powerhouse performances of Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), fans often got the chance to witness some of the best musical moments on television. She could sing Barbra and Celine without breaking a sweat, and she could take any show tune or pop hit and make it her own. In more episodes than not, she truly brought down the house and crushed everyone’s dreams of ever coming close to her covers on karaoke night.
Rachel was definitely the star of the show, but she did have a talented supporting cast that included Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris), and Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley).
However, there was one of Rachel’s classmates who sometimes gave her a run for her money – Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera). There were times when Santana absolutely stole the show on Glee, and it wasn’t just because of her singing voice. Often, it was the words that came out of her mouth that allowed Santana to steal the show.
20 Rachel Does Celine
Rachel’s voice is so impeccable no matter what she sings, that there were multiple times her performance was too much to handle. Trying to pick out the best moments is nearly impossible, but there are a few that rise to the top.
In the season three episode Nationals, the New Directions have another chance at being the best show choir in the country. And, during their set Rachel belts the Celine Dion hit It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.
Rachel is hoping that Carmen Tibideaux from NYADA will come see the performance but loses hope when Carmen doesn’t show up before they go on stage. But, midway through the performance, she does arrive, just in time to see Rachel crush this song.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Rachel was a star. At the end, everyone applauds, including Carmen, who seems pleased. This is all takes place after Rachel choked during her original NYADA audition.
“You might laugh because every time I sign my name I put a gold star after it, but it’s a metaphor, and metaphors are important. My gold stars a metaphor for me being a star.”
19 A Performance Worth Crying Over
In the season three episode Choke, Rachel shockingly blows her first NYADA audition when she attempts to sing Don’t Rain On My Parade. No one saw this coming, especially Rachel, because she had a surefire plan to nail the audition.
“I have some simple rules when I'm getting ready for a big performance. First, no milk. Makes you too phlegmy. Second, no doorknobs. They spread infections. So do kisses. So, what if I have some superstitions, too. I never step on cracks and sometimes I walk backwards. And everyone I see becomes a metaphor for the things that could stop me. I just give each one my gold star death stare. None of them stand a chance.”
In the closing number of the episode, Rachel performs Kelly Clarkson’s Cry while she walks through the halls of McKinley High. Her cry face makes audiences feel so many things, and knowing that blowing an audition is the end of the world for Rachel – plus the way she sings this song – it makes you feel like the universe is collapsing on itself.
By the end of the song, everyone was crying with her.
18 The Break Up
The season four episode The Break Up is a great episode about moving on from your high school sweetheart. It is all about the shift between high school and post-high school, and it seems like every relationship is coming to an end.
Finn and Rachel (aka Finchel), Kurt and Blaine (aka Klaine), and Brittany and Santana (aka Brittana) call it quits, while the relationship between Will and Emma is on the rocks.
As the episode comes to an end, after a confrontation between Finn and Rachel, it closes out with Coldplay’s The Scientist. All the couples are part of the performance, but it’s Rachel who takes it to the next level.
At the end of the song, the lights flash off, and the camera zooms out, revealing that Finn has been singing the song all by himself. It’s a sad, yet beautiful moment for Finchel, and it’s impossible to watch it without tearing up.
17 An Apology
In the season two episode Britney/Brittany, Finn is back on the football team, but Rachel wants him to choose between her and football. After her Baby One More Time fantasy, she shows up to school wearing a sexy outfit, and Finn feels uncomfortable because all of the guys are looking at her.
She eventually realizes that if their relationship is going to work, they must give each other some space.
Rachel sings The Only Exception by Paramore as an apology to Finn for making him choose between her and football, and it is the only song of the episode that doesn’t follow the Britney Spears theme.
It also marked the first time that Rachel had two solos in the same episode.
This was early in the Finchel relationship, and the two are off and on for most of the second season. It’s not until they kiss at nationals at the end of the season that they really get back together.
16 The Pilot
What would Glee be without Journey? The show and the band are now synonymous, and it all started in the first episode when Rachel, Finn, Kurt, Artie, Mercedes, and Tina got on stage in the William McKinley High School auditorium in their red shirts.
They sang the song that turned the show into a cultural phenomenon for years to come – Don’t Stop Believing –, and even though they sang it a few times throughout the series, there was nothing like the very first time.
Featuring solos from Rachel and Finn, the New Directions sing the song to show their unity as a group while Will watches them from afar with a smile on his face. The performance convinces him to keep his job as a teacher and be the director of the group.
This song became the show’s anthem, and it is all thanks to Rachel’s amazing voice and Finn’s love of classic rock.
