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

Crystal 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


Photo: Crystal Bowersox performs on "American Idol" in May. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox. 

Comments () | Archives (23)

David Archuleta did not outsell the winner, David Cook.

You need to do some actual research and rewrite that first sentence. David Cook outsold David Archuleta by a sizeable amount. Also Crystal might want to talk to Kelly Clarkson about the downside of fighting for artistic identity. She oversimplified the matter quite a bit.

All the other Idols before Bowersox paved the way for her to "stick to her guns". David Cook wrote and co-wrote on his album before her, but to hear her tell it, she was the only one that got that priviledge. She really needs to check her facts or keep her mouth shut.

The LA Times also needs to do their research better. David Cook outsold Archuleta. A little research goes a long way to making your story credible.

The more successful and interesting idols showed more than one style on idol and that is why they were not boring. Not sure who has the idol curse, Crystal or the more recent successful idols like David Cook and Adam Lambert. Both of those guys had sold out headlining tours off of their first albums. David a platinum album in the US and two platium singels. Adam a gold album in the US and gold and platinum albums internationally, gold and platinum singles in the US and internationally. So maybe Crystal would do better hoping for that curse. So not sure who she is comparing herself to. Maybe she is talking about some of the recent less accomplished idols.

Yeah, she makes herself out to be something special! She makes it sound that she is holding all the cards and TPTB are bowing at her feet! She really thinks she is more gifted and honest and her music is the only stuff that comes from the heart! Get over yourself, girlfriend!! *rolls eyes*

Amazing, the cooktard signal was a bit slow today? Could it be that it was the holidays and there was less self-obsessing over their imaginary boyfriend? I guess everyone does have a day off (or not :). The article didnt even mention his name but more than 90% of the comments are about David Cook lol. I guess they did mention half of his name so thats a reason enough for the cooktard "army" of 3 to start harassing here... well goodluck ladies, hope you have time for your real families during the holidays ofcos m talking about the feline furries who keep ya company ;) Merry Christmas everyone

David Archuleta is awesome and has done very well for himself, but I'd love to see Gerrick Kennedy's special form of math or calculation that enables him to convert Archie's 750,000 albums sold into being somehow more "bankable" than Cook's 1,345,000 albums sold. LOL. That's a full 600,000 difference! One would think that that would be impossible to spin, but apparently not.

Don't even get me started on how Cook's 150 date, 97% sold-out, headlining tour must have been so much less successful than Archie's opening for Demi Lovato's under-selling (numerous cancelled dates) tour.

I'll give Archie "Crush". Definitely a bigger pop hit than Cook's HAC Light On, but even looking at Cook's total single sales, he surpasses Archie. 3,000,000 vs. Crush's 1,918,000 sales.

A lot of people have had hard lives, some worse than Crystal's past, and yet they become humble and empathetic because of it. Crystal seems to have become calloused and arrogant. And no, she is not the only Idol that has had a clear vision of the artist they wanted to be. Doesn't she realize that other former Idol alum have paved the way for her? Maybe she has been so hard to deal with that TPTB just decided to let her have her own way and dig her own grave and wash their hands of her when she fails to deliver the revenue?

I like Crystal but will not purchase her CD since it has country leanings.

Anyone would be really fortunate to have the curse that Adam Lambert has. He said the same thing about being an Idol puppet, that it can happen if you are not sure about the direction you wanted to go in. Adam had a lot of creative control because he had been a performer since he was a child. His new acoustic CD is out of this world but can only be purchased as a digital version or on Adamofficial.com.

Folks love to put words in Crystal's mouth. She has not anything bad about anybody so the haters need to shutup. And IMO David Cook is boring!

David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze, Daughtry, David A. and Crystal have writing credits on most of their album and Adam 5 writing credits. So far, only C. Daughtry has written and hit. When Crystal writes a hit then we can listen to how wonderful she is. Until then nothing to bragg about.

Considering that David A did not win the million dollar contract as S7 AI winner he's not doing too bad. He's keeping up with Cookie.


