The distance between the Crystal Bowersox of 2010 American Idol and the satisfied young artist set to release her second album next month can be measured many ways.
It’s been three years and countless miles on the road moving and touring, but how do you quantify growing up? Gone is the wide-eyed performer who made the sudden and surreal transition from playing in Toledo bars and busking on Chicago streets to parrying with snarky Simon Cowell in front of millions of people while being fitted for the uncomfortable cloak of national celebrity.
In her place is a woman in her mid-20s, expressing herself artistically with a first class collection of songs that reflect her mature, grateful place in life, an exciting opportunity on Broadway, and the ongoing juggling act of career, wife, and mom.
The result is an excellent new disc called “All That for This,” and all sorts of positive fallout, including improving the famously rocky relationship with her mother.
“It’s funny, both of us are simultaneously having these awakenings and these periods of growth in our lives,” Bowersox said in a telephone interview from the Portland, Ore. home she shares with her husband Brian Walker and son Tony.
“I’m so proud of my mom. She’s going to tai chi, she’s trying to quit smoking. It’s a beautiful thing and both of us are on this journey and that has really helped our relationship. And I’m starting to learn as I get older that you have to hold yourself accountable as well in your personal relationships. If you’re not getting along with someone think about why. Is it because they’re being a jerk or how are you contributing to that?
“Accountability I think has really helped me blossom in other ways too, being a mom and doing what’s right and responsible. I’m growing up, I’m growing up.”
By now Bowersox’s story is familiar. She came of age artistically in northwest Ohio bars, blowing people away at a young age with a powerful voice that can go from a full-throated blues roar to a soft, sensitive whisper and still pack an emotional wallop.
After moving to Chicago and escaping a rough upbringing here, she was the 2010 American Idol runner-up. She became a favorite on the show thanks to her combination of street smarts, soulful music, and midwestern pluck. That same year she released her debut album, “Farmer’s Daughter.”
The year is shaping up to be extremely busy for Bowersox. There’s a spring tour that brings her to the SeaGate Convention Centre March 3, a run on Broadway in the new play, Always Patsy Cline, and then another tour in the fall.
She said the producers of the play about the iconic 1950s country star approached her for the role and she’s excited about moving to New York in May for three weeks of rehearsals before the show starts in June.
“Busy is a blessing for sure. I’m going to be living in New York starting in May and the show will open in June,” she said before breaking into laughter and singing, “New York here I come...”
She also joked that her only previous experience in theater was with the Toledo Opera youth choir performing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “but I’ll be all right.”
Her key collaborator on the new CD was uber-producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, who has worked with Sheryl Crow, John Lee Hooker, the Replacements and a raft of other artists. She credits him for the disc’s sound, which is a mix of rootsy Americana and country with a strong dose of pop sensibility.
It includes a duet with Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers on “Stitches,” a rollicking country rock anthem called “Til the Whiskey’s Gone,” and a number of midtempo ballads that cover a swath of subjects ranging from relationships — good and bad — parenthood, and spirituality.
“I couldn’t be happier [with the album]. I’m elated. I love what Steve has done to the tunes and the arrangements and everything. I feel like this is the sound I’ve really been looking for and I’m looking to explore more in the future. This is like a life-affirming thing for me,” she said.
In the meantime she quit smoking, focused on improving her diet to help her deal with the Type 1 diabetes she’s long fought, and put an emphasis on being a strong role model for children battling the disease.
“For awhile there on the diabetes stuff, I was in a role model position but I wasn’t acting like one,” Bowersox said. “I wasn’t really living up to the things that I was preaching and I just didn’t want to be that kind of a person. I want to live a life that’s full and honest and I think that’s important.”
Her show here in March will raise money for the Toledo School for the Arts, from which she graduated, and she said she also plans to help the school with a community garden at Jackson and 14th Street this year. So don’t be surprised if you see her out there digging in the dirt with students from the school she credits with sparking her creativity.
“It was a place where I excelled and it was a safe haven for me. It was a place where I felt like I belonged,” she said.
Add that to a long to-do list.
“It’s going to be a very long, busy, wonderful year.”
Crystal Bowersox and Monte Mar will play March 3 at the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo. Doors open at 7 p.m. and music starts at 7:30. Tickets are $37 and are on sale now at the Huntington Center box office, 500 Jefferson Ave., www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster outlets, and 1-800-745-3000. Proceeds benefit the Toledo School for the Arts.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.