15 Being Barbra
We always knew that Rachel was bound for Broadway, and it was never more evident than when she sang Don’t Rain On My Parade at sectionals during season one.
When the group gets to the competition, they are horrified to discover that their rival schools stole their setlist and are performing all of their songs. So, they quickly agree to do a new set list, but they only have an hour to prepare.
Mercedes had planned to sing And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls, but with their setlist stolen, Rachel takes control and asks her to sing a different ballad. However, she admits she has nothing else prepared and asks Rachel to step in because she is the best singer they have.
Kurt agrees, saying that it hurts him to admit it, but Mercedes is right. Rachel is the star of the group, and if anyone should “belt it on the fly,” it should be her.
“Well, I do have something that I've been working on since I was four,” Rachel admits.
Along with You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Somebody To Love, Don’t Rain On My Parade completes the new setlist, and the group ends up winning the competition.
14 Spicing Things Up
In the season one episode The Rhodes Not Taken, Rachel battles it out with April Rhodes with the duet Maybe This Time from Cabaret. It was the stuff of musical theater dreams because it was a duet featuring Lea Michele and Kristin Chenoweth.
It all starts when Will thinks that New Directions desperately need more of an edge, while Rachel thinks about defecting to the school musical, Cabaret. So, he decides to bring in his former high school crush – April – to spice things up, while Finn flirts with Rachel to convince her to return to the club and forget the musical.
April never actually graduated from high school, so to get her last few credits, she joins the singing group.
“Wait, she’s in the Glee Club? She’s ancient,” Rachel says when meeting April.
The duo performs the song after the group is reluctant to have April join, and it is the first song she performs to prove that she has talent. The performance makes Kurt so emotional that he cries at the end.
But, April is still unreliable, and all she does is teach the kids to drink and act up. So, she eventually leaves the group and Rachel gives up the musical and comes back.
Kurt and Rachel were always destined to be BFF’s, but they actually started the show as frenemies. For some reason, he thought he could outmatch Rachel in a diva-off, and the two take turns performing Defying Gravity from Wicked in the season one episode Wheels.
Will was thinking about using the song for the sectional setlist and originally gives the part to Rachel. But, when Kurt’s dad finds out that his son wanted the solo, he complains to Principal Figgins, and Will allows Kurt to audition.
When Will tells Rachel about the diva-off, he asks her if she can handle it, and she replies, “It’s my go-to shower song. It’s also my ringtone.”
Since the basis of their relationship is that Kurt keeps Rachel’s ego in check, it is a touching moment when he intentionally flubs the high F at the end, so she can win the battle – and so his dad won’t have to endure anymore homophobic telephone calls.
The story of this song on Glee is based on an experience that Colfer had in high school. For several years he asked his choir teacher if he could sing Defying Gravity, but it never happened because Elphaba, a female character, sings it in the musical.
12 The Final Note
Rachel sings a Celine Dion song once again, and this time it is in the final episode of season four, All Or Nothing. At the beginning of the episode, the New Directions prepare for regionals, while Rachel nervously sits in a hallway waiting for her Funny Girl audition.
For her audition, Rachel chooses the song To Love You More, and as the piano and flute begin, Rachel prepares herself to sing as the producers watch her in the intense moment. Her performance is nothing short of breathtaking, as she sings with deep passion and a strong voice. She even becomes emotional and lets out a few tears as she holds the long notes. And, she holds the final one for twenty seconds.
Michele originally wanted to sing this song for Nationals instead of It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, which is the song executive producer Ryan Murphy chose. She thought it was the wrong song, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to disappoint him.
Luckily, he decided to give her this song for her Funny Girl audition, so the world could hear Rachel’s version of this heartbreaking song.
“I'll be waiting for you/Here inside my heart/I'm the one who wants to love you more/You will see I can give you/Everything you need/Let me be the one to love you more.”
11 Make You Feel My Love
Not only were Rachel and Finn a couple on screen, but Lea Michele and Cory Monteith were a couple in real life. And, when he died unexpectedly, fans wondered just how Michele would deal with the tragedy. In the season five tribute episode The Quarterback, Michele gives a breathtaking performance of the Bob Dylan classic Make You Feel My Love as Rachel, but there is no pretending that she is in character.
“Nobody treat me with kid gloves, okay? I don't know what to say, either. I loved Finn, and... he loved me, and he loved all of you guys. I know he did,” she says.
She is obviously mourning the loss of her on and offscreen boyfriend, but it is a stunning display of showmanship, grace, and vulnerability. It took a lot of guts to put her own spin on a song that Adele has popularized. But, it holds up as the best performance the show did in its six years on the air. It is simply impossible for anyone to make it all the way through with a dry eye.
