Crystal Bowersox talks ‘American Idol,’ debut album, artistic freedom and sticking to her guns

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Crystal Bowersox, much like “American Idol” runners-up before her, including Adam Lambert, David Archuleta and, of course, Clay Aiken, proved that winning the hit music competition isn’t necessary; each proved more bankable than the winners of their respective seasons.

Though a sure favorite to win, ‘Mamasox’ -- as she was affectionately called by her adoring supporters -- lost the title to Lee DeWyze.


When the 25-year-old’s debut album, “Farmer’s Daughter,” was released last week, she exceeded projected sales expectations -- and outpaced DeWyze -- by pushing roughly 58,000 copies of her record and landing at the No. 28 spot on Billboard’s 200 charts. It’s still a stark contrast from the blockbuster numbers of the ‘Idol’ franchise from earlier years, though.

Bowersox, who won over mature audiences with her folksy guitar riffs and church house vocals, called up Pop & Hiss to chat about the album, sticking to her guns and avoiding the “Idol” curse.

When did you find time to record your debut album? You did the ‘Idol’ tour and got married.

We started right after the ‘Idol’ tour ended in August. I took a week off beforehand to gather my bearings. Then my husband, son and I went to New Jersey and lived in a hotel for the process. It was great. [The producers] promised to let me maintain my creativity and artistic freedom, and that was something that I was looking for.

How’d you maintain that artistic freedom without giving way to what seems to be the “American Idol” curse: when contestants’ debut albums venture far from the sound they showed viewers?

I think a lot of that somewhat “Idol” curse has to do with the artist maybe not knowing what they want to do or maybe not standing up for things and basically lying back and doing what they’re told. I went into this with a clear idea of what I wanted artistically and I stuck to my guns. There was a little bit of pressure to do this or that, and I know what I’m comfortable doing. I just made it clear to everyone. I think everyone is very happy with the outcome. It’s similar to a child: You care for it and you work hard and you try to do all the right things and then you let it out into the world and hopefully it does well.

Listening to the album, it feels like the barefoot girl we saw every week on “Idol.”

It’s something I’m really proud of. I’m proud that it turned out the way it did. The album seems to take a country twist to it, as well as a classic rock twist.

What did you draw from? You spent a great deal of the year on a televised competition.

It’s all personal. Things that I had seen, or places that I had been or people that I know. I’m an observer by nature and I love people. I love meeting people and hearing stories. From recent experiences, the next album is definitely going to be a lot happier. I don’t have a lot to complain about now. Actually, I can’t think of anything to complain about. A lot of the songs were angsty -- I’ve been through some tough times and I drew a lot of the inspiration from that.

Everything about you was such a departure from the typical mold of the “American Idol” contestant. Why go on a show like that to launch yourself?

It’s pretty much impossible to break into this business unless you know someone or someone owes you a favor. I mean, there are a lot of politics in the industry and it’s a pretty closed circle. They don’t want to let a lot of new guys in, so it’s been rough to get in. Without “Idol,” I would have continued to play music and I would have gone on small tours. There’s nothing that would have stopped me from doing this for a living. But through “Idol,” you gain an instant audience. It’s a really loving one, and at times it can be brutal -- but for the most part very supportive and friendly. “American Idol” has given me everything I have right now. I’m standing in my garage looking at my car from Ford and my boxes of things because I just moved into a new place, and I just know this would have been impossible without trying out for the show. I have stability now. It’s incredible.

What’s been the toughest challenge of the past year?

The toughest part about the whole thing, I guess, would be the traveling. There is a lot of traveling, but it’s welcomed. I’m happy doing the running around and being tired. It’s an exhaustion that I’ve never felt before, but it’s enjoyable. I love every minute. It’s a hard thing to explain.

What about the easiest?

The easiest? All of it has been tough and fun. The easiest part is knowing that I’m putting my songs out there. My lyrics come straight from the heart. And I hope people are moved by it, and can link it to their own life. The album is out and hopefully it’s in the hands of listeners who just appreciate the honesty.

How do you think you’ve grown from the time you walked off the “Idol” stage to now?

From the beginning of “Idol” -- and you can look at my audition video to now -- I learned how to put on make-up and I learned how to put on high heels and I learned how to really perform at the drop of a hat. And doing that in such a short time. Taking a song from four minutes to changing it to a minute and 30 seconds. Doing everything so quickly. It makes you aware of everything and every little detail. You have to be on, and ready. It’s developed my performing skills. I feel like after getting through “Idol” and being a mother, there is nothing I can’t handle now.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy