By JOHN SEEWER
Associated Press Writer
ELLISTON, Ohio — It should be of little surprise that a short hospital stay didn’t derail Crystal Bowersox on ‘American Idol.’
She’s overcome a lot more in her young life.
Maybe that’s why the 24-year-old single mother with dreadlocks has what friends call “an old soul” and a serene stage presence – big parts of her appeal as one of four final contestants on the Fox singing competition.
Her parents divorced when she was a toddler. She grew up faster than a lot of kids around her and felt like an outsider at times in her hometown where there are no more than 100 people, two churches and not a single store.
All that isolation left her plenty of time to play guitar and write songs.
“She was kind of like a 30-year-old trapped in a kid’s body,” said Dave Gierke, who heard Bowersox sing when she was 14 and helped her get into Toledo School for the Arts. “She walked into the school with as much talent as she walked out with.”
Bowersox would get up early and travel about 20 miles to school each day in downtown Toledo, sometimes catching rides with Gierke, a school administrator.
She left home when she was just 17, moving to Chicago where she spent five years playing guitar and singing in coffee houses and train stations. She waited tables at a blues club, soaking up the atmosphere.
She might still be there if she hadn’t gotten pregnant.
Instead, she found herself living at home, raising her newborn son and playing in bars, sometimes just for tips.
“If there’s anybody that paid their dues, it’s her,” said Eric Hise, owner of a bar in nearby Genoa where Bowersox sang on Saturday nights. “She needed work, and I needed a musician.”
She surprised most of her friends when she tried out for ‘Idol.’
“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” said Terri May, a longtime family friend who often sang karaoke with Bowersox and her mother. “I thought she’s heading into a pop scene and she’s very alternative and folky.”
Her earthy style has been a welcome change this season.
She’s performed in bare feet and high heels. Her performance of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” early in the competition led Simon Cowell to say that she was “the one everyone has to beat.”
Bowersox was brought to tears a few weeks ago after a soulful take of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready”
“My dad’s here,” she said, “and this is the first time he’s been here.”
Bowersox, who has diabetes, nearly saw her run end when she was hospitalized in early March. The show’s producers switched the semifinal performance order at the last minute, giving her an extra day to come back and earn raves.
She emerged as a favorite, but two straight weeks of less-than enthusiastic reviews have brought her back to the pack.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.