2011 in Review: The best Idol albums

This is the fourth in the series of stories looking back at American Idol and imitators in 2011.

Today, a look at the top Idol albums and EPs from 2011.

1. Kelly Clarkson — “Stronger”

She’s at it again, belting out pop-rock tunes you just can’t get out of your head. Fortunately, with a word change or two, I don’t feel too silly singing along with this set of love-gone-wrong songs. Album number five comes off as less contrived than number four, which was clearly an attempt to put the original Idol back in the pop mainstream after “My December” failed to sell.

2. Mandisa — “What If We Were Real”

The album was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Christian Album, and deservingly so. Who would have thought the ninth-place finisher from Season 5 would go on to be one of the most reliable post-Idol performers? To appreciate the range and diversity Mandisa shows on her third album, listen to track 8 (“Just Cry”) and track 9 (“Temporary Fills”). Phenomenal.

3. Daughtry — “Break the Spell”

The third album from Chris and the guys includes one of my favorite Daughtry rockers (“Renegade”) and my favorite Daughtry ballad (“Gone Too Soon”). My only complaint is the lack of a surprise gem like “Tennessee Line,” the country duet with Vince Gill that was included on “Leave This Town.” But, all in all, another solid album that won’t disappoint the band’s fans.

4. Lauren Alaina — “Wildflower”

Freed from the stress of performing in front of 20 million people, Lauren sounds young and fun again on an album chock full of catchy country-pop tunes. But she can also tug a heartstring when she needs to. Just check out “The Locket” and “Dirt Road Prayer.” In fact, lead single “Like My Mother Does” might have been the weakest song on the album.

5. Adam Lambert — “Glam Nation Live”

In terms of performance/vocals, this album ranks right up there with anything released this year. But I have trouble ranking a live album above CDs featuring new music. Even “Sleepwalker,” one of my least favorite tracks on his debut album, sounds fantastic when Adam performs it live. The first time I listened to this, I was reminded all over again of the silly Season 8 outcome.

Don’t miss EPs

In addition to the albums mentioned above, former Idol contestants delivered a couple of EPs worth a spot in your music collection in 2011.

1. Lacey Brown, “Let It Go”

Talk about pleasant surprises. Lacey finished 12th in Season 8. None of her performances on the show pointed to this — a brilliant little five-song EP, sorta country-pop, on which her quirky vocals work just wonderfully. Here’s hoping we hear more from Lacey in the future.

2. Jack and White, “Gemini”

White would be Brooke White, the fifth-place finisher in Season 7. Jack would be Jack Matranga, former Self Against City guitarist. Brooke does most of the singing on this delightful six-track EP that sprang from a simple songwriting session. And we don’t have to hope there will be more; Brooke is already promising another EP in late January.

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13 Responses to “2011 in Review: The best Idol albums”

  1. Garrett Clayman says:

    All five of these albums were fantastic and showcased the Idols well. Good choices!

  2. Jen93 says:

    As good as GlamNation Live is, it’s no substitute for hearing Lambert live yourself. Hope you get a chance to do so some day!

  3. Justin says:

    Is this the same Idol Chatter as USA Today? I just wondered because they did a poll the other day to see who the public thought had the best Idol album of 2011 – almost 17,000 votes were cast with only 1 vote per person – and the winner was James Durbin. I’m surprised to see he didn’t make your list. I like several of the other Idols as well, but Durbin’s CD is amazing.

    • Mark Franklin says:

      Justin:

      Nope, it’s not the same. And if you check my review of James Durbin’s album (just search for the title in the search bar at the right of the site), you’ll find that it’s very complimentary.

      Jennifer Hudson also released a perfectly fine album this year. And it’s a little hit and miss, but I also liked Kimberly Caldwell’s album. In other words, the competition was pretty stiff.

  4. Mark McMann says:

    Is this list a joke? Seriously, you completely left off the best albums of the year – James Durbin, David Cook and Scotty McCreery. The only one I agree with on your list is Kelly Clarkson. Daughtry might deserve to be there too – I’m a Daughtry fan myself – but unfortunately his new CD sounds too much like the last one. I’m thinking maybe you picked these without listening to all of the other Idol’s albums, that’s the only thing that could explain this list (besides really bad taste).

    • mary says:

      I am so proud Lauren Alaina made this list she so deserves it to the ones commenting maybe u havent listened to this Cd it has something for everyone if u can listen to the Locket and not feel touched something is wrong this CD is packed with music for everyone all top notch not a weak song on there

  5. Mark McMann says:

    Sorry dude, my son just told me I was rude to imply you have bad taste and he is right. I was just shocked at your choices, but to each his own I guess.

    • Mark Franklin says:

      Mark McMann:

      No problem. This is just one person’s opinion. But, yes, I listened to each and every Idol album. Multiple times. And I gave a good review to James’ album and an OK review to Scotty’s, which I just find to be a very predictable first country album. Each and every Idol album is graded under Idol CD history at the top of the page.

      But feel free to express your opinion any time.

  6. carly says:

    ‘Stronger’ definitely deserves to be #1. It’s Kelly’s best album to date, great songs, great vocals. Also how did My December fail to sell since it sold over 2 million copies. Lastly David Cook’s ‘This Loud Morning’ deserves to be in the top 5.

  7. BonnieDee says:

    Love Lauren Alaina’s new album!!! If you haven’t heard it, check out Dirt Road Prayer, The Middle, Tupelo, and her current single Georgia Peaches. I also love Lauren’s co-write on this album, Funny Thing About Love.

  8. Jody says:

    Lauren Alaina’s Wildflower is a fabulous album from top to bottom–many potential hits! Already looking forward to her next single!!

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  10. Kelsey says:

    Still need to get my copy of Kelly’s “Stronger” album…”Honestly” is the song I’m loving right now based on iTunes snippets. It’s a damn shame that “My December” didn’t have a ton of radio hits, because it is without a doubt one of the best, if not THE best Idol albums out there right now. There were some songs on that album that could have been hits too, and My December’s album artwork is one of the most creative covers I’ve seen from an Idol.

    Cook’s newest album should’ve made your list too, but 2011 saw a ton of new Idol album releases so it’s cool. 2012 is going to bring even more Idol albums. Two of which I’m very excited about…

    Really looking forward to Haley Reinhart’s debut and Kris Allen’s sophomore album. I hope they both end up being wonderful so that they have a shot at making your best of 2012 album list. Also hoping their new music gets played on the radio. I think both of them have very radio friendly voices. And I really, REALLY hope that Allison Iraheta releases something this year. Love those three. :) Might end up buying a few songs from Siobhan’s debut too.

  11. pandora__box says:

    I admit that I’m shocked This Loud Morning from David Cook didn’t make your list, but Daughtry did. I found his album a rehash.

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