Jason Castro Is Everyone’s ‘American Idol,’ In Bigger Than The Sound

Wasn't he the guy at that jam session back in college?

On The Record: My American Idol (Probably Has No Idea Where He Is Right Now)

It is somewhere around 1999. Late at night. The four of us — maybe four, maybe five … six? — are sitting in a dorm room in Gainesville, Florida. I think it was in Beaty Towers (you know, the one the girl jumped out of when she was tripping? The one Tom Petty wrote “American Girl” about?!?) or something. Maybe not. Like I said, it was late.

Anyway, there are two beds in the room. And a desk, I remember that for sure, because he was sitting on it with his acoustic guitar. There are posters on the wall — that Led Zeppelin one with the Hermit, and I think a black-light one with a jaguar on it — and probably, like, a tapestry over the window. It’s plenty dark in there, but the room is sort of, like, glowing red. I think there were also Christmas lights on, or maybe some candles. There was definitely some incense going (Nag Champa). We are all talking about stupid sh–, and then someone decides to stuff a towel underneath the door frame. Things are about to get a lot more interesting.

It is some time later. Or maybe only about 15 minutes. It is very smoky in here, like, so smoky that your eyes hurt, and the air is heavy — really heavy — and warm. You can feel it when you breathe in. The candles (that’s right, there were candles for sure) are flickering, battling for the same oxygen our lungs are. We’re all sprawled out on the beds, someone is propped up against one of the walls, and absolutely no one is saying a word. It’s dead quiet — you can hear some traffic on 441, some drunk kids making a racket on the walk back to Park Place Apartments — but everything is warm and soft and muffled, sort of like being in a womb. Floating. Dude, you know.

Then, all of a sudden, he is playing his acoustic guitar. It’s dark, so he has to bend over to see his fingers on the frets, and he’s fumbling a bit — schreeeech, squaaalch is how it sounds as he flubs the chords. His dreadlocks hang long and low, smothering almost the entire guitar, and only occasionally does he look up, and in the candlelight you can see that he is smiling that stupid, blissfully happy smile.

And then his foot is tapping, and he is playing some Sublime songs — “Santeria,” for sure, I think “Badfish” too — and then he starts singing. He’s really quiet at first (“I’m a parasite — oh! — creep and crawl I step into the night”), then gets louder (“I dive deep when it’s 10 feet overhead! Grab the reef underneath my bed!”), and now we are all singing along with him, and he is whipping his hair around, and then he is wild-eyed and we are all shouting (“Lord knows I’m weak! Won’t somebody get me off this reef?!?!”), and the room is suddenly alive, and I think someone spilled something on the carpet, because we all sort of jumped up and grabbed a towel. And then these dudes in the room next door start banging on the wall, and then all of a sudden the R.A. is knocking down the door and we are all nearly in big trouble, only the R.A. turns out to know someone’s older brother, so he lets us all go home without writing us up.

I think we all walked home and then passed out. Or went to IHOP. Whatever.

Fast-forward probably a decade. I am sitting on my couch in Brooklyn, and “American Idol” is on. Seacrest is doing that “this … is ‘American Idol’ ” thing he does. Simon is being condescending. This is probably back in February or something. We have not yet met all the top 24. Suddenly, the camera pans around the room, and there he is — the dreadlocks, the goofy smile, the glazed eyes — the dude from Beaty Towers. “Holy crap,” I think. “I went to college with an ‘American Idol’ contestant.”

Things are about to get more interesting.

Full disclosure: I did not actually go to college with Jason Castro. But I knew at least four dudes who were exactly like him. I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant with two of them. Took impromptu road trips out to a rock quarry to drink beers and swing on a rope swing with another. And that dude who played the Sublime songs in the dorm room? His name was Jorge. He even had that ring thing in one of his dreads like Castro does. And I do not think I am alone in this: Basically every one of us knew (or knows) a guy like Jason Castro, because guys like Jason Castro are almost always awesome. They are stony, sorta-vacant-yet-ultimately-good dudes who make excellent sidekicks. They will always ditch class or work with you. They are frequently without shoes and know how to make smoking devices out of carrots and apple cores. They know all Bonham’s parts on “Stairway.” They are never far from a djembe or an acoustic guitar, which means they are always close to a party. Guys like Jason Castro are a dime a dozen, which sort of reaffirms my belief in God, because it means that He (or She) wants us to have a good time all the time.