It is a must-see performance in a must-see episode, and a great way to remember how someone lived, instead of how they died.
10 Santana’s First Solo
Santana was a background character for the majority of the first season, but fans still noticed her because of her razor tongue.
She once told Rachel, "Hey dwarf, anyone ever tell you that you dress like one of the bait girls on To Catch a Predator?"
Obviously, the writers loved her. So, she finally came to the forefront during season two, and when she got her very first solo at sectionals during the season two episode Special Education, we knew she had officially become an integral member of the glee club.
New Directions director, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), always chose Rachel and Finn when it came to solos. But, at the suggestion of Ms. Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), he decided to feature other club members. Kurt had left for Dalton Academy, so Mr. Schue chose Santana for a solo.
The Lima Heights diva belted out Amy Winehouse’s Valerie while Brittany and Mike danced around her, and it was one of her first big moments.
It ended up being the only solo at competition for Santana during the entire series, but it ended up being so popular with fans, Rivera performed it at the Glee Live! concert, and Winehouse even tweeted about it.
9 Santana's Dating History
In the season two episode Comeback, Santana started dating Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) after he broke up with Quinn (Dianna Agron). Santana was never short on insults or pithy one-liners, and when it came to Sam and his giant lips, her obsession led to some memorable words.
"Welcome back, Lisa Rinna. I've missed you so much since your family packed their bags, loaded them in your mouth, and skipped town. Can't tell you how many times I wanted to enjoy a crisp pickle, but couldn't find anyone to suck the lid off the jar. I assume you've been working as a baby polisher where young mothers place their infants' heads in your mouth to get back that newborn shine."
Santana loves Sam’s lips so much that they inspire her to write Trouty Mouth, which she performed during the week that Mr. Schuester had the group write original songs. But, before she was able to finish the song, an angry and offended Sam interrupts her because he is tired of the constant mouth jokes.
In the song’s lyrics, Santana described Sam’s big feature in a variety of ways, including guppy face, grouper mouth, froggy lips, and salamander lips.
8 Singing for Brittany
Santana’s complicated relationship with fellow Cheerio Brittany gradually changed over the show’s six seasons. Starting as friends with some interesting benefits, they explored their feelings, and that resulted in one of the most popular relationships on the show. To the delight of many fans, they eventually got married at the end of the show’s final season.
Brittany often brought out a surprisingly tender side of the usually abrasive Santana, and two of Santana’s most memorable songs of the series were soft, acoustic solos that she sang to her girlfriend while alone in the choir room.
During the season two Fleetwood Mac tribute episode, Santana told Brittany she loved her for the very first time to the tune of Songbird. But, it was her heartbreaking season four performance of Taylor Swift’s Mine – when she broke off their long-distance relationship – that left viewers in tears.
It was one of the few times that fans got to see Santana drop the tough facade and “mean girl” attitude and realize that she is more than a cheerleader who can sing and dance. We get to see her for who she really is, and we can’t keep our eyes off her.
7 Rachel’s Understudy
In the fifth season, Rachel lands the lead part of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, a role that Barbra Streisand made famous. And in the episode Frenemies, Santana – without Rachel’s knowledge – auditions to be her understudy. What happened next was incredible because the sassy Santana strutted into the auditorium and belted out Rachel’s most iconic song Don’t Rain On My Parade.
Santana’s performance was captivating. Her vocals were strong, bold, and confident, with just a hint of seduction. It was very Santana. Rachel’s version is more of a Barbara carbon copy.
The shocked look on Rachel’s face was totally worth it, and Santana absolutely slayed the performance and landed the part, which spawned a fearsome feud between the two.
This was Rachel’s go-to song, and she had sung it twice before in the series, first in the season one episode Sectionals and then later in the season three episode Choke. And, Santana even borrowed some of Rachel’s choreography during the audition, leaving Rachel jealous and confused.
6 Smooth Criminal
In the season three episode Michael, the cast paid tribute to Michael Jackson, and Santana absolutely stole the show with her version of Smooth Criminal.
When Sebastian, a Dalton Academy Warbler, seriously injured Blaine (Darren Criss) with a rock salt slushie, Santana’s Lima Heights side came out, and she challenged the guy who “looks like the villain out of a cheesy 80’s high school movie” to a duel. But, since this is Glee, everything is settled through song. And, because it was the Michael Jackson episode, it could only be done to Smooth Criminal.
Accompanied by the real-life duo 2Cellos while she rocked a sweet fedora and black suit, Santana belted out one of her most memorable songs. And, needless to say, she totally won the musical matchup.
