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The Definitive Ranking of ‘She Used to Be Mine’ Covers

Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Getty Images and YouTube

It’s not simple to say … how much time we’ve spent watching covers of Sara Bareilles’s 11 o’clock number “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical Waitress. It’s at once heart-breaking and uplifting — the perfect song to listen to 15 times in a row until the well of emotions within you has finally run dry. But, not every cover of “She Used to Be Mine” is created equal, and as such we’ve decided to rank them. Like all internet lists, this list is very scientific and objective which means there are rules. First: no bootlegs. What we’re not going to do is illegally pirate theater! Second: the song must be sung live with a fair amount of views — that means no audio recordings, music videos, or videos from your niece’s recital are eligible for consideration, sorry. Finally: absolutely no reality-TV singing-competition audition videos. “She Used to Be Mine” is a song about loss, longing, and perseverance; it’s not about impressing Katy Perry. Okay, without further ado here are the best covers of “She Used to Be Mine” currently available on the internet for your viewing pleasure (or pain).

15. Betsy Wolfe

Betsy definitely gets an A for effort here. Ms. Wolfe obviously has a gorgeous instrument to be sure, but the slowed-down tempo makes the whole thing a little lackadaisical, a little lethargic, and a little bit reminiscent of a dirge. Fundamentally, it lacks a sense of urgency. On a more technical note, her diphthong on “fire” is distracting to me and at the end of the day she’s simply not a riffstress (which is okay!) but ultimately renders her climactic, guttural “she used to be mine” underwhelming. However, she gains some points for a very pretty, restrained ending.

Standout moments: her “finally” at 2:50, her “mine” at 2:45–2:55.

14. Northwestern’s THUNK a cappella

If you were a big Glee fan in the early aughts, this might be the version for you. The whole thing has a “Rachel Berry NYADA Audition” quality. The Northwestern coed a cappella group THUNK did a really nice arrangement of the power ballad, and soloist Aiden Fisher does an impressive job, but the whole thing doesn’t quite work. To see a woman sing a song about profound loneliness backed up by a chorus of people “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” sort of defeats the purpose of the song. Also, because it’s a cappella the soloist is forced to stay in rigid time with the background singers, eliminating any option for back phrasing. It was definitely a fun experiment, but ultimately, in the words of Randy Jackson, it was just aight for me, dawg.

Standout moments: her “messy” at 1:09, her “mine” from 3:03–3:09.

13. Jessica Vosk

Welcome to Waitress: Unplugged. Former Elphaba in Wicked and recent Narrator in Joseph and the Technicolor Scream Throat Jessica Vosk delivers a lovely, acoustic version of the song. The guitar accompaniment (played by her brother Daniel Vosk), the candles, and the crossed-legged sitting of it all really add to the vibe and provide a fresh, folksy take on the song. She takes a few too many liberties with the melody for my taste, and I would prefer if she opened up a little more on the money notes, but Vosk undeniably riffs the house down.

Standout moments: her “lonely” at 1:22, her “hurt” at 2:33, her “it used to be mine” through the “oohs” at 3:20–3:30.

12. Natalie Weiss

The preeminent riffstress has officially entered the chat. Singer Natalie Weiss, who has made a living teaching people how to riff on YouTube and coaching Broadway Jennas, delivers a technically flawless version of “She Used to Be Mine,” complete with perfectly executed bells and whistles. I grew up in the American Idol era, so bells and whistles will always be impressive to me, but there actually is more to singing than riffs and runs (shocking, I know). Yes, she sounds incredible, but it’s all a little too clean. Frankly, it’s too easy for her. This song is about struggle and flawlessly executed nine-note run just doesn’t scream “struggle” to me even if it does blow my mind.

Stand out moments: Her “Mine” from 3:12–3:20 is truly ridiculous.

11. Alison Luff

Have to be honest about this one, I don’t really get why this video of former Waitress star Alison Luff singing “She Used to Be Mine” has over 1.5 million views. It’s obviously great, don’t get me wrong, but is it particularly special? I don’t know. She’s definitely acting the hell out of it, which I appreciate, but ultimately I think it is a very good version of a very great song sung by a very talented and clear-voiced ingenue. Also, she milks her sustained notes just a little too much for me, and don’t get me started on her choice to belt the last note (an unfortunate, recurring theme in this thread). But, it is definitely good! Maybe I’m missing something?

Standout moments: Her note change on the “easy” at 0:43, and her “finally” at 3:21 which is not for me, but is probably for somebody else, her option up on “mine” from 3:50–3:59.

