Many past "American Idol" contestants have milked personal sob stories to increase their likability factor, but during Season 9, runner-up Crystal Bowersox only needed to rely on her immense talent to get all the way to the finale. She kept much of her personal life tightly under wraps during the show, but still, viewers couldn't help but detect a depth of pain and hard-won life experience behind her quiet, steely exterior.
"I didn't tell [the Idol producers] a lot of my story. I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, wah wah, look at me,'" the resilient single mother explained. "But I have a million stories of digging through garbage cans for food and sleeping on park benches...When my son was born, he slept in a Moses basket on my nightstand. I didn't have money for a bassinet and all that...But he had love, constant love, and now he has all the fancy little things that make life fun. He's getting a racecar bed for Christmas!"
Anyway, now that Crystal's excellent debut album, Farmer's Daughter, is finally coming out (read my full record review here), her darker life stories are finally being told--in their purest form, in song and in her own voice. The album's dozen tracks (10 of which were penned by Crystal, with only two of those songs being co-writes) comprise the raw and uncensored musical autobiography of Crystal's life, with much of the lyrics detailing her unorthodox on/off six-year courtship with her new husband, musician Brian Walker.
But it's the album's title track--which ended up being her first single instead of the more obvious, less risky choice, the Kara DioGuardi/Chad Kroeger-penned rocker "Hold On"--that tells the most compelling tale. With shocking lyrics about a neglectful mother "coming home with bourbon breath" and unminced words like "When you broke my bones I told the school I fell down the stairs," it's hardly typical squeaky-clean Idol fare. (There's even an explicit version out there that drops the F-bomb in the first verse.)
When I recently got the chance to interview Crystal over at Sony Music headquarters in Los Angeles, talk about her goal to not make a typical "cheesy" Idol album and the possibility of her crossing over to the country market soon led (around the 4:30 mark in the video below) to a heartfelt discussion about her album's "here I am, this is my story, take it or leave it" statement song.
"The subject matter is pretty heavy, but it's honest," she told me. "There are plenty of people out there dealing right now with what I dealt with as a kid...Sadly, a lot of people can relate to it, and it's going to strike a chord.
"It's definitely autobiographical. I never want to talk about my mother poorly because she did the best she could...She was a single mom of three kids. That is not easy...We were poor and she would get frustrated and she didn't know how to deal with her emotions, and she'd turn to drinking and things would get physical a lot in our house growing up...There was constant chaos, cops on the lawn, physical fights and stuff. A lot of my youth was very dark and ugly. But I don't see 'Farmer's Daughter' as a dark song, because for me it was healing. All of the emotion in that song is no longer inside of me."
Watch part 1 of Crystal's candid interview in full below, and also click here to watch part 2, which covers the rest of her album, including plenty of talk about the love songs she wrote for her groom.