Crystal Bowersox forges her own path

Crystal Bowersox, who came to prominence as the runner-up in the ninth American Idol season in 2010, will bring her rock-folk music blend to the Fairfield Theatre Company on March 13. Bowersox was born in Ohio, now lives in Nashville with her 10-year-old son, and overcame much adversity to pursue her career, including a challenging childhood, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and being a single mom. As a teenager, she sang on Chicago subway platforms while working odd jobs. The singer-songwriter recently spoke with Brad Durrell about her upcoming show.

Brad Durrell: How did your interest in music begin?

Crystal Bowersox: Unfortunately, I grew up in a family with a bit of domestic violence and chaos in our home life. Music and poetry was a way I could escape that momentarily. My mom has a great voice but she never had confidence to sing in public and someone had squashed her dreams. She was a custodian at our church and I remember hearing her sing in the chapel, and I just always loved it.

BD: You moved to Chicago on your own at age 17 to become a musician?

Crystal Bowersox

CB: I just didn’t feel there was any other choice. I had fear of the unknown and I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills necessarily, but you just do it. You make things happen through effort, showing up and having faith.

BD: How did you make it onto American Idol?

CB: In 2009, I gave birth to my son and quickly realized I couldn’t afford to stay in Chicago as a single mom without a support system so I moved back home to northwest Ohio. Then, a friend from Chicago called and said they’re having American Idol auditions and I thought, “I might as well, I’ve got nothing to lose.” I drove to Chicago, dropped off my 5-month-old son at my friend’s place at 5 a.m., and went to the audition. The United Center was packed to the brim with people. I’m not great at math, but those odds are pretty incredible.

I just tried to get through it, bit by bit and moment by moment, and had no expectations of being selected. A woman sang right before me and she was phenomenal and absolutely incredible, and they said “no” to her and it really shook me. I thought, “There’s no way. They’re not going to want anything to do with me.” But they did, and I got the ticket. I just kept going week by week and somehow made it to the end. A lot of it is a blur to me now because everything was so fast-paced. It’s like going from complete obscurity to international Hollywood fame and it didn’t make any sense to me. But I’m so grateful for all of it.

BD: Tell me about the Fairfield concert.

CB: It’s going to be a duo — a guitar player and myself. It will be intimate, low effect. I don’t do laser lights and smoke machines. I want people to feel like they’re in my living room and we’re just hanging out together. I like to talk to the audience and people shout back. I live for that — the connection with the crowd. I feel live is where my passion really comes through.

People who come to the show will hear some new material. I like to test it out on audiences before going into the studio to see what’s going to fly and what’s not.

If you’re familiar with my live Santa Fe album, it’s pretty close to what you’re going to hear at a concert of mine. There’s a lot of bad jokes and talking between songs. It’s hard to capture that in a recording studio session so that’s why I made a live album.

BD: Working on any projects now?

CS: I’m currently writing my own play, called Trauma Queen, that will debut this October in Nashville. It’s a musical about my own life, my dreams before and through American Idol, and up until where I am now.

BD: How has having diabetes impacted your life?

CS: When I was on American Idol I had kept my Type 1 a secret. I didn’t want people to pity or favor me, or treat me any differently. I thought I could handle my condition and all the stress, but I was wrong. I ended up going into diabetic ketoacidosis (a life-threatening medical condition). It almost cost me everything. It was a much needed wake-up call, and I reluctantly became a spokesperson for diabetes and now it’s a role I completely embrace and love. I get to work with amazing organizations and people. I’ve met a complete family of people I wouldn’t have otherwise. I talk to kids and tell them they can achieve their dreams despite having Type 1.

A lot of people don’t quite understand what Type 1 diabetes is and how it’s different than Type 2. My body basically cannot process glucose of any kind, and a body turns everything you eat into glucose so I have to take daily injections of insulin to survive. If I don’t have insulin for even a few hours, I can go into ketoacidosis, where your body starts to break down.

BD: Describe a typical day when not making music?

CB: Right now I’m in my pajamas and trying to record a demo on my iPad. My dog is hanging out, just lying down, and my son is downstairs watching something.

When I’m not doing music, I’m really boring. I like to knit, watch some trash TV, and go for hikes and go camping around here. There’s beautiful outdoor recreation in the Nashville area. I also like to keep my house nice and tidy; I’m kind of weird about it.

BD: Do you like living in Nashville?

CB: I love living in Nashville. For a musician, it’s like being a diabetic kid in a candy store. Everywhere you turn, there’s talent. It just oozes out of the ground. We’re really spoiled in Nashville. Anywhere you go on any given night, you’re going to hear an amazing band or singer.

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