'American Idol' Alum Crystal Bowersox Talks New Album, Broadway Role: 'Life Is Good'
With her second full-length out Tuesday, and a starring role as Patsy Cline on the horizon, the season nine runner-up tells THR: "I don't have much to bitch about."
It’s a frigid March night in Philadelphia and Crystal Bowersox is chilling out backstage at The Tin Angel in a dressing room that some artists may consider a tad cramped.
It’s a cozy space, with a tiny bed covered by a red, paisley comforter and etchings on the wall from artists that have graced the venue's stage. In this setting, the American Idol alum seems completely relaxed and at home, happily fussing with her bag of tricks which contains some of her road essentials: knitting needles, yarn, her famed leather-bound diary of poetry, some light reading (With My Body by Nikki Gemmell -- “It’s kind of like Fifty Shades of Grey -- that kind of book,” she cracks), some heavier fare in the self-help realm (Adult Children of Abusive Parents: A Healing Program for those who have been Physically, Sexually, or Emotionally Abused by Steven Farmer), and a book of Hinduism gifted to her by a Tibetan monk she met by chance in a Starbucks.
Bowersox is very Zen when discussing her world in Portland, Oregon: She lives on a farm (complete with chickens, sheep, a guinea pig and fish), and her home life involves cooking, cleaning and a goal of learning how to spin yarn.
“I have a very exciting rock and roll life,” the singer deadpans.
Gone is the nervous and guarded American Idol season nine runner-up, who had trouble adjusting to the chaotic schedule and demands of sudden stardom. Her new positive outlook and calm demeanor is reflected in her second album, All That For This, on the Shanachie label, which will be released Tuesday. Bowersox is at home with the team at blues-based company. “They were like, here -- make a record and we’ll listen to it when you’re done. They were very open with the whole process. They wanted to see what I would come up with. “
That approach, she said, was one that was more in tune with how she views the world these days.
“I have a new label, new record, new music video, new Broadway show, new band, just a new lease on life,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “This has been a big year for me. A lot of changes, and a lot of growth, I would say, in positive ways. I am seeing the world differently and in a more positive light. Good things are happening for me now."
By her own admission, she was in a different headspace when she recorded her debut, Farmer’s Daughter, for her then-label Jive Records.
“I was really proud of it. I wouldn’t say anything negative about it. It is what it is. I wouldn’t try to say one is better than the other, they’re just different,” she said. “I’m different, and the songs are different. I think this new record was much more comfortable to make."
Part of that comfort was recording so close to home, where she could literally bring her four-year old son, Tony, to school in the morning and then head into the studio to work with producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), whom Bowersox describes as a “mellow fellow." As a bonus, Tony got to visit mom at work in the afternoon.
“Most of the time when he’s in the studio we’re chasing him around to protect the knobs and buttons, but it was nice to be able to have him come visit. We spent long hours there,” she says. “He could drop by for dinner, and then dad will take him home. It’s good. It was totally comfortable. Everything was laid back and Steve Berlin, he’s got that vibe too. He’s just a really sentimental guy, caring and protective. I feel like I have a friend for life in him now."
The feel-good vibes can be heard on several new tracks -- “Fall Into Place,” the single, “Dead Weight,” and a lighthearted romp, "Til The Whiskey’s Gone." There are also songs of motherhood (“Stitches,” the duet with Wallflowers front man Jakob Dylan, was co-written with her husband, Brian Walker), a fantastic ode to friendship (“Amen for My Friends,”) and a nifty cover of “Here’s Where The Story Ends” by The Sundays. It’s a decisively sunnier record than Farmer’s Daughter, but there are still some moments of introspection, or as Bowersox describes, “a lingering sadness” on compositions like the jazzier “Movin’ On,” and “Shine,” a song about Tony’s biological father.
