Jason Castro
“Starting Line” EP

Idol finish: 4th, Season 7
Released: Aug. 28, 2012

Jason continues his transformation from pop to Christian artist with these five tracks, which serve as a sampler to the Christian album he plans to release next year. Unfortunately, none of the tunes match the best songs from his 2010 pop album. Sometimes, there’s just too much musical clutter for a guy who seems to sound best with just an acoustic guitar.

Download worthy: “I Believe.”

Chart performance: EP was just released. Single “Only a Mountain” is number 24 on Christian songs chart.

Grade: C

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Michael Lynche
“Michael Lynche”

Idol finish: 4th, Season 9
Released: Aug. 14, 2012

Someone took the praise “Big Mike” earned singing ballads on Idol a bit too seriously, because this album is chock full of them. Too many of them. Michael sounds great, but the brilliantly funky opening track (“Crazy Gina”) is an indication of how much better this debut could have been if he’d mixed it up just a little bit more.

Download worthy: “Crazy Gina,” “Baby Boo,” “Today.”

Chart performance: The album has yet to chart.

Grade: C+

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David Archuleta
“Begin”

Idol finish: 2nd, Season 7
Released: Aug. 7, 2012

David returns to the music that earned him legions of fans on Idol, singing inspirational covers. That might not net him legions of new fans, but it should ease the pain of his absence during a two-year church mission for his avid followers. One of the best tunes on the album is “Broken,” the lone original.

Download worthy: “Broken,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Don’t Give Up”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200, has since dropped off that chart. Debuted at number 5 on independent album chart.

Grade: B-

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Jordin Sparks
“Sparkle” soundtrack

Idol finish: 1st, Season 6
Released: July 27, 2012

The album is best known for featuring the last songs recorded by Whitney Houston, but it’s really a showcase for Jordin. She’s featured on seven of the 11 tracks, including “Celebrate,” a duet with Whitney, and three solo songs. Her “One Wing” is the album’s highlight. I’m more anxious to hear the music on Jordin’s upcoming third solo album.

Download worthy: “I’m a Man” (by Cee Lo Green), “One Wing” (Jordin)

Chart performance: Album is number 1 on Billboard’s soundtrack chart, number 25 on the Billboard 200, where it peaked at number 21.

Grade: C

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Casey Abrams
“Casey Abrams”

Idol finish: 6th, Season 10
Released: June 26, 2012

An album that goes down as easy as a sunny, 85-degree summer day, which fits the mood of this impressive debut album. The biggest complaint: At 11 tracks, it ends too soon. But it does end with a nice cover of “Hit the Road Jack,” a duet with frequent Idol collaborator Haley Reinhart.

Download worthy: “Get Out,” “Blame It On Me,” “Midnight Girl,” “Stuck in London.”

Chart performance: Debuted at 101 on the Billboard 200. Gone the following week.

Grade: B

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Jack and White
(Brooke White)
“Undercover”

Idol finish: 5th, Season 7
Released: June 5, 2012

The third EP in less than a year from the team of Brooke White and former Self Against City guitarist Jack Matranga, this one features six cover songs, one from each decade, the 1960s forward. Some of the choices are odd (ELO’s “Telephone Line”), resulting in an effort that misses as often as it hits.

Download worthy: “How’s It Going to Be,” “Tighten Up.”

Chart performance: Did not chart.

Grade: C

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Crystal Bowersox
“Once Upon a Time” EP

Idol finish: 2nd, Season 9
Released: May 29, 2012

A reminder — if anyone needed one — of why this singer-songwriter should have won Idol Season 9. Five pre-Idol tracks, and a couple far better than one would expect from someone who plans to release a full-length second album later in the year.

Download worthy: “Get Me Out,” “Slut.”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade: B-

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Michael Johns
“Love and Sex” EP

Idol finish: 8th, Season 7
Released: May 29, 2012

Just three tracks as a followup to his splendid 2009 post-Idol CD “Hold Back My Heart. But the smoldering lead-off song, “The First Time,” certainly captures the theme of the EP. It’ll likely have the ladies swooning.

