Below are short reviews and a song from albums and EPs released by former American Idol contestants in 2015.
Head here for a look at all the Idol videos from 2015. And at the end of these reviews, you’ll find a list of Idol singles from 2015.
If I’ve missed anyone, please let me know by commenting below.
“Christmas with Jessica” EP
Released: Dec. 8, 2015
Finish: 2nd, Season 11
We’re still awaiting a sophomore album from Jessica, who released “You, Me and the Music” back in 2013. But she served up this six-track Christmas EP. The highlights are Jessica’s spin on “Silent Night” and the song she calls her personal favorite, “Santa Baby.” She says she tried to deliver a soft, sexy, classic version of the later. It’s embedded at right.
“A Thrill of Hope” EP
Released: Nov. 27, 2015
Finish: 4th, Season 10
The guy who begged fans to give metal a chance gives a Christmas EP and chance and serves up covers of five classics. And, yeah, you’ll hear an occasional rock riff mixed in. Highlights include the album opening “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and the album-closing “Silent Night.” Unfortunately, none of the five are available on YouTube, so I’ve embedded James’ 2012 cover of “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”
“Beautifully Made” EP
Released: Nov. 20, 2015
Finish: Top 11, Season 10
Naima’s debut EP comes four and a half years after her appearance on Idol, time she says she spent discovering her voice as an artist. The result: The young woman known for her R&B and reggae influences on the show delivers a solid seven-song package of pick-me-up, positive-thinking pop. “Beautifully Made” makes for a delightful lead single about loving who you are. Other tops tracks include “Winning” and “Contender.”
“Under the Radar” / “In Your Time”
Released: Nov. 19, 2015
Finish: 1st, Season 5
No, this is not a new Taylor Hicks album. That will come in 2016. But this is the first time these pre-Idol albums from Taylor have been available digitally and Taylor added a new track to each, which is why they’re listed here. “In Your Time” was originally released in 1997 and includes a new release of “Somehow.” “Under the Radar” came out in 2005; the bonus track there is “No Place I’d Rather Be.” Oh, and “In Your Time” features a 7-minute cover of “Georgia.”
Jack and White (Brooke White)
Released: Nov. 13,2015
Finish: 5th, Season 7
Brooke White said “Lost” was a fitting title because “after being lost for a while, it’s good to be back with these songs.” She was referring to the three-year span between the latest of three Jack and White EPs and this nine-track album. Of course, it helps that “Lost” is a great lead single. Another highlight is “Walk for Two,” where Jack Matranga provides the lead vocals. The album also includes a cover of the 1980s hit “It Must Be Love.”
Released: Nov. 6, 2015
Finish: 5th, Season 12
The country songstress released her first major post-Idol effort with this warning: “If you don’t like country music that tells a story, makes you wanna dance, cry or sing along, don’t click the link.” And then she delivers an impressive five-song EP with a throwback country sound. Janelle sounds great on ballads “Front Porch Swing” and “This Old Six String.” You should also check out the catchy up-tempo “Same Ol, Same Ol.”
Released: Oct. 22, 2015
Finish: 1st, Season 4
Carrie promised a bit more of a country-rock edge on her fifth studio album and delivers time and time again. “Smoke Break” made for a great first single, but this album is loaded with potential hits. “Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is a wonderful ballad and check out “Renegade Runaway,” “Choctaw County Affair” and “Mexico” for a touch of that country rock. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and became Carrie’s sixth straight album (including her greatest hits collection) to debut at number one on the site’s country album chart.
“Christmas is Here”
Released: Oct. 15, 2015
Finish: 3rd, Season 8
Danny hit number one on the Billboard holiday albums chart and cracked the Top 10 on the Christian albums chart with his first Christmas album. The 10 tracks include two originals, the fun “What Christmas Means to Me” and the wonderful “Lift Up Your Eyes.” The latter became a Top 20 Christian hit as a single. So did Danny’s cover of “Mary Did You Know.”
“Lauren Alaina” EP
Released: Oct. 2, 2015
Finish: Runner-up Season 10
The first music in four years from Lauren comes in the form of a five-track EP. And brings more of a pop-country song sound from the gal who was just 16 when stood opposite Scotty McCreery in the Idol finals. One song, “History,” was used to promote ESPN’s college football coverage. “My Next Boyfriend” was the single. Also worth checking out is “Road Less Traveled,” which Lauren wrote with Meghan Trainor of “All About That Bass” fame.
Released: Sept. 18, 2015
Finish: 1st, Season 7
David delivers his first new album in four years, one released independently with the help of a Pledge Music campaign and one which he credited for helping him rediscover his love of making music. Among the new tune highlights are the hard-charging rockers “Kiss & Tell” and “Criminals” and a power ballad called “Carry You” that serves as a reminder of what a great singer David is. The album debuted at number 35 on the Billboard 200.
