Carrie Underwood's Greatest HitsCarrie Underwood
“Greatest Hits: Decade #1
Released: Dec. 9, 2014
Idol finish: 1st, Season 4

A celebration of 10 years worth of hit-making courtesy of one of country music’s biggest superstars. Most of the songs on this double-album hit number one of number two on the country singles chart. For fans who already have most of Carrie’s music, there are two new tunes, a duet that appeared on a Brad Paisley album and previously unreleased versions of three of her biggest hits.

Check out: The new tunes, “Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Guns”

Chart performance: The album debuted at number one on Billboard’s country albums chart and number four on the Billboard 200. “Something in the Water” is already at number two on the country singles chart.

Grade: No grade for greatest hits discs.


Angie Miller's WeatheredAngie Miller
“Weathered” EP
Released: Nov. 12, 2014
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 12

Angie sounds fantastic on a six-track debut EP, reminding us why she belonged in te Season 12 finale. She co-wrote all the songs and said “I want to have music that has meaning and is eal. I don’t want to have dance-party music, but at the same time, I don’t want to put people to sleep.” No fear there.

Check out: “Universe Electric,” “Simple,” “Lost in the Sound.”

Chart performance: Debuted at 131 on the Billboard 200 despite being an independent release.

Grade: B


Didi Benami's "Reverie"Didi Benami
Released: Sept. 30, 2014
Idol finish: 10th, Season 9

The 28-year-old’s debut album comes more than four years after her appearance on Idol and features her unique and often haunting vocals. Those vocals will draw you in, then you’re going to find several tunes on this album stuck in your head because it’s one of those releases that gets better and better with repeated listens. “Waiting and Watching” and “Trouble” were released as singles; the video for the latter features twin Didi’s, one good, one wicked.

Check out: “Picture Perfect,” “Till I Find You” and “Heartstrings.”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade: B+


Crystal Bowersox's "Promises"Crystal Bowersox
“Promises” EP
Released: Sept. 23, 2014
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 9

A 7-track EP and another solid effort from the gal who should have won Season 9 and who said in one recent interview that she’d like to go “more pop” with her next release. The best track is “How Long” and includes the lyrics: Swear on the Bible / I’m from Ohio / Not American Idol.

Check out: “How Long,” “Promises,” “No Time”

Chart performance: Did not chart

Grade: B+


Scott McIntyre Lighthouse-250Scott MacIntyre
Released: Sept. 23, 2014
Idol finish: 8th, Season 8

A serviceable Christian/gospel album, much better than his 2010 pop effort. For one things, the material is much better. For another, he has a couple guest stars — fellow Idol contestants Danny Gokey on “Hallelujah Song” and Skylar Laine on “With This Ring.” Scott wrote or co-wrote every track but one.

Check out: “Remarkable,” “Through the Eyes of Jesus,” “Hallelujah Song.”

Chart performance: Did not chart on the Billboard 200.

Grade: C–


Colton Dixon's Anchor-Colton Dixon
Released: Aug. 19, 2014
Idol finish: 7th, Season 11

Colton serves up a fine followup to his successful 2013 debut album, “A Messenger.” Twelve tracks and two musical interludes strong, you’ll be hard pressed to find a clunker on this pop-rock Christian album. And among all a couple of impressive anthem like numbers, Colton also serves up a lovely ballad with “Through It All.”

Check out: “Through It All,” “Our Time is Now,” “More of You.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 23 on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Christian albums chart.

Grade: B


Jennifer Hudson's JHudJennifer Hudson
Released: Aug. 19, 2014
Idol finish: 7th, Season 3

One of the major disappointments of 2014. J-Hud turns dance diva and does the unthinkable, delivering eight straight songs that don’t demand a second listen and a couple (“I Can’t Describe” and “”Just That Type of Girl”) that sound like painful filler on an album by a far lesser artist. Download
“Moan” and forget the rest of this exists.

Check out: “Say It,” “Moan”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, moving 24,000 copies, about one-sixth of the sales of her 2011 “I Remember Me.”

Grade: D


Caleb Johnson's TestifyCaleb Johnson
Released: Aug. 12, 2014
Idol finsh: 1st, Season 13

Anyone who discounted Caleb Johnson because of that tepid first single … well, you shouldn’t have. Given the short turn-around — the album comes less than three months after he claimed the Season 13 Idol title — Caleb and company have produced a surprisingly solid album. So solid, that lead single, “As Long As You Love Me,” might be the weakest track.

Download worthy: “Devil’s Daughter,” “Testify,” “Fighting Gravity,” “Save Me.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 24 on Billboard 200 with sales of 11,000 albums, both all-time lows for an Idol winner.

