She was the one with the dreadlocks, the baby son and the colorful past as a busker at Chicago train stations.
Crystal Bowersox, appearing tonight at Harlow's in Sacramento, made a strong impression during "American Idol" Season 9, which otherwise ranked among the show's most forgettable seasons. Bowersox finished second to Lee DeWyze, whose name recognition vanished as quickly as memories of Ellen DeGeneres being an "Idol" judge.
Bowersox, now 27, set herself apart through her backstory and, most of all, her warm, expressive alto. She nailed the competition's compulsory showboat moments but exhibited a musical maturity that surpassed them, honed by years of performing in public and composing her own songs.
She followed "Idol" with the major-label album "Farmer's Daughter." Highlighted by a title track reflecting Bowersox's own difficult childhood, "Daughter" contained other pop and country songs not quite as indelible, including one co-written by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger.
The label dropped Bowersox after disappointing sales, and she signed with the independent Shanachie label. A year ago, Bowersox, musician husband Brian Walker and her 4-year-old son, Tony, moved from the Midwest to where the composting policy suits their worldview: Portland, Ore.
On the advice of fellow singer-songwriter (and local Sacramento hero) Jackie Greene, Bowersox hooked up with fellow Portland resident Steve Berlin, the record producer and Los Lobos saxophone player.
Berlin produced Bowersox's new album "All That for This," an assured collection traversing several American roots genres while hanging together nicely. Bowersox wrote or co-wrote 11 of its 12 songs, shifting easily from the folky, sing-along-ready "Dead Weight" to the torchy, horn-inflected "Movin' On" to the waltz-like "Stitches," a duet with Jakob Dylan.
The lone cover is of "Where the Story Ends," that 1990s chestnut by British alternative band the Sundays. The cover defies the album's rootsy sound but fits its lyrical theme of letting go of emotional burdens.
Reached by phone in Portland, Bowersox discussed the new album and a planned Broadway role as country music great Patsy Cline.
"All That for This" was released on an independent label and seems better-suited to your talents than your previous album. Is that the case?
I don't want to compare apples and oranges. The last album was different, but I don't have a preference. I feel like the process of making this album was much more easygoing. This time, I got to sleep in my own bed every night.
How does it differ musically?
The band that played on the first album was amazing, and I had great production. (But) it was recorded in New Jersey and had a completely different sound. Here it really is likely "'Portlandia" (laughs). Here it is not weird, I guess, but experimental. The sound Steve Berlin gave me is something new and fresh. Paul Rigney (who plays guitar on the album) works with Neko Case, and he helped shape her sound as well. I am a fan of hers.
The album is called "All That for This," the lead track is "Dead Weight," and there's "Where the Story Ends." It sounds like maybe you have come out of a tough time.
I think that I am living and thinking and feeling more positively now than any time in my life, and that comes with stability. That is something I don't think I have experienced until the last couple of years.
"Where the Story Ends" I didn't know that song. I was 5 or something when it was a hit. Steve Berlin suggested it. I immediately found meaning in the lyrics in my own personal way.
Do you feel stable because of your marriage?
Um, it is more financial. Of course it's also my marriage, and a good home life, and my son being healthy and happy. So stability in all senses of the word, (including) an emotional sense.
It's been three years since "Idol." How do you view your experience now?
I am extremely grateful. It is something that helped me find this inner strength I didn't know I had. I am still friends with Didi (Benami), who came in 10th. It was definitely an experience something I grew from and learned from. It has given me everything.
You are supposed to play Patsy Cline on Broadway in "Always Patsy Cline," a show based on letters Cline wrote to a fan.
It's a singing role, which I think I can handle. (laughs) I know so much of the material already.
I am so glad (the producers) called me. It will hopefully open in July, at one of the Shubert theaters. It already has done well in a lot of different places. It was at the Grand Ole Opry (Ryman Auditorium), and also in L.A. This year is the 50th anniversary of when Patsy died.
Does the prospect of playing a legend make you nervous?
Yeah, I am shaking in my boots a little. I want to do her justice.
You look like her.
Thanks. I think it's got to be the lips.
The whole face.
It's funny I have been compared with her and Janis Joplin the most.
Looks or singing?
Looks, and in just the essence, I guess. I don't think I sound like Janis at all.
Patsy could down a beer, and she called everybody "Hoss." She was the first woman to wear pants at the Grand Ole Opry. She is a personal hero of mine.
When: 6:30 tonight
Where: Harlow's, 2708 J St., Sacramento
Information: www.harlows.com, (916) 441-4693
Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.