Released: Sept. 18, 2015
Finish: 2nd, Season 5
Five years and two starring TV roles since her last album, Katharine returned with “Hysteria,” arguably her best yet. Among the 12 tracks are two of the best Kat songs yet, the title track and “Stranger Than Fiction.” And she sounds splendid on the ballad “Round Your Little Finger.” Want more? “Burn” and “Feather” are both catchy pop songs. Unfortunately, the public met the album with a giant yawn. It failed to crack the Billboard 200.
“Calm” EP / “Storm” EP
Released: Sept. 11, 2015
Finish: 7th, Season 11
Colton won the 2015 Dove Award for best Christian rock album with his 2014 release “Anchor.” Here, he delivers new versions of his most popular songs. “Storm” features remixes of five of his songs, including “More of You,” the lead single off “Anchor.” “Calm” features acoustic versions of four different songs — Colton’s sister Schylar is featured on one — plus a new song, “Where I End.” Oh, and Colton celebrated by proposing to girlfriend Annie Coggeshall at Disneyworld.
Released: Aug. 28, 2015
Finish: 13th, Season 11
After what he described as lots of ups and downs and “in betweens” since Idol, Jeremy release this 12-track Christian-pop album, complete with heavy dance beats and occasional rap interludes. Highlights include “Speed of Love,” featuring Cannon, a ballad called “What it Means to Stay” with a nice vocal assist from Bianca and the catchy, hip-hop influenced “Brand New.”
“Right Here, Right Now”
Released: Aug. 21, 2015
Finish: 1st, Season 6
Six years passed between the release of Jordin’s highly-successful second pop album (“Battlefield”) and this 14-track effort, featuring a more urban, hip-hip sound. Critics gave the album generally high marks, but it wasn’t embraced by fans, debuting at 161 on the Billboard 200. Lead single “Double Tap,” featuring 2 Chainz is definitely a standout track. Among the non-singles, check out “Casual Love,” featuring Shaggy.
Granville Automatic (Vanessa Olivarez)
“An Army Without Music”
Released: Aug. 14, 2015
Finish: 12th, Season 2
Vanessa provides the superb vocals for this song-writing duo, which also includes guitarist Elizabeth Elkins. They specialize in songs about history and share stories from the Civil War on this nine-song album. Standout tracks include “Rose of Sharon” about the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, and “Lanterns at Horseshoe Ridge” about Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, about women who went searching for loved one with lanterns after the fighting ended.
Released: July 21, 2015
Finish: 3rd, Season 13
Impressive debut album that shows Alex’s versatility, from a lovely ballad called “The Light Was Already Here” to the catchy pop of “You” to the rollicking rocker “200 Miles.” And the lead single, “Break My Heart,” is among the best tracks released this year by a former Idol contestant. Alex took a unique approach to creating the album, launching a Kickstarter campaign so he could head off to a secluded cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains and compose new music.
“Happy Man” EP
Released July 15, 2015
Finish: 8th Season 5
One of the most under-rated of Idol’s non-finalists, Bucky scored a string of hits with his debut album, but has had trouble duplicating that success. It’s not because of a lack of good songs, and he delivers another solid set with this six-song effort. “Feel Ya” was released as the first single. “Buzzin'” is another catchy, up-tempo song celebrating the joys of summer. But Bucky’s at his best on a ballad he co-wrote called “Somewhere Looking Beautiful.”
“Dirt Covered Lace” EP
Released: July 10, 2015
Finish: 5th, Season 11
You’ll remember Skylar as the sassy country singer from Season 11. And there’s lots of Miranda Lambert style grit in her seven-song debut EP. Skylar’s at her best when she’s belting defiantly, likes she does in “Ashes Can’t Burn Me.” Other up-tempo highlights include “Night On Fire” the catchy “Settle Down.” The title track is the EP’s best ballad.
Released: July 9, 2015
Finish: 10th, Season 8
Michael said the title for this 12-track album was perfect. “I didn’t feel like I had an opportunity with my first record to deliver myself as the artist Michael Sarver is. That was my drive for this album.” And that meant a more traditional country song than the pop-country flavor of his 2012 debut album. “Miss You Something Crazy” was the lead single. Other highlights include country rockers “Like to Like You” and “Place I Call Home” and the ballad “Love What You Do.”
Released: June 12, 2015
Finish: 2nd, Season 8
Has there ever been a better male vocalist on American Idol? Nope. Adam said he wanted to show a little more vocal restraint on album number three. Perhaps. The result is still great with the title track, “Ghost Town,” “Evil in the Night” and “Things I Didn’t Say” as standout songs. Brian May of Queen provides a guitar assist on the rollicking “Lucy.” The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200.
