By James Montgomery/Mtv
Crystal Bowersox stood just off camera, looking slightly perturbed. A publicist tugged on the zipper of her brand-new leather jacket, a fashionably cut, butter-soft thing that had been given to her as a gift, presumably after finishing second on "American Idol." It was a very nice jacket. The problem was with the zipper.
"Man, you would think this thing would work better," Bowersox said to no one in particular, tugging on the tab, sticking her fingers in the metal teeth of the contraption. "If people want to give me nice stuff, that's cool. I'm going to Goodwill."
Ultimately, she and her publicist managed to force the zipper three-quarters of the way up the jacket, Bowersox smiled, sat down, and our interview began. At the time, it seemed like little more than an inconsequential wardrobe matter — and maybe it still is — but in retrospect, the situation seems to have taken on added meaning, at least for me. It was, after all, a pretty handy (not to mention fashionable) metaphor for Bowersox's entire life, post-"Idol." She's not exactly comfortable with this newfound fame, and you get the feeling that the zipper's just gonna keep on sticking, but she'll be damned if she's not going to keep forcing the thing up.
Because over the next 40-something minutes, Bowersox seemingly delighted in making it clear to me that she was "a fighter," someone hell-bent on forging her own career path — her own songs, her own sound, her own way — despite overwhelming evidence that what she wants might very well be impossible (see the post-show bows of folks like Allison Iraheta or Diana DeGarmo for proof of this). She hasn't even begun recording her first album, but she already knows how she doesn't want it to sound: like an "American Idol" album.
"I'd like to do the songs that I've been doing for years. ... I'm not opposed to working with other writers and producers, but my goal is to put out an album I really enjoy," she said. "I'm aware of it, I'm a fighter, I'm a passionate person, I believe in certain things very strongly and I don't go down easy. I'll take everything into consideration, but it's my CD, it's my music. I'm not going to put something out that I'm not proud of."
And that's the tip of the iceberg. Bowersox said she doesn't care about money or fame ("I have everything I need in my life right now. I don't need a fancy house, big cars or bling or anything like that. My son's healthy, and life is good"), doesn't see the point of keeping her private life private, and not only freely admits to Googling herself, but reading the nasty comments too ("It gives you the outside perspective you don't get within the 'Idol' bubble"). She rarely watches television. She thinks kids should read more books. She is blissfully unaware of the cultural import of Justin Bieber ("He was on the show, right?"). Oh, and she maintained that, despite what her "Idol" handlers might say, she plans to speak out against things that she deems are unjust. Because she wants to use her fame to bring about change.
In other words, Bowersox is probably the least "American Idol" contestant in "American Idol" history: a willful, delightfully stubborn throwback to a bygone era when music meant something and musicians stood up for their beliefs. Sure, Adam Lambert may have spat out the "Idol" ball gag — or, you know, used it in his American Music Awards performance — but Bowersox seems determined to make his bid for independence seem positively childish. She's focused on bigger things than just shock and awe: She really, truthfully wants to be an individual, a singular star, and she wants it on her terms only.
Of course, whether she succeeds in that endeavor is largely up to her. Is she strong enough to stay on her own path, to fight off the creeping insurgence of her "Idol" handlers and to still remain unchanged by fame? Is she willing to keep tugging on that zipper, no matter how uncomfortable things get? I wouldn't bet against her. But whatever happens, one thing's for certain: After meeting Bowersox, I can safely say I never knew anybody like her at the juice bar, despite what I may have written more than a month ago in this very column. No one had a jacket as nice as hers. Metaphorical or not.
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