MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. She was a runner-up on "American Idol" in 2010, but for millions of people, Crystal Bowersox did win their hearts, anyway, with her powerful voice and equally powerful personal story.
After growing up hard in Ohio, she even performed on the streets occasionally. Her talent, grit and grace took her to second place on "Idol's" ninth season and then on to her debut album, "Farmer's Daughter."
We talked with her then about that first album that took us on a journey through some of those hard times, but now she's back with a new album for this latest chapter in her life. It's called "All That For This."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVING ON")
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX: (Singing) My head is heavy now, but it won't let me down. Keep it real. Keep it undercover. Oh, I'm moving on. Yeah. Oh, I'm moving on.
MARTIN: That was "Moving On" from the new album, "All That For This," by Crystal Bowersox. It comes out March 26th, but she is with us now in our Washington, D.C. studio, where she stopped on one of her tour engagements. Thank you so much for stopping and coming by to see us.
BOWERSOX: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: When we first talked to you in 2011 and we talked about some of the hard things that you talked about in the album, some of the abuse that you and your brother suffered at home. We even talked about the diabetes, which you manage, and how you managed that during your stint on "American Idol," but even then, you were kind of already cresting. You'd kind of already turned the corner away from a lot of those tough things.
How are things now? Is this what you hoped...
MARTIN: ...your life would be at this stage of your life?
BOWERSOX: Yeah. I am happier now than I have ever been. I think, to quote Ani DiFranco when she - in one of her songs, she said, "If you're not getting happier as you're getting older, you're expletively - (beep) - you're messing up."
MARTIN: That sounds like Ani DiFranco.
BOWERSOX: Yeah. You know, and it's true. It's true. If you're not getting happier as you're getting older, you know, something's up. So I feel really good about where I'm at in my life. I feel like I'm growing continuously, even like - I'm having these realizations on a regular basis. I don't know. I'm almost 30. Saturn's returning.
MARTIN: Almost 30. That old?
BOWERSOX: I'm rounding up. I don't know why.
MARTIN: But things feel good?
MARTIN: And, for your career, is this what you'd hoped for?
BOWERSOX: Absolutely. I'm very happy.
MARTIN: What's the best thing about it?
BOWERSOX: The freedom that I have to have my own schedule, to work with the people I want to work with, to - you know, I've built this team around me of people that I respect and love so much and I think that is the best part.
MARTIN: Let's hear a little bit more from the title track, "All That For This." I just want to play a little bit and then I want you to tell us a little bit about what inspired this song, if you don't mind.
BOWERSOX: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THAT FOR THIS")
BOWERSOX: (Singing) Do you remember? My, how the time has gone when we were sitting (unintelligible) and we called it home. My, how the times change. We can never going to be the same. I'm going to love you forever the way that I did on our very first date and I sat and cried) for a while. Then you did something crazy just to make me smile. All that I've been through is just a stepping stone to where I'm going to. I ain't going alone. I'm going there with you, even if it's nowhere. We finally made it. All that for this.
MARTIN: A lot of people will come to a thought of - you know what? I went through all this. This was hard. This was the building block to where I am now.
MARTIN: And I think that's kind of the beauty of the song. I wanted to ask you. You know, you come from a place where, for a lot of people, you channel the pain that they've had. Do you think that they like it when you're happy and you've worked through it to another place?
BOWERSOX: I don't know. I mean, I would hope so. I want them to be happy. There's obviously - there's songs, like on the album, "Shine," there's one that is a very deep, dark place of my pain that I'm still sharing with fans and, you know, it still exists. There isn't all good or all bad or, you know, that's life. Life is a beautiful mix of all of those things. I still experience pain and sorrow and things like that, but I am, overall, happy.
MARTIN: How do you see your job right now?
BOWERSOX: I think I'm still realizing it. I mean I'm - as an artist I can only really write about my own experience and hope that others can maybe start some kind of healing for them if they realize that they're not alone. Or like the song "Dead Weight," for example - I was giving myself advice. And like in a moment of panic, just calm down, self. It's going to be OK. Moving on - I'm just telling myself it's time to move on. And you know, whoever is near me listening to my inner dialogue, I don't know, hopefully they'll benefit.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with singer-songwriter Crystal Bowersox. You might remember her from her debut album "Farmer's Daughter." Her new album is titled "All that For This." It's out March 26th, and she's with us in our Washington, D.C. studios.
You know, along the lines of, you know, trying to make it to a place that's whole and healthy, one of the other songs that I particularly like is "Stitches." And you worked with Jakob Dylan on this.
