Taking cues from her favorite songwriters -- including Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin, and Sista Otis -- Crystal Bowersox brought a relaxed, folksy vibe to the ninth season of American Idol. Although she auditioned for the show in Chicago, Bowersox grew up five hours east in Elliston, Ohio, a small town with fewer than 100 residents. She began writing songs as a ten-year-old and, by her early teens, had formed a band with her brothers. Dubbed "Oldinuph" -- a name that poked fun at their own adolescence -- the siblings played shows throughout Ottawa County for several years, with Bowersox writing most of their original material. She eventually moved to Chicago at the age of 17, looking to pursue her career in a bigger city.
Bowersox spent five years in Chicago before moving back home to give birth to her son, Tony. She continued performing in local venues, though, and auditioned for American Idol during a weekend trip to Chicago in 2009. Although her blonde dreadlocks and earthy vocals made her a rarity among most Idol contenders, Bowersox quickly became an audience favorite, breezing through each round of the competition with performances of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Me and Bobby McGee," and other rootsy songs. Following Siobhan Magnus' elimination in early May, Bowersox was the only female contestant left, and she eventually finished as the runner-up to American Idol champion Lee DeWyze. Her debut album, Farmer's Daughter, appeared later that year.
Farmer's Daughter received a standard post-Idol media push, but the album failed to turn into a hit. The following year, RCA Records went under a restructuring that left Bowersox without a label. In 2012, she signed with Shanachie Records, and the label teamed her with producer Steve Berlin (best known as a member of Los Lobos). The resulting record, All That for This, showed up in March of 2013. The next year, she issued the Promises EP. Her third album, Alive, arrived in the summer of 2017. ~ Andrew Leahey