Crystal Bowersox Farmer's DaughterCrystal Bowersox
“Farmer’s Daughter
Released: Dec. 14, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 9

Perhaps the best debut album yet from an Idol finalist, and the Crystal listeners get on the album is the same Crystal viewers saw on the show. Crystal wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 tracks, including the magnificent title track. Another highlight is “Mason,” a duet with her husband.

Download worthy: “Farmer’s Daughter,” “Speak Now,” “Mason,” “Arlene.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200, the second lowest debut by a finalist.

Grade: B+

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Lee DeWyze's Live It UpLee DeWyze
“Live It Up”
Released:  Nov. 16, 2010
Idol finish: 1st, Season 9

Lee is successfully nudged out of slumberland on an album filled with perfectly pleasing mid-tempo tunes. What’s missing is anything truly memorable, or anything with the simple charm of the best songs on “Slumberland,” an indie album released just before his successful run to the Idol season nine crown.

Download worthy:  “Stay Here,” “Me and My Jealousy,” “A Song About Love”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 23 on the Billboard 200, the worst yet by an Idol winner. Album dipped to 93 the following week. The lead single, “Sweet Serendipity” has failed to crack the Hot 100.

Grade: B-

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Jason Castro Who I AmJason Castro
“Who I Am” CD
“Changing Colors” EP
Released: Nov. 9, 2010

Idol finish: 4th, Season 7

Plan B for the season seven contestant means a move toward Christian radio with the single, “You Are.” The CD features five new tracks and five recycled from his self-titled debut album. The debut album was better. The EP features live acoustic studio tracks, including three songs from the debut album, the title track and a Tom Petty cover.

Download worthy: “You Are” from CD; “Learning to Fly” from EP

Chart performance: “You Are” is climbing the Billboard Christian songs chart.

Grade: C

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Tim Urban 'This Heart of Mine'Tim Urban
“Heart of Mine” EP
Released: Nov. 8, 2010
Idol finish: 7th, Season 9

The “substitute” contestant in season nine beats most of his other colleagues to the punch in releasing new music, six songs he also wrote. A new arrangement spoils “Lullaby;” but the music is more suited to his style than most of what he wound up performing on Idol.

Download worthy: “P.S.” and “Blur”

Chart performance: Has not charted.

Grade: C

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Katharine McPhee's Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love YouKatharine McPhee
“Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”
Released: Oct. 12, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 5

The good news: Kat is a brunette again. The bad news: You can find better versions of these songs elsewhere … well, except for the one original, “It’s Not Christmas

Without You,” which Kat co-wrote.

Download worthy: “Who Would Imagine a King”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 11 on the holiday album chart, spent two weeks in the top 25.

Grade: C-

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David Archuleta's The Other Side Of Down David Archuleta
“The Other Side of Down”
Released: Oct. 5, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 7

A ray of musical sunshine from the season seven runner-up and better than his debut album, which went gold. David has writing credits on 10 of the 12 songs and upbeat themes abound.

Download worthy: “The Other Side of Down,” “Who I Am,” “My Kind of Perfect.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 13 on the Billboard 200; five weeks later, it’s off that chart.

Grade: B

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Chris Sligh's The Anatomy of BrokenChris Sligh
“The Anatomy of Broken”
Released: Sept. 14, 2010
Idol finish: 10th, Season 6

A perfectly competent second Christian album from a guy better known post-Idol for his songwriting (Rascal Flatts’ #1 “Here Comes Goodbye”) than for his singing. The second half of the album is particularly strong; Chris wrote or co-wrote all 14 tracks.

Download worthy: “Only You Can Save,” “One,” “Chasing Down a Name.”

Chart performance: The lead single, “Only You Can Save,” peaked at number 13 on Billboard’s Hot Christian singles chart.

Grade: C+

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Fantasia's "Back to Me" Fantasia
“Back to Me”
Released: Aug. 24, 2010
Idol finish: 1st, Season 3

Not good enough to make Fantasia a household name again, but a wonderful reminder that she’s the most distinctive voice to come from American Idol in the first nine

seasons. Two songs — “I’m Doin’ Me” and “Bittersweet” — have already charted on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Download worthy: “Man of the House” and the dance tune “Falling in Love Tonight,” one of the best Idol vocals of the year.

Chart performance: Debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart. Eleven weeks later, it’s number 52 on the former; number eight on the latter.

Grade: B-

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Michael Sarver's debut album Michael Sarver
“Michael Sarver”
Released: July 27, 2010
Idol finish: 10th, Season 8

The former oil rig worker who finished 10th in season eight hits the sweet spot twice on this 14-track country debut, which features six songs he wrote or co-wrote. The bonus track, “Angels Sing,” might point to a future as a Christian artist. Otherwise, a largely pedestrian outing.

Download worthy: The excellent first single “Ferris Wheel” and “Watch Me.”