“The subject matter is more lighthearted and positive,” she said. “The song ‘Fall into Place’ is really where I’m at. I feel like where I am in my life everything has fallen into place or is falling into place, and if you’re open to it and you let it happen, good things will come to you. ‘Dead Weight’ is about letting dead weight go. I feel like I have been able to do that recently. I had a pretty dark childhood, and I’m not angry about it. Life is good. My son’s healthy and happy. I’m healthy and happy. I don’t have much to bitch about these days."
While the next two months will be spent on the road with her backup band, the new-wave flavored Monte Mar, promoting “All That For This,” Bowersox is looking forward to another evolution in her career: that of a Broadway performer. In May, she will begin rehearsals for Always... Patsy Cline. Bowersox has been preparing for the role by reading and watching old films, and although she has already dabbled in acting with a guest-starring role on Body of Proof, she plans to work with an acting coach and learn how to dance as well.
She still can’t believe her good fortune snagging the part.
“A year ago I put it out there. I was having coffee with my manager and said: you know what? I’d love to do Broadway, not really taking it too seriously, and then she got a phone call. 'You are not going to believe this,' she said. I still kind of don’t [know if] I wanted to be in the theater. I had a drama teacher who said a couple of things that deterred me and I didn’t pursue it, but I’m glad the opportunity is here now. I’ve done a little bit of acting here and there. I sometimes have to do it in everyday life. I’m a mom, too, so I have to pretend to be cool all the time. It’s just another role in my life and I hope I can do her justice."
With all that is going on, Bowersox said she doesn’t have much time to watch American Idol, although she was bummed that her favorite musician, Nick Boddington, was voted off early. She did say she was pulling for all of the remaining contestants, and offered a bit of wisdom as an Idol alum.
“It’s not a natural process, American Idol, but it does great things for the people that are on that show. If you don’t walk away from it with some kind of positive outlook or find an opportunity to come from it, then I feel like that’s a choice,” she said. “Jennifer Hudson was in seventh place, and she went on to have a very successful career. Colton Dixon also is doing pretty well. I think anyone who graces that stage has an upper hand in business. You automatically have resources. My advice for this year’s contestants is to be well-rested and breathe or the nerves will get the best of you. You just have to calm your breath down and it will roll out of you."
She also credits the show with more than just a career, but a friend for life: fellow season nine-er, Didi Benami. Says Bowersox: “Didi is my girl. We are best buds. Any time I am in Los Angeles, I see her. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding and she's one of my best friends,” she said, “She is a funny girl. I don’t have too many girly-girlfriends, and she is super feminine, and always helps me out. She has tried to give me makeovers. She’s great."
She is also proud of her fellow season nine compatriots, including winner Lee DeWyze, Siobhan Magnus and Casey James. “Lee is in a much better place than he ever has been. I haven’t talked to him too much, but I wished him a Happy New Year, and he’s married now and I always wish him well,” she said.
“Siobhan has great taste in music, and she knows her wheelhouse,” she said of Magnus’ new ‘90s supergroup, Doubtful Guest. “Casey is opening for Taylor Swift! There will be a song about him, I’m sure."
She did have a confession, however, regarding recent album releases by other Idol contestants.
"The only Idol music I’ve ever purchased is Phillip Phillips," she said. "It's a good record. I'm proud of that guy. He’s got the vibe."
In another coup for the singer, Bowersox has filmed a public service announcement for a cause near and dear to her heart: the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Bowersox, who lives with type one diabetes, recently filmed the spot featuring herself, Mary Tyler Moore, Brett Michaels and Nick Jonas.
“It was pretty crazy. We are the top four type one diabetic people, I guess,” she said. “That was a lot of fun, and the most rewarding work. I get to talk to kids and teenagers who are going through the whole thing. It’s a very lonely disease."
Bowersox adds she is looking forward to what the rest of 2013 will bring. On Monday, she makes an appearance on The Tonight Show, and not long after, she'll be heading to New York for a summer of Always…Patsy Cline. Touring will resume in the fall.
“I feel like this is the best year of my life,” she said.