MARTIN: You want to tell us a little bit about that? He's with the band The Wallflowers?
BOWERSOX: Yes. I'd been a fan of The Wallflowers since, you know, since their hit in the '90s. And obviously he's Bob's son and so he's got a good name. We were introduced by a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Francine Kaufman, who is very involved in the Type I diabetes world. She introduced us via email. We started talking and found we had some commonalities, including sons who have had stitches. And so I sent him the song and he liked it. And then I asked him to sing it and he said yes, and I'm so glad he did.
MARTIN: Let's hear a little bit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STITCHES")
BOWERSOX: (Singing) Holding hands, stealing sweet kisses. Boy thinks he's fallen in love.
JAKOB DYLAN: (Singing) But she broke his heart, now he's crying his eyes out.
CRYSTAL AND JAKOB: (Singing) (Unintelligible) he'll push her crush out. Tattered and torn in two. There's only one thing I could think of to do. I'll pull out my thimble, my needle and thread, and I'll stitch you back up like new.
MARTIN: I have a son too.
BOWERSOX: It's just that feeling of wanting to scoop 'em up and make everything better. You know, my husband and I wrote it for our four-year-old. He was like two-and-a-half at the time and he had a dance with a coffee table, and oh, it was just a bad day.
BOWERSOX: But we got a great song out of it.
MARTIN: It is a great - it's a great song.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask about the - do you mind...
MARTIN: ...about "Idol." Does it help at this stage of your life or is it just something you kind of want to put behind you?
BOWERSOX: No. I think that, you know, right after the show I was - I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. I wasn't as grateful as I could have been, you know? The truth is that that show gave me an amazing place to start from and I feel like it's just going to - hopefully will continue to grow.
MARTIN: The other thing, though, about just - not just "American Idol," but the shows in general, there are a number of these competition shows right now and a lot of people have ambivalent feelings about them. I mean on the one hand you do get exposed to talent and you're not sure that would you have seen this person if it weren't for one of these shows. I mean the most improbable being the woman from "Britain's Got Talent."
BOWERSOX: Right. I know who you're talking about.
MARTIN: Who sang that wonderful song from "Les Mis" and of course she walked out there looking like, you know, Fraulein Frumpy...
BOWERSOX: (Singing) I dreamed a dream.
MARTIN: And just kind of knocked people's socks off. And she has actually gotten a chance to perform as a professional now. But a lot of people think there's just something about the experience as an artist competing with other artists to make your art.
MARTIN: And I just wondered, do you have some thoughts about that? Particularly I'm thinking about somebody like you, whose style is very gentle - if you don't mind my saying.
BOWERSOX: Not at all.
MARTIN: It's very intimate. It's about communicating really one-on-one with people. I'm sure a lot of your fans say they feel as if you're speaking directly to them.
BOWERSOX: Yeah. Before I ever tried out for the show, I had put it off and put it off. People had always said you ought to go out for that "American Idol" show. And I was like no, it's not my thing, it's not my bag. So it's something I put off for years. I never thought of trying out because I didn't like the idea of mixing competition and artistic expression. It doesn't seem like they should be competitive. It's - you can't compare those kinds of things. But then it came down to me holding a tiny little baby in my arms and saying, now what? What do I do? How do I give you a better life than I ever had? And I didn't have the resources to take the long road. I, in fact, I had no clue how to get into that community in Hollywood or L.A. or whatever it takes to, quote, make it. So I, you know, I tried out not really knowing what I was looking like forward to and I just kept taking it day by day, week by week, and I was still there. And I was like one day I woke up and I was like Holy moly, I'm at the finale. And I'm just, I'm so glad that I did it.
If you believe in yourself, others will too. And that goes, you know, hard work, of course. You have to own your craft, know your craft and work very hard at your craft, and it depends on what you want to achieve. If you just want to be famous, then some people are good at just being famous. But if your goal is to excel and perfect your craft, then you will be famous for that, and that's what I'm working on.
MARTIN: Also, having something to say...
MARTIN: One of the new songs is dedicated to a friend of yours who passed away.
I just want to play a little bit of "Someday."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY")
BOWERSOX: (Singing) Put down my coffee cup. Pick your old guitar up and I play for a while. Well, I guess I haven't played for a while. Still, how will I send you a broken heart to mend? I'll wait it out. Well, I guess I'll just keep waiting it out. Once you're gone, yeah, you're really gone. And it burns in the worst kind of way. So I'll just write a song and hope you hear it someday.
