Entertainer-audience harmony: Fans’ support energizes ‘Idol’ runnerup Crystal Bowersox

Crystal Bowersox said she’s grateful to her fans. A live show is “more of an intimate experience,” she said.
Crystal Bowersox said she’s grateful to her fans. A live show is “more of an intimate experience,” she said. Photo provided

Crystal Bowersox rose to national prominence as a runner-up on season nine of “American Idol” with her folk-rock-country style. Now the Ohio-born singer-songwriter will bring her talent to Centre County with a performance at the State Theatre on March 24.

Calling herself a product of the 1990s, the 28-year-old grew up on a diet of ’90s pop and alternative rock, just catching the tail end of the grunge-rock scene. Raised in northwest Ohio, Bowersox received a dose of the classics from her dad, while her mom was always a fan of old-school country.

“I don’t really come from a musical family,” she said. “I picked up on what they were listening to.”

While she participated in choir and played flute in the school marching band, Bowersox, made her professional debut at age 10. After singing in local bars in the Toledo area, Bowersox moved to Chicago at 17 to look for more opportunities.

After performing the club circuit in Chicago and frequenting several train stations in the city’s cavernous subway tunnels, Bowersox auditioned for “American Idol” in 2010. She chose songs by popular artists including Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin and Sheryl Crow, indicating her interest in diverse musical styles.

In March 2010, Bowersox was hospitalized due to complications from type-1 diabetes. After a change in scheduling to allow her time to recuperate, she impressed all the judges and won over judge Simon Cowell, who called her performance of Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain” “by far, the best performance and song of the night.”

“It was an experience for sure; one I don’t know that anyone can be properly prepared for,” Bowersox said. “You go from complete obscurity to international recognition, so it’s a bit of a mind trip for most of the contestants.”

Bowersox’s two album releases, her 2010 debut “Farmer’s Daughter” and last year’s “All That For This,” have spawned hit songs such as “Holy Toledo,” “Farmer’s Daughter” and “Dead Weight,” winning Bowersox fans worldwide. And while she admits she enjoys her time in the studio, Bowersox said she prefers the intimacy of being in front an audience.

“I am a fan of the exchange between the audience and performer,” she said. “In a recording studio, you don’t have an audience. You may not have the same kind of energy and delivery as you do at a live show. It’s more of an intimate experience. I need them and they need me; we work together — in harmony.”

Wanting to grow and stretch out as an artist, Bowersox has toyed with the idea of stepping out on a limb musically and doing an album that is not quite as mainstream as her previous work.

“I’m taking some cues from Tom Waits, of all people, and Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead. This EP is going to sound different than anything I’ve released,” she said.