Crystal Bowersox: From Chicago Hopeful To 'American Idol' Front-Runner

MamaSox has had her ups and downs, but the season-nine crown seems to be hers to lose.

As Crystal Bowersox heads into inspirational-songs week on [url id=""]"American Idol,"[/url] she's the one contestant who seems to be rousing positive energy from viewers in the midst of this season of unexceptional singers and humdrum personalities. The "Idol" audience embraced the 24-year-old mother — MamaSox, as she is now known — once she become a crooner-to-watch in Hollywood and has stuck with her through illness, controversy and some killer performances.

We first met Bowersox during the auditions in Chicago, the city that also gave us Katelyn Epperly and Lee Dewyze. Dressed in jeans and a suede vest with her guitar strapped to her side, Bowersox sang "Piece of My Heart," a tune made famous by Janis Joplin.

Crystal Bowersox's 'American Idol' Experience

"Why did you wear a guitar?" guest judge Shania Twain asked before Bowersox began.

"It's kind of a comfort blanket for me," she answered, launching into a soulful take on the tune that had Simon Cowell smiling and Kara DioGuardi welcoming her to Hollywood Week.

During her brief time onscreen, we didn't find out much about her. She was ID'd onscreen as a "musician/mom" and walked away from the audition with her young son in one hand and her golden ticket in the other. The contestant who people were talking about most the next day was Katelyn Epperly, and there was little indication that Crystal would soon become the show's top seed. If anything, she reminded us of season six's Tami Gosnell, a free spirit with blues in her soul who soared in her audition but was booted in Hollywood Week.

Bowersox would not suffer the same fate. To begin, her rock- and soul-flecked rendition of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," had her fellow contestants singing backup vocals from their auditorium seats. While Andrew Garcia's breakout take on Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" had everybody talking, we still anointed MamaSox as an early front-runner. To finish off her time in Hollywood, Crystal nailed her cover of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy."

"I feel like I can surprise all of you," she told the judges as they welcomed her into the top 24. "I'm very glad I came."

Bowersox got off to an unremarkable start during the live shows with a harmonica-assisted take on "Hand in My Pocket." Cowell accused her of sounding like a subway busker. The next week, an illness forced her into the hospital, and her place on the show suddenly became uncertain. Would she recover enough to perform, or would this be the end of Crystal's run? It turned out to be just the beginning. After a last-minute switch between the men and women's performances, Bowersox once again took the stage and delivered a beauty: a gospel-tinged version of "As Long as I Can See the Light."

"I feel good," she said. "I'm a tough cookie."

Did that cookie almost crumble at one point? Later on in the season, during a post-performance chat with the judges, she admitted that she'd been dealing with personal issues. Then last week, Ryan Seacrest said Bowersox was about to quit the show until he talked her out of it. But Bowersox appeared to hit back against that report when she tweeted, "Media is a funny thing. Stretched and skewed and far from the truth."

What actually happened? We'll likely have to wait until season's end to get the real story. By that point, will America have crowned Bowersox as season nine's champ? All signs are pointing in that direction, but one never knows when it comes to the allegiances of the voting public. For every front-runner who wins, like season four's Carrie Underwood, there's a Melinda Doolittle, who seemed set to run away with season six until ultimately placing third.

What do you think of Bowersox's "Idol" run so far? Let us know in the comments!

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