Six months ago, Crystal Bowersox won The Blade Battle of the Bands contest.
Now she hopes to win American Idol.
The 24-year-old resident of Elliston, Ohio, is one of 24 remaining contestants competing on the popular Fox show, seen locally on WUPW-TV, Channel 36.
The American Idol judges have repeatedly praised Ms. Bowersox and her performances, a clear indication she has the talent to win it all.
But will Idol viewers - the ones who now determine how far she advances in the show - feel likewise?
"I think anything's possible," Ms. Bowersox said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where the show is broadcast. "I definitely could [win], but it's not like I think I will. It really depends on what the American public wants, and if they want a real down-to-earth, organic music girl, then I'm definitely going to win."
With her Janis Joplin chops and Bob Dylan conviction, along with an ever-present acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica, Ms. Bowersox clearly stands out among the mostly contemporary music contestants. She bears a passing resemblance to fellow folkie Jewel early in her career and is the only performer with dreadlocks.
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How that look and style will mesh on the pop-oriented showcase is the only concern the judges voiced before advancing Ms. Bowersox to the voting stage of Idol. But being different in a show known for its share of cookie-cutter performers is not a concern of hers.
"I think people can appreciate the fact that I'm not trying to be somebody I'm not," she said. "I'm being true to myself and the music. My strategy is just to stay true to myself and have fun and that will hopefully take me to the top."
Ms. Bowersox was born in Toledo and raised in Graytown and Elliston, both small rural towns about 20 miles southeast of Toledo, near Oak Harbor in Ottawa County. Her parents, Bill and Kelly, divorced when she was 2, and by 10 Ms. Bowersox was singing professionally, which meant extra money to help out around the house, including buying her own clothes.
Her high school years weren't any easier, she said. After joining the Oak Harbor High School swim team, Ms. Bowersox recalls wearing a "junky Goodwill bathing suit" to swim practices and meets; she was teased by her classmates because she didn't fit in.
And by 17, Ms. Bowersox's home life had deteriorated enough that she considered dropping out of school and moving out. She didn't, and eventually graduated from the Toledo School for the Arts.
But no matter the problems in her life, she could always turn to music for comfort.
She began performing in area clubs after high school and came of age musically in Chicago, where she lived for several years. Ms. Bowersox returned to Elliston last spring and landed a standing Monday night gig at the Village Idiot in Maumee as an acoustic duo with childhood friend and fellow musician Frank May, performing covers of folk, rock, and R&B songs like Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," which she later performed at her Idol audition in Chicago.
Ms. Bowersox's talent as a performer convinced friends and family that she should audition for American Idol, an idea she had toyed with for several years. But it took becoming a single mother 13 months ago to convince her the time was right.
"I needed to turn bar gigs into a bigger career," Ms. Bowersox said. "Kids aren't cheap, and [my son] needs everything I never had growing up."
She was among only a handful of thousands of contestants in Chicago to make it to the Hollywood round and since has survived several cuts by the show's judges.
And now, it gets really serious.
Tomorrow night, Ms. Bowersox will perform live along with the 11 other remaining female contestants. Wednesday night will be the guys' turn to sing, followed by a Thursday results show in which two women and two men will learn their Idol dreams are over.
And if one of those performers should be Ms. Bowersox, she would like her supporters and fans to know she's OK with that.
"I'm happy to come home and be with my boyfriend and my kid and play gigs. I'm fine with that because I'm happy right now," she said. "My life is great in Ohio right now and I'd be happy to return to that. But hopefully bigger and better things are happening now and I won't have to."
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