Which is basically my long-winded, slightly confusing way of saying that I hope Jason Castro wins “American Idol,” if only because — if I know him correctly — he probably couldn’t care less about winning at all (something a recent Entertainment Weekly article seems to confirm). In fact, he probably doesn’t even know he’s still on the show at this point. And simply put, that is awesome.

Think about it for a second: Despite the fact that there are millions of dudes out there just like him, has there ever been an “Idol” contestant like Castro before, let alone one that’s made it to the final four? Not even close. He’s managed to shatter the glass ceiling for less-than-motivated, questionably coiffed, sorta-Rasta kids, and I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t even know he’s done it. He is by far the most surreal talent the show has ever played host to (and that includes Sanjaya), primarily because he’s the most disinterested. Every week I wonder what he’ll do next or, more accurately, what he won’t do (like, you know, rehearse or sing well). In fact, I’m beginning to wonder why he even bothered trying out for “Idol” in the first place, which makes him the most compelling — and compellingly real — “Idol” hopeful ever.

And if he were to somehow win it all — which, sadly, I don’t think is possible, given that show producers seem hell-bent on giving us a David/David matchup in the finals — just think of the possibilities. He would refuse to do interviews or record a cheesy pop tune, simply because he didn’t feel like doing it (or maybe because he’d want to go buy a puppy or something). He wouldn’t care about Billboard charts or “Access Hollywood” or anything like that. Basically, he would bring the entire “Idol” machine to its knees, and he’d do it because he’d rather be playing Xbox or watching “Half Baked” on Blu-ray. And then he’d probably record an album of Sublime covers. And have DJ Z-Trip produce it.

And, really, can you say that about anyone else on “Idol”? Are you really that interested or amazed by the Davids or — gag — Syesha Mercado? No way, Jose. Jason Castro is a paradox, he is a riddle, he’s my “American Idol.” And he should be yours too. After all, you know him. Or at least your kids do. He’s probably playing a dorm-room jam session for them as you read this.

5ive Style

Slightly Less Than A Half-Dozen Of My Favorite Things On The Internet This Week, So Named For A Post-Rock Group That No One Probably Remembers.

1. Jim Leyland Extols The Virtues Of Cigarettes, Makes Me Regret Decision To Quit Smoking: “Still. Smokers out there, you know what I’m talking about. That moment, after you’ve had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale … that’s about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic.” I have anxiety pangs shooting through my arms and legs right now. I seriously do.

2. My Ongoing Quest To Find The Most Inappropriate “I Just Saw It On CNN” T-Shirt: Could it be this one? Or perhaps this one? Nah, I’m going with this one.

3. Tom Cruise: 25 Years: Click for eight minutes and 50 seconds of crazy-eyes, codpieces and wild gesticulation, set to the epic tones of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Like being inside Tom Cruise’s head while he’s taking a shower or something.

4. R. Kelly’s “Rate-A-Braid” Web Site: A promotional tie-in for Kelly’s new single, “Hair Braider,” and further proof that — despite the fact that he may have a thing for urinating on the occasional underage girl — Robert truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Oh, and did I mention Kelly sports long golden braids in the “Hair Braider” video? The legend continues …

5. The Breeders’ Track-By-Track Analysis Of Mountain Battles: Have you listened to this album yet?!? You really should, because it’s great. Also, this quote, from head Breeder Kim Deal — about a bar they used to frequent in East Los Angeles — sort of sums up why I’ve had a thing for her for nearly 15 years now: “Wasn’t El Capiro across the street from the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department? Yes. And they weren’t cops — they were detectives. We went there ’cause I could smoke in it. Even though you couldn’t smoke in L.A. then, the detectives would drink and smoke there. That’s why we hung out there.”

Questions? Concerns? Brownies? E-mail ‘em to me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.