John Mayer and Bruno Mars have written hit songs. Why all the patting on the back of idol writes and co-writes if they have not produced any hits with their writting skills. Some idols don't even have gold albums. Add in uninteresting performances and less than stellar voices then there is not much left. Giving publicity to these failures are just bringing down the success stories of the others. Bad branding for the franchise.

So sad when the 3rd placer (Danny Gokey) from the prior season out sold the winner and runner up from this year. In a lower selling season even.
Has Idol seen its final years?
Crystal has a nice voice but she comes off a little arrogant- saying the "Idol Curse lays with the artist". Who is she to diss the people who came before her and outsold her (yes its only her opening week, but I think with that number it will be a given) by large quantities? Got news for you Crystal- you sold out your "stick to your guns" by going on a cheesy family reality show.

It seems very clear to me that the fans of people who were penned as singer-songwriters prior to this lady seems to be very unhappy about A particular thing. Its not the big vocalists who seemed to be threatened by this even though they have more right to do so IMO. I feel the real reason all these people defending their favorites is that they arent actually happy about their favorites album and/or not happy with how further they have gone with their career. Its no secret that the most successful idols are Carrie and Kelly (big vocalists), the women winners from that show and the middle of the pack White Boys With Guitar are struggling to make an impact in the industry. One is having trouble putting out a 2nd album even though the lesser selling runner-up has out out his already and started making appearances. The next one has to live with the shadow of the most popular contestant ever to come on that show, that alone is unfortunate for him. If there were any questions whether the voting public is biased towards White Boy With Guitar, well you got this year who crowned the weakest vocalist with absolutely no charisma, a real toddler. The show became The Bachelorette rather than finding the next biggest star. I think the show way has reached way past its end now, with Simon leaving and all, its time to put the nail to the coffin. RIP, we will not be missed.

I'm not quite following what the discussion is about??

slow down people. Crystal was simply answering questions about herself. She's explaining where the inspiration for her songs came from. When questioned about the Idol "curse", she didn't make reference to anyone in particular when she explained her thoughts on having a clear vision as an artist. She was simply stating that she knew where SHE wanted to go and stuck to that. This doesn't automatically equate to being hateful or disrespectful to previous contestants. It just shows a little confidence in the fact that she knows who she is as an artist. Is that worth hating a person for??? I so bravo to you...Crystal!!! Can't wait to hear (and buy) your next CD!!!

Last year it was all about Adam. This year it is all about Crystal and Adam. Last year Adam got to mentor on idol. What do you want to bet that Crystal will get that gig next time if they do it again. David Cook, Lee and Kris should be getting more ink because they are song-writers too.

All this LA Times story tells me is that the interviewee and interviewer are idiots who don't check the facts before they spew. I want my five minutes back.

Love Crystal. Love her album and that vid of Farmer's Daughter is just about the best Idol music video evah.

Love David Archie. Lovely guy with a beautiful voice. But only liked maybe 4/5 songs out of the albums he's released so far. Some songs were pretty bad.

Luuuuuuurve David Cook. Great voice, good solid albums (all his past work too), GREAT live performer (he's a bit of a stand up comic too, which is a bonus Lol). It's ok if the interviewer has a subjective opinion about his musical preferences, liking one singers songs over another. But it's not professional to misrepresent facts.

Watched the video of this lady as a young girl at a county fair. Watched the video of her singing in the Chicago subway, trying to survive. Watched her audition phase of American Idol, gapped teeth and all and she wowed her fellow contestants. Watched and listened to the AL judges consistently praise her weekly performances. Bottom line, we bought her CD and liked it. If she comes out with any more, we'll buy it.

Um, have any of you heard Alison Iraheta's album? Or Jordin Sparks's? Those two have AMAZING voices -- really better than Crystal's -- but the Idol machine made them turn out teen pablum. I think that's who Crystal's comparing herself with. It was so sad to hear a great rocker like Alison having to do drippy bubble-gum songs about "oooh you texted me!!"

TO BLAKE - re songwriting, KELLY CLARKSON is by far the most prolific, successful and awarded songwriter of all of the idols - get a clue dude


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