Download worthy: “The First Time”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade: Incomplete. Just 3 songs, after all.

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Kris Allen
“Thank You Camelia”

Idol finish: 1st, Season 8
Released: May 18, 2012

Too few songs that stay stuck in your head for what Kris is aiming for — a mainstream pop album. Still, it’s a heck of a lot better — and closer to the Kris we met on Idol — than his post-show flop. That’s especially true of the lead single, “Vision of Love.”

Download worthy: “She Loves Me Not,” “Vision of Love,” “Out Alive”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 26 on the Billboard 200, but spent just two weeks on that chart.

Grade: C

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Haley Reinhart
“Listen Up”

Released: May 22, 2012
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 10

Made possible by Adele’s success, Haley’s deliciously sultry voice, this is gloriously different from standard Idol fare. A little bit throwback, a little bit jazz and a whole lot of fun. More impressive: Haley has a writing credit on all but one track, “Free,” a silly choice for a first single given the superior tunes on this album.

Download worthy: “Wasted Tears,” “Keep Coming Back,” “Hit the Ground Runnin’,” “Spiderweb”

Chart performance:  Debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200. Stayed on the chart four weeks.

Grade: B+

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Diana DeGarmo
“Live to Love”

Released: May 22, 2012
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 3

For diehard Diana fans only. Everyone else will likely hit the off switch at the sappy and badly oversung title track. “Good Goodbye” was released as a single after Diana performed it on “The Young and the Restless.” The highlight here: A cute pop tune duet with Ace Young, “Us Against the World,” released a day before he’d propose to her on American Idol.

Download worthy: “Us Against the World” (with Ace Young)

Chart performance: NA

Grade: C-

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Adam Lambert
“Trespassing”

Released: May 15, 2012
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 9

To borrow a line from the title track, catch a load of Adam, proving that a male contestant from Idol really can release a relevant pop album in 2012. The first seven tracks are a funk/dance delight. Shame the album loses a little momentum after that. But Adam, of course, sounds brilliant from beginning to end.

Download worthy: “Trespassing,” “Never Close Our Eyes,” “Outlaw in Love,” “Cuckoo.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 as Adam became the first former Idol contestant to bump another (Carrie Underwood) from that perch. But stayed on the chart just 10 weeks. “Never Close Our Eyes” hit number six on the dance chart.

Grade: A-

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Granville Automatic
(Vanessa Olivarez)
“Granville Automatic”

Idol finish: 12th, Season 2
Released: May 12, 2012

Who? Well, do yourself a favor and get to know who, because this is one of the pleasant surprises of 2012. In fact, one of the best Idol-related albums of the year. Nine years removed from Idol, Vanessa sounds fabulous. She teams up with Elizabeth Elkins on an album of songs about history in a sorta folk country style. Everything works splendidly, but pay special attention to “Flying Mercury,” “Shores of Maryland” and “Never on a Sunday.”

Download worthy: Just get the album.

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade: A-

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Megan Joy
“Meg Joy”

Released: May 8, 2012
Idol finish: 9th, Season 8

A pleasant little musical surprise because, as inconsistent as Megan was on Idol, she sounds just fine on her own, slightly quirky material. Not every song on the 9-track release works, but more do than don’t. Months after its initial release, the material is now available on iTunes.

Download worthy: “Trouble Me,” “Can’t Bring Me Down.”

Chart performance: Did not chart.

Grade: B-
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Carrie Underwood
“Blown Away”

Released: May 1, 2012
Idol finish: 1st, Season 4

Who knew Carrie preferred whiskey to wine? But to borrow an analogy from the album’s 13th track, there’s more wine than whiskey moments on her fourth album and the promise of “dark” tunes like “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs” quickly fades. In other words, more safe and predictable moments than you-go-girl moments. Still, Carrie, sounds great throughout.

Download worthy: “Blown Away,” “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Leave Love Alone,” “Cupid’s Got a Shotgun.”