10. Jessie Mueller Rehearsal Footage

I know what you’re saying. “But, Chris” you scream at your computer screens, “she ORIGINATED the role. How can she be #10?” 1) Stop yelling at me and 2) Jessie Mueller’s version suffers from what I like to call “Menzel Syndrome” where the first version of the song is rarely the most impressive version. Go to literally any Wicked compilation video and see how Idina Menzel’s original version stacks up against those who came after her (I suggest starting with “Defying Gravity before transitioning to “Fiyero Riff”). That’s part of the burden of being the first to do something — the girls will always try and one up you. However, Mueller is such a good actress and singer that her original version has managed to crack the top ten. It’s really impressive.

Standout moments: Honestly the whole thing because she literally sings the song a full step above where most everyone else sings it, also her “finally” at 3:10 is heavenly.

9. Katharine McPhee

This one was tough for me. If you’ve seen my initial rankings on Twitter, you might have noticed that McPhee was a commanding No. 4 on my list. How could she have possibly fallen from to No. 9? First, I had to look inward and be honest with myself. Full disclosure, I have had “McPheever” since Katherine McPhee appeared on the fifth season of American Idol in 2006. I was firmly Team Karen in the Great Smash Wars of 2012. She was my childhood crush beard and for that I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her. Putting all that aside, I had to ask myself: is this really a top-five version of this song? After much soul searching the answer was no, but nevertheless it is a very good version of the song. McPhee leans into what she does best — the lyrical, lilt-y quality of her voice. Let’s be honest, Kat isn’t gonna out belt anyone, but she can mix and spin with the best of them, and mix and spin she does here. Proud of you, Kat!

Standout moments: her vowel on “bruised” at 2:51, the end of her “mine” riff at 3:43, and her downward “lonely” riff into her upward “most” riff from 3:50–3:53.

8. Lucie Jones

The only entry from across the pond, introducing former West End Waitress star Lucie Jones. Accent work aside (because that is not what this is about) Jones delivers an emotional rendition of the song. She goes for broke in this performance, leaving it all on the stage. It’s not the most flawless rendition musically speaking, but it’s deeply felt and gritty in a way that I found pleasantly surprising. Life has not been all tea and crumpets for Jenna and we love to see that come through in an 11 o’clock number. She also opts for a restrained final “mine” that you love to see. A triumph in belting and storytelling. God bless the queen.

Standout moments: her “man who can’t love” for the acting at 2:50, her “finally reminds her to fight” for belting into acting from 3:01–3:07, her “mine” for the straight tone into vibrato while crying from 3:30–3:40.

7. Jeremy Jordan

Former Dr. Potmatter replacement Jeremy Jordan sang “She Used to Be Mine” at MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala in which Broadway’s brightest stars sing songs from roles they’d never be cast as. Jeremy makes a pretty convincing case that next time he appears in the musical he should play Jenna, as his “She Used to Be Mine” has the most views of any version on this list. That being said, it’s all a little … much. While his rendition is impeccably sung, emotionally wrought, and undeniably powerful, he takes so many major liberties with the melody that it renders his performance very “talent show,” which makes sense considering he sung it at a benefit concert. But as my dear friend, actor and comedian Larry Owens tweeted, “It is appropriate for a woman to riff a woman’s song to make a point. It is inappropriate for a man to riff a woman’s song to make a point.” Words to live by.

Standout moments: his “chance to start over” at 2:08, his “finally reminds her” 2:42–2:44, his entire “used to be mine” progression from 2:50–3:12.

6. Sara Bareilles

It feels kind of unfair to include Sara Bareilles on this list as she wrote the damn song, but I know she wouldn’t want to be treated differently than anyone else (I don’t actually know that, I’m just assuming). To keep things as fair as possible, I picked a version where Sara isn’t playing the piano while singing because how could anyone compete with Sara playing the piano while singing “She Used to Be Mine” at the same time, I mean, I’m weeping at the very thought of it. In a way, she suffers from a greater case of “Menzel Syndrome” than Jessie Mueller, but nevertheless her version is special in it’s gorgeous simplicity. It’s the definitive version of the song. This is the blueprint, and it should be treated as such.

Standout moments: her “if i’m honest” through “girl that I knew” from 2:22 to 2:40, her “fight just a little” through “fire in her eyes” from 3:14–3:22.

5. Jennifer Nettles

To be honest, Jennifer Nettles, lead singer of the band Sugarland, was going to make this list just for calling Waitress, “The Waitress.” When she referred to Waitress’ pre-Broadway run at A.R.T. in Cambridge its “out of town thing,” I knew we had a contender. This rendition shows that the song is bigger than the show with which it is situated in. Nettles is no Broadway baby, and yet when she sings the song it’s just as potent and emotional as any University of Michigan Musical Theater Major’s 16-bar-cut, if not more so. Her country twinged version is the closest to what I imagine the character of Jenna’s would sound like if she actually existed and for that it earns a spot in the top five.