Chart performance: Peaked at number 58 on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Grade: C

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Clay Aiken's "Tried and True" Clay Aiken
“Tried and True”
Released: June 1, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 2

The old 45 on the back jacket of the CD is the first hint that Clay had abandoned the pop star persona he adopted after Idol and returned to singing other people’s hits. Old hits, in the case of this album, with none of the songs dating earlier than 1971. Diehard fans of the second two runner-up with love it; everyone else will likely yawn.

Download worthy: “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “Unchained Melody.”

Chart performance: Debuted on Billboard 200 at number nine. Spent four weeks on the chart.

Grade: C

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Bo Bice's "3"Bo Bice
“3”
Released: May 18, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 4

The best album yet from Idol’s most underrated finalist. And one of the best Idol albums no one knows about. Ten solid songs, all written or co-written by Bo, ranging from the southern rockers he’s best known for (“Long Road Back”) to straight-up country (“Good Hearted Woman”). More country, in fact, than you’ll find on Bo’s first two albums. And “3” is all the better for it.

Download worthy: Get the album. If you want to skimp, download “Different Shades of Blue,” “Lonely, Broke and Wasted” and “You Take Yourself with You.”

Chart performance: Debuted on Billboard 200 at number 154, but was gone the next week.

Grade: A

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We Are the Fallen "Tear the World Down" We Are the Fallen
“Tear the World Apart”
featuring: Carly Smithson

Released: May 11, 2010

Idol finish: 6th, Season 7

Carly Smithson had a habit of oversinging on Idol. Released of the pressure of displaying all her vocal tricks in a 2-minute Idol performance, she’s a pleasure for the ears here as she joins three former members of Evanescence on We Are the Fallen’s underappreciated debut album.

Download worthy: “Paradigm,” “Sleep Well, My Angel,” “Tear the World Down.”

Chart performance: Debuted on Billboard 200 at number 33, but stayed on the chart just three weeks. Spent two weeks in top 10 among hard rock albums.

Grade: B+

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Anoop Desai's "All Is Fair" Anoop Desai
“All is Fair”
Released: May 4, 2010
Idol finish: 6th, Season 8

An appropriately named 8-track EP from season eight’s sixth-place finisher. Anoop said he applied a Bollywood treatment to the lead single, “My Name,” to make it pop. Unfortunately, the other seven tracks don’t. Former Idol contestants Brandon Rogers and Chris Richardson have writing credits on the EP, with Brandon co-writing the single.

Download worthy: “My Name”

Chart performance: Failed to chart on Billboard 200.

Grade: C-

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Jason Castro's debut albumJason Castro
“Jason Castro”
Released: April 10, 2010
Idol finish: 4th, Season 7

Surprisingly impressive debut from Captain Cool from season seven, despite an annoying lead single (“Let’s Just Fall in Love Again”). The CD benefits from the presence of his two signature performances from Idol — “Hallelujah” and a ukelele-accompanied version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but those aren’t the only highlights.

Download worthy: “That’s What I’m Here For,” “You Can Always Come Home,” “It Matters to Me.”

Chart performance: Debuted on Billboard 200 at number 18, but stayed on the chart just four weeks.

Grade: B

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Scott MacIntyre's "Heartstrings"Scott MacIntyre
“Heartstrings”
Released: March 11, 2010
Idol finish: 8th, Season 8

OK, if you’re going to steal the title “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and slap it on a song, it’d better be better than the lead track on this first post-Idol CD from Idol’s eighth-place finisher in season eight. Unfortunately, the album never gets much better than that. Scott strikes gold just once, on the clever “I’ll Take Tom,” a reference to everyone’s friend on MySpace back when MySpace was a popular social site on the web.

Download worthy: “I’ll Take Tom.”

Chart performance: Failed to chart on Billboard 200.

Grade: D

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Danny Gokey's "My Best Days" Danny Gokey
“My Best Days”
Released: March 2, 2010
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 8

With a passel of potential hits written by others and Carrie Underwood’s producer in tow, the third-place finisher from season eight provides the vocals on a decent country-pop album. Of course, past Idols like Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington and Kellie Pickler all did better with their first country albums. Of course, unlike Danny, they were country singers before Idol.

Download worthy: “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” “Like That’s a Bad Thing,” “I Will Not Say Goodbye.”

Chart performance: Debuted on Billboard 200 at number four and on country albums chart at number three. Spent 12 weeks on Billboard 200; seven weeks in top 20 among

country albums.

Grade: B-

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Katharine McPhee's "Unbroken" Katharine McPhee
“Unbroken”
Jan. 5, 2010
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 5

Idol’s dark-haired beauty goes blonde, dumps the dance beats of her first album for a pop sound, delivers a catchy first single (“Had It All”), a splendid ballad (“Say Goodbye”) a whimsical version of “Brand New Key” and little else. Kat has writing credits on six of the 13 tracks and released “Terrified” as a single, too, after Didi Benami’s acclaimed acoustic version of the Kara DioGuardi song during season nine of Idol.

Download worthy: “Had It All,” “Say Goodbye,” “Brand New Key.”

Chart performance: Debuted at 27 on the Billboard 200, but stayed on the chart only two weeks.

Grade: C

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