Grade: B


Kris Allen's HorizonsKris Allen
Released: Aug. 12, 2014
Idol finish: 1st, Season 8

Shame 2012’s “Thank You Camelia” wasn’t Kris Allen’s post-Idol debut. If it had been, my guess is lots more people would be exposed to this fine followup, which is strongest when Kris is in his singer-songwriter mode. Lead single “Prove it to You,” featuring Russian vocalist Lenachka, is the standout track, but far from the only highlight

Download worthy: “Prove it to You,” “Beautiful and Wild,” “It’s Always You,” “Young Love.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 80 on the Billboard 200.

Grade: A–


Danny Gokey's Hope in Front of Me-250Danny Gokey
“Hope in Front of Me”
Released: June 23, 2014
Idol finish: 3rd, Season 8

Danny releases the inspirational Christian album we all knew was in his future. In the process, he serves up a couple of gems, lots of middling tunes and two incredibly ill-advised dance numbers. Yikes. Still, it’s an effort more in keeping with the Idol contestant we knew than that short-lived foray into country music.

Download worthy: “It’s Not Over,” “Hope in Front of Me,” “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 40 on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Billboard Christian albums chart.

Grade: C


Paul McDonald and Nikki ReedPaul McDonald & Nikki Reed
“I’m Not Falling”
Released: July 8, 2014
Idol finish: 8th, Season 10 (Paul)

In 2012, when they were still a couple, Paul and Nikki released an excellent EP called “The Best Part.” Now, they’ve added seven songs to four of those to make this album. Unfortunaely, the best part is still the old part, with most of the new tunes sounding like filler. The one exception: the country-tinged “Honey.”

Download worthy: “The Best Part,” “Bouquet of Lies,” “Honey.”

Chart performance:

Grade: C+


Blake Lewis Portrait of a ChameleonBlake Lewis
“Portrait of a Chameleon”
Released: May 20, 2014
Idol finish: 2nd, Season 6

The third album of electro-pop goodness from Idol’s all-time beat-box champ has its moments. But you’d hope for more tunes that get stuck in your head from a 14-track album. Lead single, “Your Touch” was released more than a year befoe the album.

Download worthy: “Your Touch,” “Retro Romance,” “She Gives Me Her Love.”

Chart performance: Did not chart on the Billboard 200

Grade: C


Phillip Phillips' Behind the Light-250Phillip Phillips
“Behind the Light”
Relased; May 19, 2014
Idol finish, 1st, Season 11

Given the sophomore jinx that’s dogged so many Idol standouts, it’s best to strike when the iron is hot. And so Phillip second album came just a year and a half after the first, one of the quickest turn-arounds ever. It’s a competent followup, with Phillip scoring a writing credit on every track and delivering one of the best Idol singles of 2014 with “Raging Fire.”

Download worthy: “Raging Fire,” “Lead On,” “Midnight Sun,” “Don’t Trust Me”

Chart performance: The album debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200. “Raging Fire” cracked the top 10 on Billboard’s adult Top 40 and adult alternative songs charts.

Grade: B–


James Durbin's "Celebrate"-250James Durbin
Released: April 8, 2014
Idol finish: 4th, Season 10

He pleaded with Idol fans, asking them to “give metal a chance.” Fans might wonder where the metal went on James’ sophomore album. He name drops Bruo Mars on one ill-advised tune and, indeed, seems more intent on immitating Bruno and other pop artists than in sticking to his rock roots. That said, lead single “Parachute” is a hook-laden delight.

Download worthy: “Parachute,” “Forget It”

Chart performance: Debuted at 83 on the Billboard 200 and 14 on Billboard’s rock albums chart.

Grade: D+


Candice Glover's Music SpeaksCandice Glover
“Music Speaks”
Released: Feb. 18, 2014
Idol finish: 1st, Season 12

Candice displays the big voice and fabulous range that earned her the Season 12 crown. Unfortunately, she’s served up too many songs that don’t quite measure up as she sings about love found and love lost in 12 different ways. And sometimes — “Coulda Been Me,” for instance — efforts to make the songs more than they are simply backfire. That said, “Passenger” is likely to be one of the best Idol vocals recorded in 2014.

Check out: “Cried,” “Passenger,” “Kiss Me.”

Chart performance: The album debuted at number 14 on the Billboard 200; the 19,000 first-week sales total was the lowest for an Idol winner to date.