Standout moments: her three note run down on “reminds her” at 3:49, her wide open mouth on “fire” at 4:08, her little hops during “mine” from 4:15–4:20, the little harmony at the end at 5:01.

4. Jordin Sparks

The range! Jordin Sparks makes my favorite musical choices out of anyone on this list so far. The American Idol winner is able to stay true to the song while throwing in riffs and runs that keep the song fresh and original without straying too far from the melody (cough, Jeremy). And that lower register of hers! Instead of throwing away the low notes in the first half of the song like some of those other girls, Ms. Sparks leans in to them. Somebody call Toni Braxton because we’ve got an alto in the house. When we get to the second half of the song, Sparks opens up and unleashes a pristine voice with a perfect ratio of sustained straight tone to impressive runs, which is perfectly encapsulated in her climactic “she used to be mine” moment at 3:45. My one gripe is that she chooses to belt the last word of the song. PSA: if you belt the last word then you have misunderstood the assignment of the song. However, I’ll chalk her choice up to PTSD from having to show pony for Simon Cowell on a semi-regular basis when she was a teenager.

Standout moments: her “gave them” at :36, her alto realness from 2:00–2:15, her “girl that I knew” at 2:38, her “man who can’t love” at 2:58, her “scared” at 3:03 and “finally” at 3:11 and her “fire” at 3:19 for use of straight tone, her riff at the end of “mine” at 3:45.

3. Sara Bareilles and Jessie Mueller Tony Performance

Okay, this one is a little bit of a cheat because they’ve both appeared on the list before, but come on. This is one hell of a “She Used to Be Mine” rendition and an incredible Tony’s performance. Sara B rocking a fierce braid and a black cape, opening the number on the piano, where she’s most comfortable. Then she hands it off to Jessie, on the couch, wearing flats, who completely knocks it out of the park (I mixed up sports metaphors there, but you get it). This performance goes to show that while “Menzel Syndrome” is real, it can be treated with a healthy serving of undeniable star power.

Standout moments: It’s the Tony performance just watch the whole thing.

2. Adrian Matthews

I’m not a particularly sentimental person, but if I can get full body chills no less than five times while watching 14-year-old Adrian Matthews sing “She Used to Be Mine” at Waitress karaoke, then you know it’s the real deal. Adrian went viral for singing “She Used to Be Mine” on YouTube before being invited to sing the song on the Waitress stage with the cast watching on, and he absolutely nails it. Every time he flips into his gorgeous little falsetto, an angel gets its wings. Even though he is a 14-year-old boy singing from the perspective of a distressed pregnant woman, Aidan’s performance is so emotionally honest, his delivery so pure, that it doesn’t matter. Every word he sings you feel. When he smiles, you smile. When he cries, you cry. If you aren’t an emotional wreck after watching this… then I simply don’t understand you? Also, remember that time Al Roker was in this show? Life is crazy, man.

Standout moments: his “simple” at 0:04, his “lonely” at 1:18, his hand when he sings “scared” at 2:50, his “fire in her eyes” at 3:04, his “mine” from 3:22–3:30, when he looks up and takes in the moment that he is singing on a broadway stage at 4:00, and the group hug at 4:30.

1. Shoshana Bean

Shoshana Bean sings the best cover of “She Used to Be Mine” on the internet. Hands down. It’s really not a competition. Shoshana’s version has everything. Acting. Vocals. Emotions. Riffs. Pathos. Grit. Hope. Did I say Vocals? Ms. Bean delivers nothing short of a master class in musical theater in this 4:55 second video. She starts out with so much control. Her “but she tries” and her “but she lies”? Yes, acting! But in the second half she absolutely lets loose and the result is … exquisite. It’s a messy, fully lived in, absolutely gut-wrenching performance from a woman who clearly knows what it’s like to have loved and lost something. Not to mention it’s vocally out of this world.

Even Bean’s choice to belt the last note of the song works. Dramaturgically speaking, there is no reason to belt the last note — you’ve already belted your heart out and let out the guttural cry on the sustained “oh, she used to be mine.” The coda is effectively the come down and should be treated as such. But Ms. Bean’s wail at the end is so visceral you can’t help but feel her pain — she’s the only person who has earned the right to belt the last note of the song. Yes, Waitress may be gone, but we’ll always have Shoshana’s “She Used to Be Mine.”

Standout moments: literally the entire thing is a work of art but specifically her “chance to start over” at 2:35, the way she bends the note on “reckless” at 2:45, her run on “toughen up” at 2:53, her option up on “life that’s inside her” at 3:11, her “stronger each day” into “finally reminds her to fight just a little” at 3:12–3:20, her phrasing from “her eyes” into “that’s been gone” 3:22–3:27, her “oh it used to be mine” from 3:38–3:51.

The Definitive Ranking of ‘She Used to Be Mine’ Covers