Selecting a Top 10 song list was a whole lot more difficult, because even some non-finalists released some fabulous tunes over the past 12 months.
But here goes, my picks for the Top 10. As always, feel free to comment below if you have other favorites.
And if you’d like to hear a song from every album and EP released by a former Idol contestant in 2015, plus a list of all the singles, just head here.
10. Katharine McPhee, “Stranger Than Fiction”
Katharine has certainly enjoyed more success as an actress than singer post-Idol. But she released a third album in September. And though the public pretty much ignored it (“Hysteria” didn’t even crack the Billboard 200), the music might be her best yet. This song, co-written by Kat, is my favorite of several toe-tapping pop tunes from the album. For those who don’t remember, Kat finished second to Taylor Hicks on Season 5.
9. Scotty McCreery, “Southern Belle”
Idol’s Season 10 winner added a touch of pop to his country for this song, the first single off his upcoming third album. Then he told Rolling Stone “this is probably about as far left as we’ll go.” The single was his least successful yet, which will make it interesting to watch how that third album does. But writers Sean McConnell and Jason Seanz certainly served up a catchy tune, and Scotty sounds as great as ever.
8. Lauren Alaina, “Road Less Traveled”
This song comes from Lauren’s first major release in four years, a self-titled EP from early October. “My Next Boyfriend” was the first single; “History” was used by ESPN to promote its college football coverage. But this is easily the best song, a celebration of being different. Love that chorus. Lauren co-wrote the song with Meghan Trainor. Yep, she of “All That Bass” fame.
7. David Cook, “Kiss & Tell”
My favorite rock song from 2015 is one of the new tunes on David’s “Digital Vein” album. The winner of Season 7 of Idol, I’ve never felt David gets enough respect for his singing ability. He wrote this hard-charging rocker with Andy Skib and Andy Waldeck. Don’t forget, David heads out on a “Digital Vein” tour in 2016 with stops planned in Philly and the D.C. suburbs.
6. Janelle Arthur, “Front Porch Swing”
Former Idol contestants released lots of country music in 2015. This just might be my favorite ballad among the bunch, a wonderfully touching song courtesy of Janelle, who made the Idol finals on her third attempt in Season 12 and wound up finishing fifth. The song comes from her debut EP, “Janelle,” released in early November. You’ll also want to check out “This Old Six String.”
5. Carrie Underwood, “Smoke Break”
This is the standout track from Carrie’s fine “Storyteller” album, one that sounds loaded with potential singles. Carrie wrote the song with Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey, and there’s a funny story behind it, according to the Season 4 winner’s Facebook page. The trio were working on another song, but kept getting stuck and stepping outside on a beautiful day. “So we decided to write a song about taking breaks!”
4. Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town”
Start off with a haunting opening verse about heartbreak. Then out of nowhere comes a ridiculously catchy dance beat. Add Adam Lambert’s signature voice and you’ve got a wonderfully different sounding song, the lead single from Adam’s “Original High” album. Adam collaborated with producer Max Martin and three others to write “Ghost Town,” which he described to Bilboard as “an existential dance goth rave” tune.
3. Brooke White, Carly Smithson, “Waiting on the Stars”
In February, Brooke released “Never Grow Up,” an album of duets with vocally-talented friends. For this absolutely magical ballad she called on former Season 7 colleague Carly Smithson. The result: pure magic. Another really nice touch — proceeds from “Never Grow Up” helped Operation Underground Railroad, which rescues children from sexual slavery.
2. Joshua Ledet, “Love Can Do”
Three years after finishing third on Season 11, Joshua released this debut single, a song written by Bernie Herms. If we needed a reminder of how vocally talented Joshua is, well, he sure delivered it here. You think Joshua sounds great early in this song? Just wait until you hit the three-minute mark in the video below. Hey, Joshua, more new music in 2016, please.
1. Kelly Clarkson, “Piece by Piece”
This wasn’t Kelly’s most successful single of 2015 — that would be “Heartbeat Song” — but it’s my favorite from her album of the same name. Kelly co-wrote the song, which she called “very vulnerable.” It’s about her father, who abandoned Kelly’s family when she was 6 years old, and about the way her husband (Brandon Blackstock) “helped put me back together.” And, yep, that’s the couple’s first child, River Rose, making a cameo at the end of the video below.
Now, I do not count cover songs as eligible for my top songs list. If I did, these three would have been serious challengers. David Cook included the cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” on his “Digital Vein” album. When the video for Halo Circus’ cover of “Do You Believe in Shame” was released last month, lead singer Allison Iraheta promised new music from the band in 2016. And, hey, Extra puts out a commercial I didn’t mind watching and had the sense to select Haley Rinehart to provide the vocals on “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Haley should have won Season 10 of Idol and has also indicated new music might be coming in 2016.