Grade: C+


Tim Urban's New York SessionsTim Urban
“New York Sessions” EP
Released: Feb. 11, 2014
Idol finish: 7th, Season 9

The first EP from Tim in four years shows vast improvement over 2010’s “Heart of Me.” So much better, you wish there were more than four tracks, especially if there were more songs along the lines of the toe-tapping “Field of Hearts.” The other three songs fall into the singer-songwriter ballad mold.

Check out: “Field of Hearts,” “Surrender.”

Chart performance: Did not chart.

Grade: B


In This Life by Elise TestoneElise Testone
“In This Life”

Released: Feb. 11, 2014
Idol finish: 6th, Season 11

She’s known for her cover of “Whole Lotta Love” on Idol. After this superb debut album, she should be known for nothing but her own material. The first three tracks on this blues-infused album are as brilliant an introduction to an artist as you’re likely to find. And I’ll be shocked if the title track doesn’t wind up on my list of best Idol songs of 2014.

Download worthy: “In This Life,” “Still We Try,” “Never Gave Me Butterflies,” “I will Not Break,” “Lucky Day.” Heck, just get the album.

Chart performance: Has not charted

Grade: A


Unconditional Love by Ruben StuddardRuben Studdard
“Unconditional Love”

Released: Feb. 4, 2014
Idol finish: 1st, Season 2

For avid Ruben fans only as he serves up an album of mostly second-rate covers of songs like “My Love” and “Hello Again.” The album’s an improvement over 2012’s dismal “Letters from Birmingham,” but not nearly as successful as Ruben’s loss of 119 pounds on “Biggest Loser.” The release was timed to coincide with the show’s 15th season finale.

Download worthy: “Unconditional.”

Chart performance: Debuted at number 46 on the Billboard 200.

Grade: C–


Free to Fly by Megan JoyMegan Joy
“Free to Fly”

Released: Jan. 21, 2014
Idol finish: 9th, Season 8

Some singers fare better singing their own material than performing covers on Idol, and Megan clearly falls into that category. She serves up another fine pop album with throwback touches. If the delightful title track sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a reworking of “Rainclouds” from her 2012 self-titled debut album.

Download worthy: “I’m Not Trying to Heart That,” “Free to Fly,” “Lovesick,” “Some Girls.”

Chart performance: Did not chart on the Billboard 200.

Grade: B


Alexis Grace
“James Dean” single — Dec. 7, 2013
“Someone Else” single — Feb. 2, 2014
“Rooftop” single — Feb. 23, 2014
“I’m So Done” — Nov. 11, 2014

Andrew Garcia
“Latch” — Feb. 20, 2014 (with Josh Golden)
“Paranoid” — July 24, 2014 (with Andy Lange)
“Ghost” — Nov. 21,2014

Bucky Covington
“Buzzin'” — May 20, 2014

Carrie Underwood
“Something in the Water” — Sept. 29, 2014

Casey Abrams and Skylar Stecker
“Am I Wrong” — June 2, 2014

Casey James
“Fall Apart” — Sept. 30, 2014

David Cook
“Wait for Me” — Nov. 10, 2014

Emily Piriz
“One of Those Nights” — Nov. 15, 2014

Haley Reinhart
“Show Me Your Moves” — July 30, 2014

Halo Circus (Allison Iraheta)
“Do You Believe in Shame?” — July 15, 2014

Jacob Lusk
“Brainfreeze” — Oct. 28, 2014

Janelle Arthur
“What You Asked For” — May 6, 2014

Jena Irene
“We Are One” — May 22, 2014

Jeremy Rosado
“Hope for Tomorrow” — Jan. 14, 2014

Jessica Meuse
“Blue-Eyed Lie” — April 3, 2014

Jessica Sanchez
“This Love” — Nov. 19, 2014

Kimberly Caldwell
“On the Weekend” — Feb. 13, 2014 (music video)
“Doin’ Me Right” — Feb. 13, 2014
“Tied Together” — Feb. 13, 2014

Kristy Lee Cook
“Lookin’ for a Cowgirl” — Oct. 27, 2014

Lee DeWyze
“Blackbird Song” — March 25, 2014

Michael Sarver
“Miss You Something Crazy” — Sept. 9, 2014

Naima Adedapo
“This Time Tomorrow VI” — Nov. 21, 2014

Paul Jolley
“Healed” — Jan. 14, 2014
“Givin’ You” — Sept. 13, 2014

Shannon Magrane
“Gonna Have a Good Day” — March 18, 2014 (with HitPlay)
“Weather” — Oct. 21, 2014

Siobhan Magnus
“Wisdom” — July 24, 2014

“Where Do They Go” — Dec. 9, 2013

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