“Dream About Me” EP
Released: March 24, 2015
Finish: 7th, Season 13
The country singer described these four tracks as the perfect songs to “show everyone what I’m all about as an artist and a person.” Dexter has writing credits on three of the songs, including “Who You Are,” which is about the time he spent in Hollywood while on American Idol. The best track is probably the rollicking lead single “This Day is Gonna Be Good,” which Dexter describes as being about “playing hard after working hard all week.”
“Piece by Piece”
Released: Feb. 27, 2015
Finish: 1st, Season 1
The seventh album from the original American Idol delivers more pop sweetness, though the earworms seemed a bit more spaced this time around. “Heartbeat Song” (co-written by former Idol judge Kara DioGuardi) made for a great first single. Other highlights include the touching title track, the very catchy “Warpaint” and a ballad called “Run Run Run” featuring a guest appearance by John Legend. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 100; “Heartbeat Song” peaked at 21 on the Hot 100.
“Never Grow Up”
Released: Feb. 10, 2015
Finish: 5th, Season 7
An album with tons of heart. First, it was made to benefit Operation Underground Railroad, which rescues children from sexual slavery. Second, Brooke included a ballad called “Little Engine” by friend and fellow Idol contestant Michael Johns, who died in 2014 at age 35. Most of the other nine songs feature Brooke with guest artists, including standout tracks “Surrender” with Jack and White collaborator Jack Matranga, the poppy “Cherry Lane” with David Archuleta and an absolutely lovely ballad called “Waiting on the Stars” with Carly Smithson.
Jon Peter Lewis
Released: Feb. 3, 2015
Finish: 8th, Season 3
Fear not, this six-track singer-songwriter EP doesn’t mean the end of Midas Whale, the duo from The Voice Season 4. In fact, Jon Peter spent time in Manhatten this summer producing “Deep Love: A Ghostly Rock Opera” with Midas Whale cohort Ryan Hayes and says some of these songs might someday grow up to be Midas Whale tunes. As for the EP, “Plastic Inside” and “Michigan” are highlights.
“You and I” EP
Released: Jan. 20, 2015
Finish: 8th, Season 10
Impressive acoustic precursor to Paul’s first solo album, which comes after performing with the bands Hightide Blues and Grand Magnolias pre-Idol and alongside actress/singer and former wife Nikki Reed post-show. Paul’s distinctive vocals are put to especially good use on “Bright Lights” and the wonderful “Renegades.” The EP followed a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $20,000 toward production of that yet-to-be-released album.
Released: Jan. 15, 2015
Finish: 11th, Season 8
The EP title is a tribute to her dad, also a musician. He died in the summer of 2014; his nickname for Alexis was “Kiddo.” As for the music, she created this EP with the help of an indiegogo campaign and husband Thomas Bergstig of the Swedish Gun Factory. In fact, Alexis has been a featured vocalist on a handful of Swedish Gun Factory songs. The EP’s highlight is a defiant rocker called “I’m So Done.” Unfortunately, Alexis fails to recapture that edge on any of the other four songs.
“Hell and Back” EP
Released: Jan. 1, 2015
Finish: 9th, Season 9
Since appearing on Idol, Andrew had released some singles, but nothing longer. He opened 2015 with this seven-track R&B/soul EP. The standout track is “Ghost.” Also worth a listen is the album-closing title track, which Andrew calls one of the favorite songs he’s written to date.
2015 AMERICAN IDOL SINGLES
Bo Bice — “I’m Not Broken” — May 3
Clark Beckham — “Champion” — May 29
Daughtry — “Witness” (stripped) — Feb. 20
David Hernandez, “Wtf” — June 24
Elise Testone, “Help Me” — Feb. 12
Elise Testone, “Time” — March 17
Elise Testone, “Now” — Aug. 18
George Huff, “Loving You (The Right Way)” — Nov. 10
Haley Reinhart, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — Oct. 8
Hollie Cavanagh, “Come Away with Me Tonight” — April 10
Jessica Meuse, “Done” — April 21
Jessica Sanchez and Christian Bautista — “Two Forevers” — Aug. 6
Karen Rodriguez, “El Perdon” cover — Oct. 8
Karen Rodriguez, “Hotline Bling” cover — Oct. 25
Kellie Pickler, “Feeling Tonight” — June 2
Kristy Lee Cook, “Good Timin'” — July 24
Jax, “Forcefield” — May 29
Joshua Ledet, “Love Can Do” — Sept. 17
M.K. Nobilette, “Make Believe” — May 12
Nick Fradiani, “Beautiful Life” — May 29
Parris Bennett, “Fall in Love Again” — Oct. 22
Paul McDonald, “I Will for You” — Jan. 13
Pia Toscano (vocals for Jenaux) “Renegades” — March 9
Scotty McCreery, “Southern Belle” — Aug. 17