Freelance Writer
Crystal Bowersox at Mechanics Hall
03.19.14 | No Comments
Category: A&E |Music Columns

Crystal Bowersox image 2 (hi-res)Nine-year-old Crystal Bowersox busted out of the fairgrounds in her Ohio hometown and headed to the backroads, trying to escape with a pig named Charlotte. She had fallen in love with Charlotte and didn’t realize while in the “swine program” of the local 4H Club that raising and caring for a pig meant eventually “sending it to market.” Even though she grew up on a farm, the reality of what some animals become was jarring to the young mind.

“I just didn’t realize he’d be made into bacon,” said Bowersox. “I fell in love with this pig. My mom had come looking for me in the swine barn, and we weren’t there. The pig followed me, and we were walking away from the barn. I was 9 and I don’t know where I thought we were going. My mom just drove alongside of me and said, ‘Crystal, you have to go back.’ I heard the auctioneer calling out numbers, and I was sobbing. It made me want to save animals.”

And if she didn’t learn to play the piano, Bowersox likely would have been a veterinarian.

“You can change the world in so many different ways,” said Bowersox.

Bowersox’s warm spirit, knockdown pitch-perfect singing voice and dreadlocks made the singer a favorite on ‘American Idol,’ and she ran away with the runner-up title on Season 10.

But Bowersox said she would have kept playing music with or without a reality show to hoist her along. It was her dream, and she never worked up a backup plan.

Unlike many who land on singing reality shows, Bowersox has always written her own music. Inspired by Jewel (the first 10 songs Bowersox ever learned to play were on the “Piece of You” record), she blended soul, blues and pop influences that also called upon a foundation of the genre paved by the likes of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones.

“I always thought growing up that people just wrote their own stuff,” she said. “I mean, I love a good cover song, but there is no better way to connect than with my own material.”

Growing up in an eclectic, sometimes tumultuous, blended family with five kids, she developed a resilience and grew wise beyond her years. While folksy pop inspired her songwriting style, she still loved bands such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera.

“My dad is a Harley guy, and he loves the blues, but our family vacations were Ozzfest,” said Ms. Bowersox, who had a band with her teen brothers called Oldinuph, in which she’d sing Metallica. “I have been surrounded by all kinds of music. I’m also a product of the ’90s pop thing, too. The kind of music I create is a folky, blues, soulful thing, but I could do some screaming.”

She describes her family as half-hillbilly midwestern middle class, and says she didn’t know what an avocado was until she was 17 years old. Her parents and stepparents knew what she liked to call “gray-haired rock stars” in the area; these musicians made a living at their craft, but didn’t tour. Bowersox’s parents would tote the 10-year-old to biker bars so she could play her tunes.

“The bar owners said I could stay if I played,” said Ms. Bowersox.

As an older teen, she moved to Chicago, supporting herself by busking and booking shows.

“Yeah, there was a time where my parents said, ‘Well, what are you going to do?'” she said. “I’d tell them I’m almost there, that I was doing it. I told my dad he’d eat his words.”

She takes pride in the fact that she was able to tell him to eat his words.

Bowersox, a single mom, tours the country much of the year with her band. She’s 28 and has two albums and an EP under her belt, and another EP and album on the launching pad. She’s also rehearsing for Broadway’s “Always … Patsy Cline.”

But she never envisioned getting there this way.

“I didn’t know it would come down to a reality show,” said Bowersox.

In fact, she had never even seen ‘American Idol’ when friends urged her to try out. She had heard of names such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, but had no concept of the show that had made them famous.

Her experience was a whirlwind, but mostly positive. Still, Bowersox said she wasn’t able to enjoy it as much because she worried about her 5-month-old son, who she had to leave behind during the filming.

“My perception has changed a lot in the last four or five years,” said Bowersox. “When I was first on the show, it was something I was doing out of desperation as a single mom living on my dad’s living room floor. But everything works out, and I’m 100 percent positive on everything. I have my own brand, and I do what I do for a living. People come to Crystal Bowersox shows; it’s not an ‘American Idol’ show.”

Near the end of 2013, Bowersox fans not only jumped on Tweets about her chopping her famous dreads, but her confirmation that she was bisexual. It had ceased to become a “big deal” to her, but she chose to make a grand announcement to help others who may be struggling. Bowersox complemented the announcement by releasing a tune called “Coming Out for Christmas,” which started out tongue-and-cheek, but evolved into a sentimental, emotional piece of reality.

“It is a big deal for kids who are not taught to love themselves for who they are,” she said. “And the more people who make this known are setting an example. People knew about me. I’ve had girlfriends and boyfriends. My mother struggled with it a lot in high school. She didn’t make me feel like it was OK, and that was rough. I had feelings of self-loathing, or that I wasn’t good enough. And that’s why I can relate. I’m 28 now, and still dealing with it.”

Ran in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, March 18, 2014

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