Chart performance:  Spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 before being bumped by Adam Lambert’s “Trespassing.” Lead single “Good Girl” reached number one on the country singles chart. Second single “Blown Away” is up to number 12 on the same chart.

Grade: B-

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Elliott Yamin
“Let’s Get to What’s Real”

Idol finish: 3rd, Season 5
Released: April 10, 2012

His funkiest, jazziest release yet is more fun than 2009’s ballad-heavy “Fight For Love” and features some of his best songs yet. But other tracks sound like rehashes, and the album isn’t as catchy from start to finish as the jazz-influenced releases from newer Idol contestants.

Download worthy: “Self Control,” “Downtown,” “I’ll Be That Bridge.”

Chart performance: Peaked at number 39 on the independent album chart and at number 30 on the R&B/hip-hop album chart.

Grade: C

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Casey James
“Casey James”

Released: March 19, 2012
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 9

Casey was the laid-back guy from Texas on Idol, and his debut album — released a full two years later — goes down the same way, smooth and easy, and a tad too predictably. Casey co-wrote 9 of the 11 tracks, including the excellent album-closing ballad, “Miss Your Fire.”

Download worthy: “Crying on a Suitcase,” “Working On It,” “Miss Your Fire”

Chart performance: Debuted at number two on the country albums chart and number 23 on the Billboard 200. It spent four weeks in the Billboard 200. “Let’s Don’t Call It a Night,” the lead single, reached 21 on Billboard’s country singles chart. “Crying on a Suitcase” is number 30 on the country singles chart.

Grade: C+

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Ruben Studdard
“Letters from Birmingham”

Released: March 13, 2012
Idol finish: 1st, Season 2

Interesting concept, but poorly executed and sabotaged by a collection of songs that do not beg a second listen. “Wear Me,” in which Ruben actually sings, “If I could be anything in the world … I would love to be your clothes … Wear Me like Gucci,” is a strong contender for worst song recorded by a former Idol contestant in 2012.

Download worthy: “Rock Wit’cha”

Chart performance:  Debuted at number 12 on Billboard’s R&B album chart and number 72 on the Billboard 200, where it spent just two weeks.  It also dropped out of the top 40 on the R&B album chart after two weeks.

Grade: D-

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Kellie Pickler
“100 Proof”
Released Jan. 24., 2012
Idol finish: 6th, Season 5

Kellie kicks county-pop to the curb and goes with a more traditional sound. She never sounded better. But will fans buy the more serious approach from the gal who’s been branded as a comedic country cutie. I miss tunes like “Rocks Instead of Rice.”

Download worthy: “Turn On the Radio and Dance,” “Little House on the Highway.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number two on the country albums chart and number seven on the Billboard 200. Spent five weeks in the Billboard 200. Neither of first two singles, “Tough” or the title track have cracked top 25 on Billboard’s country singles chart.

Grade:  C+

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Vonzell Solomon
“True Story”
Released: Jan. 24, 2012
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 4

An 8-track EP that needed a couple more songs along the lines of the glorious dance tune “We Gone Rock” to provide more sizzle, and that did not need an ill-advised spoken thank you to family and friends in the middle of the title track.

Download worthy: “We Gone Rock,” “Dirt Bag.”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade:  C-

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Jack and White
(Brooke White)
“Winter”
Released: Jan. 24, 2012
Idol finish: 5th, Season 7

Brooke described one of the duo’s four new songs as “a warm blanky” during a Ustream chat. Truth is, everything this twosome releases sounds cozy and comfortable. Not as catchy as Gemini, their August 2011 debut, but not far behind.

Download worthy: “Bright Side of the Bad News,” “XYZ”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade:  B-

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“Moonbaby”
Siobhan Magnus

Released: Jan. 22, 2012
Idol finish: 6th, Season 9

Between the superlative opening track “Black Doll” and an interesting album-closing cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You,” Siobhan’s vocals let her down on several occasions. The result is an uneven debut that will have you wincing as often as singing along.

Download worthy: “Black Doll,” “Big Collapse”

Chart performance: Did not chart.

Grade: C

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