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Published: Sunday, 8/29/2010

<br> Jubilant Bowersox, crowd of 6,800 rock the house

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Crystal Bowersox's four-song set Sunday night at Huntington Center was a blur of emotion, jubilation, and unabashed love between the northwest Ohio native and about 6,800 of her best friends.

A long, full-throated roar greeted the Elliston, Ohio, native when she strolled onto the stage for the American Idols Live! show wearing a T-shirt that said “Peace” and a million-watt grin.

She took a picture of the crowd on a panoramic camera, thanked her mom and dad, and got a little choked up on the anthem “Holy Toledo,” with its chorus of “How do I get to heaven from here?” after dedicating the song to a close friend who died just a few days ago.

But the overall vibe was celebratory, euphoric even, especially when she tore into Janis Joplin's “Piece of My Heart,” overwhelming it with vocal power.

There was a feeling that Bowersox was completing a long, triumphant journey from obscurity to stardom and everybody just wanted to be there to welcome her home. In this case, the front porch they were standing on was the newest, shiniest place in town.

Less than an hour before the concert, Bowersox was outside Huntington Center signing autographs and pressing the flesh. Most of the singers had been out throughout the afternoon meeting the fans, but she drew several hundred people, by far the largest crowd.

Friendly and completely lacking in artifice, the singer comes across as a rock 'n' roll everywoman: polite but earthy, and edgy without being threatening. She's smaller and more petite than she appears on television with an infectious smile that radiates goodwill.

All around her, Crystalmania prevailed with folks decked out in shirts that said “She left Elliston a singer and came home a star,” and young girls running up and saying, “It's Crystal!”

Her father, Bill, watched the gathering, a grin plastered across his face as various well-wishers approached him. Like his daughter, he exudes down-to-earth charm.

“Basically, it's been normal,” he said of the post-Idol fame for his daughter and his family. “I can sit on my porch in my pajamas and no one cares.”

Sandy Rice of Toledo, the self-proclaimed “biggest Crystal Bowersox fan in the world,” screamed with delight after meeting the singer and skipped away beaming.

She gave the singer a sunflower with a butterfly on it and wore red because she said it's Bowersox's favorite color. “I just love her and I just think the world of her,” she said.

Ms. Rice said she's read all the stories about Bowersox since the beginning of her American Idol run and she thinks people can relate to the story of a young, single mom working hard to realize her dream. “If anybody deserves it, it's her because she's worked so hard,” she said.

She was at the show with her niece, Martha Rapport, who also brought her young daughters, Molly and Maddy.

“She's cuckoo for Crystal Bowersox,” Maddy said.

As she headed into the show, Ms. Rice said the show was “a dream come true. I'm a little bit old, but I'm having fun.”

Hours before the concert, in a backstage room filled with a handful of journalists, most of the other Idol singers, and a road crew scarfing down catered meals, the 25-year-old Bowersox carried around a bottle of her son Tony's formula, and answered questions.

“I'm back on the bottle,” she joked after scooping the bottle off a table.

She had rolled into Toledo Sunday morning and didn't have much time with family or friends, but she planned to see them before the show. The concert was the fifth consecutive show of a seven-night run as the tour winds down, but none of the performers seemed tired or burned out while meeting with the media.

Bowersox said she expected an emotional reception when she took the stage, both from the audience and herself.

“It's going to be sweet, all the love I've been receiving,” she said. “I have a feeling people are going to be singing along and I'm going to cry a lot.”

She became emotional discussing the death of her friend in Chicago. She also sprinkled her conversation with a little salty language when asked if she was looking forward to playing her own songs live instead of the four covers she's played repeatedly on the tour.

“I cannot ... wait,” she said, laughing and tossing a colorful expletive before the word “wait.” “You can quote me on that. I'm so sick of playing cover songs.”

She said she tried to work playing a benefit for northwest Ohio tornado victims into her schedule, but couldn't make it happen.

“With everything that's been happening in northwest Ohio, it's in my heart, but unfortunately, my schedule just doesn't allow it.”

Her next move is to take a week off after the tour ends Tuesday before beginning work on her debut album. That will be followed by touring, and she said she hopes to make regular stops in Toledo part of the itinerary.



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