Sessions @ AOL may have launched in 2002, but its presence was felt more in 2003 as the way we hear and see our favorite artists online started changing at a rapid speed. From the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) going to legal war with individual music file-sharers ( Napster, Wake.Princeton.edu ) to the launch of Apple’s iTunes Music Store, the options for consumers to follow their beloved artists started to become more difficult. But Sessions @ AOL made this easier.
Brought to us by AOL Music, the mini-concert experience became an outlet for artists to perform their past and presents hits in a more up-close and intimate way. Similar to MTV-Unplugged, many artists have sung acoustic and stripped-down versions of their popular songs and album gems. Artists even sat down to dish on their latest albums ahead or after its release.
After 10 years of special performances, exclusive interviews and some name changes (AOL Sessions, AOL Music Sessions), the intimate concert series ended abruptly in 2013.
While others (Walmart Soundcheck and Yahoo! Pepsi Smash) have attempted to capture their own exclusive studio performance moments, nothing beats holding the house phone hostage so no uses it so you could use dial-up to watch your faves spill the tea on their album and sing your favorite cut track.
In the spirit of nostalgia, we compiled a list of 20 memorable performances from the online music concert series. (Sidenote: Can you guess how we ranked the list? The answer is at the end)
Mario – “How Could You” (2005)
Mario brought his underrated vocals to Sessions @ AOL to perform his top-20 hit “How Could You” from his Turning Point album.
Keri Hilson – “Let Me Down / Beautiful Mistake” (2011)
Following the release of 2010’s No Boys Allowed, the singer-songwriter stormed Sessions to sing cuts off the new album, including “Beautiful Mistake.”
Chrisette Michele – “Be Ok” (2009)
Fresh off the release of her album Epiphany, Michele revisited her I Am era with a sensational performance of “Be Ok.” The uptempo number won a Grammy in 2009 for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
Keyshia Cole – “Love” (2005)
Sporting her signature orange hair and a casual outfit, The Way it Is singer belted her powerful ballad “Love” for online viewers.
Monica – “It All Belongs to Me” (2012)
While this Rico Love-written track is a duet with Brandy, the New Life vocalist stripped down the record and took it on alone with some help from three backup singers.
Jennifer Hudson – “I Remember Me” (2011)
There are not many artists who can sit on a stool, sing their hearts out and still be on key. Jennifer Hudson is one of them. She delivered a stellar performance of “I Remember Me,” the title track of her 2011 album.
Tyrese – “Stay” (2012)
Tyrese accepted an Open Invitation to AOL Sessions in 2012 where he performed his soulful tune “Stay.” The song spent 11 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Songs chart.
Ashanti – “Rock wit U (Awww Baby)” (2003)
The then-Murder Inc front-women was on point with all aww babies for her first time at Sessions. And catch how Ashanti barely opened her eyes during this performance of “Rock wit U (Awww Baby).” We love a dizzy queen.
Faith Evans – “I Love You” (2005)
The First Lady had viewers in their feelings with “I Love You” from her 2001 album Faithfully. Did you peep Meelah, lead singer of 702, singing backup?
Toni Braxton – “He Wasn’t Man Enough” (2005)
The sultry tone diva came to Sessions to promote material from her Libra album. She also revisited The Heat era and sung “He Wasn’t Man Enough” alongside her sisters Trina and Tamar Braxton.
Fantasia – “Bittersweet” (2010)
Donning a black dress with silver shoulder embroidery, the Back to Me singer left it all on stage with her mind-blowing performance of “Bittersweet.” She reprised the emotionally charged ballad with more personal lyrics.
The-Dream – “I Luv Your Girl” (2013)
The Radio Killa paid a visit to AOL Sessions in 2013 to promote IV Play. While there, the versatile musician dropped the auto-tune and bared his natural singing voice for his wavy performance of “I Luv Your Girl” off his debut album, Love Hate.
Ne-Yo – “So Sick” (2006)
The singer-songwriter had us “So Sick” with his first-ever AOL Music Sessions visit. The heartbreak song topped several Billboard charts including the Hot 100 for two consecutive weeks.
Chris Brown – “Winner” (2006)
The young Breezy had girls all over the world screaming at their computer screens with his performance of “Winner” off his self-titled album.
Brian McKnight — “Back to One” (2003)
Brian McKnight was one of the first R&B artists to grace the AOL studio. He performed his classic song “Back at One” from his 1999 album under the same name.
Earth, Wind & Fire – “The Way You Move” (2005)
Supported by a full band, the legendary group got us out our seats to dance along to “The Way You Move” from their 2005 Illumination album.
Kelly Rowland – “Like This” featuring Eve (2007)
Ms. Kelly invited rapper Eve to perform their fierce collaboration “Like This.” Hopefully, no one hurt themselves trying to reenact this dance number.
John Legend – “So High” (2004)
Seated behind his instrument of choice, Legend had us levitating as he wonderfully sung “So High” from his debut album, Get Lifted.
Alicia Keys – “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” – (2010)
Alicia Keys rarely steps from behind her piano to perform music. But she did for the majority of her 2010 Sessions to perform past and present tunes including “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” from The Element of Freedom.
Mary J. Blige – “Take Me As I Am” (2005)
It was all or nothing at all with the Queen of the Hip Hop Soul’s moving performance of “Take Me As I Am” from The Breakthrough.
Rihanna – “Unfaithful” (2007)
The Unapologetic artist starred on the Sessions for three album eras: A Girl Like Me, Good Girl Gone Bad and Rated R. Her amazing performance of “Unfaithful” in 2007 is a standout though.
Beyoncé – “Me, Myself and I” (2008)
Although she was there to promote B’Day and its singles (“Irreplaceable”), it was Yoncé’s breathing performance of “Me, Myself and I” alongside her incredible background singers The Mamas that stole the show.
Give up yet? The list of performances was ranked by the artists’ number of Grammy nominations. Beyoncé has the most (70) nods out of all the artists featured on this list while Mario and Keri Hilson have the least (2).