My friend Mark Brink, he was really near and dear to my heart. And I only really became close with him, I don't know, maybe eight months before "Idol." But he was the guy who when I was, you know, just had my son, days old, and I was a single mom, it was just me, he would bring me soup and he would, you know, come just to check on in on me. He was the first guy to visit my son in the hospital and like just an amazing being. He was always full of love and light and happiness and he shed that light on everyone around him. And during the "Idol" process, I was so busy and wrapped up. And that's why I said I'll just keep waiting it out. I was waiting it out. I was going to send him a card and then I got caught up in the "Idol" business and he passed away right before the Chicago tour stop, which I knew he had tickets for, and I kept calling him and I said I can't wait to see you. I'm so excited, I'm going to get to see you. And he never came to the show and I figured something came up. And then I got news the next day that he had passed away. And it's still something that affects me very deeply. "Farmer's Daughter," the entire album, was dedicated to him and then that song I wrote for him. And also there was a song on this album called "Amen For My Friends" that he and I had started writing together pre-"Idol," and we never finished it. And so for this record I took it to the same fellow in Santa Fe and we finished the song. And so, you know, he's got writing credit on this record.
BOWERSOX: You know, it's a really beautiful thing and...
MARTIN: It's great to be able to take a gift and make it a gift for somebody else. That's really a great thing to be able to do. But I find myself really being amazed by that when I listen to your work. I'm just wondering how it is that you take things that are so difficult and turn that into something of beauty. And I also continually wonder how it is that you take things that are so difficult and you can still sing about it day after day and make it sound so light and so filled with light. Do you have any idea?
BOWERSOX: No. I don't know that it's always so light though. Like there's times when I'll burst into tears at a show and feel a little sappy, I suppose. But thank you for saying that. I don't know, I just, I have to do it that way. It has to be, it's therapeutic, you know, because if I didn't turn it into something positive, the opposite is negative behavior, who knows, addictions and what else people add to their lives when they don't express things in a positive way.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for doing that. Thank you for expressing things in a positive way. One more thing I wanted to ask you about. This summer, do I have this right? You will be on Broadway?
MARTIN: That's a place for the farmer's daughter to end up.
MARTIN: And you'll be playing?
BOWERSOX: Patsy Cline.
MARTIN: The country star, in the musical "Always Patsy Cline." Tell us a little bit about how that came about.
BOWERSOX: You know, I'm - about a year ago, I think I was having coffee with my manager, Gina, who is an amazing woman. And I just put it out there. I said you know what, I'm just going to throw this out into the universe: I would like to do Broadway. And then, you know, a few months ago she just called me. She's like you're not going to believe this. I was like, what? What? She said they want you to play Patsy Cline on Broadway. And I, you know, I have friends who are in the theater world and they spend their lives chasing that dream and auditioning for things over and over, and they just called me and once again I'm in debt to "American Idol" for that because they knew I was. They thought I was good for the role and I keep showing up and keep saying thank you.
BOWERSOX: That's the way I'm living my life.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for showing up. So I will say thank you to you.
BOWERSOX: Thank you.
MARTIN: I do have to ask, what are you going to do with your dreads? You're not going to cut your hair, are you? What are you going to do?
BOWERSOX: I am, you know, I'm debating. I'm debating. It's been almost eight years, I think, since I've started them and I don't know. I might be ready for it. But then I get scared thinking about it because it's such a big change. I might just make them shorter so they fit under the wig.
MARTIN: OK. Well, we'll see. We'll look forward to seeing you as Patsy Cline. What do you want to go out on?
BOWERSOX: "Amen for My Friends." Amen.
BOWERSOX: It doesn't matter. However...
MARTIN: "Amen for My Friends"? "Amen for My Friends"?
MARTIN: Crystal Bowersox is a singer-songwriter. Her latest album is called "All That For This." She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studio when she made a stop in our city. Crystal Bowersox, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
BOWERSOX: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Good luck on everything.
BOWERSOX: Thank you. You too.
MARTIN: And we are going to go out on "Amen for My Friends."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMEN FOR MY FRIENDS")
BOWERSOX: (Singing) I don't deserve your kindness. Don't know why you came for me. Taking it all...
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michelle Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMEN FOR MY FRIENDS")
BOWERSOX: (Singing) 'Cause tragedy comes in waves and tides. Climb upon this boat and ride. Saying a prayer tonight for the good in my life. And I said...