She also recorded Sebastian confessing to putting rock salt in the slushie with a recording device that she put in an interesting place.
“Okay, okay, whatever. In any case, I taped it to my body when we went to Dalton, and I got Sebastian on tape admitting that there was rock-salt in that slushie that blinded Blaine. Now, all we have to do is send this tape to the po-po, and that little bitchlet is headed to juvie.”
5 The Nurse’s Uniform
In the season two Valentine’s episode Silly Love Songs, Santana is determined to prove that Quinn is cheating on Sam with her ex-boyfriend Finn. So, she puts a nefarious plan together that includes mono, French kissing, and a red-striped nurse’s outfit. And, she had no fear about getting the “kissing disease.”
“Please, I’ve had mono so many times it’s turned into stereo,” she says.
Santana proceeds to kiss a sick student and contract his mono. Then, she kisses Finn at his kissing booth charity event. Then when Quinn contracts mono, Sam finally realizes what is going on.
She doesn’t have a solo in this episode, but she helps Rachel sing Firework. But, her voice isn’t the reason Santana gets attention in this episode. It’s the nurse’s uniform, the plan that goes off without a hitch, and her one-liners.
4 First On-Screen Kiss
Glee acknowledged Santana and Brittany’s experimentation in the first season. By season two they had professed their love for each other, and early in season three, they started dating. But, it wasn’t until Heart – the thirteenth episode of that season – that Brittany and Santana shared their first kiss on screen.
Early in the episode, at Santana’s locker, Brittany shows her the Valentine’s playlist she made and tells her that they are the songs she hears when they are together or when she is thinking about her. The playlist includes: Purple People Eater, Disco Duck, Monster Mash, On Top of Spaghetti, Pac Man Fever, Osama Yo Mama, and Diff’rent Strokes.
When they are about to share a kiss, Principal Figgins shows up and takes the couple to his office. He proceeds to tell them that people have complained about them sharing PDA in the hallways, and even though he personally doesn’t mind, he doesn’t want to upset anyone.
Later she decides to hire the God Squad to serenade Brittany for the romantic holiday.
“In that case, I would like to send one to my girlfriend, Brittany. And by that, I don’t mean my friend who’s a girl. I mean my girlfriend girlfriend. How does that sound?”
After the song, Brittany thanked Santana with a big kiss on the lips.
3 The Adele Mashup
A big part of season three dealt with Santana’s struggles with coming out of the closet. The storyline culminated when Santana was forcefully outed through a sleazy campaign attack ad against Coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) for having a lesbian as head cheerleader.
The shocking moment from the episode Mashup had severe repercussions for Santana, and she channeled her emotions with an incredible mashup of two Adele hits – Rumor Has It and Someone Like You.
Some consider it to be one of the best performances of the entire series because the arrangement, vocals, choreography, and context combined into a perfect storm of musical brilliance.
Santana’s part of the song was to perform Someone Like You, and she almost breaks down during the performance. Fans also see Brittany and Mercedes tearing up as well. At the end of the song, Santana spots Finn whispering to Rachel, and she thinks it is about her and the commercial.
When the performance is over, she runs up to them, has an argument with Finn, and slaps him in the face.
2 A Quarterback Tribute
When Cory Monteith died unexpectedly before the start of season five, it changed everything for the show. In an episode that many consider a must watch, season five’s The Quarterback was a tribute to Monteith. And, one of the best songs came from Santana who performed If I Die Young.
Before her performance started, she prefaced it in a way that only Santana could, veiling her pain while insulting Finn’s memory.
“I am convinced that squishy is up in Heaven right now, plopped down next to his new best friend Fat Elvis – helping themselves to a picnic of baby back ribs smothered in butterscotch pudding and tater tot grease.”
But, in the middle of the song, she breaks down crying and starts to scream while running out of the choir room. It was a powerful and unforgettable moment.
1 A Wedding
In the season six episode A Wedding, Santana and Brittany finally tie the knot. This episode is full of great moments. But, the best is just before the ceremony, when Brittany is upset because she has seen Santana before the wedding.
Santana then explains that the superstition of not seeing the bride before the wedding started with arranged marriages. They believed that if the couple saw each other’s face before the ceremony, they would bail. She then reassures Brittany that the superstition has nothing to do with them and apologizes for coming to see her before the wedding, but she can’t spend an hour without her because she misses her too much.
She then says that the rules don’t apply to them and tells Brittany that it is good luck to kiss before the wedding – and then they kiss passionately.
The episode also features Santana and Brittany singing Our Day Will Come with the other couple that got married that day, Blaine and Kurt.