Toledo, OHIO — Not many people can legitimately claim to have predicted that season nine “American Idol” contender Crystal Bowersox would be a TV star some day. But Dan Kalo can. Kalo, you see, was the principal at Oak Harbor Middle School near Toledo, Ohio, from 1984 to 2001, during which time Bowersox attended the school, and he famously predicted that she’d make it big.
“She was just so good and it was such a surprise to see this young girl, who was kind of shy and never brought a lot of attention to herself, play a song in front of an auditorium packed with 500 people,” said Kalo of Bowersox’s performance at the school’s annual talent competition in 1997, when the singer was in seventh grade.
MTV News recently traveled to Oak Harbor, where current principal Marie Wittman proudly played the video of Bowersox’s winning performance, which earned her a cash prize and the first boost of confidence in her then-blossoming music career. In the clip — shot by a parent in the audience — Bowersox is seated on a chair wearing a blue jumper and white turtleneck, her hair in a blonde bob, performing a scatting, acoustic jazz version of Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me.”
A bit nervous at times, Bowersox nevertheless plays and sings the song with conviction, and at the end, when the prizes are being distributed, Kalo can be heard saying, “Kids, you saw her here first at Oak Harbor Junior High. You’ll see her one day on television: Crystal Bowersox.”
Kalo, who now lives in Florida, hasn’t seen the video in more than a decade, but he distinctly remembers how impressed he was with Bowersox at the show, which was one of the school’s last pre-Christmas events before holiday break.
“When I found out she was on ‘American Idol,’ I had this flashback to junior high school and when I would see her walking in the halls and how well-liked she was,” said Kalo, who could not remember Bowersox ever getting into trouble or even getting detention for being late to class. “What’s funny is that we had excellent band and choir programs and she participated in those, but I don’t remember her ever having a solo, and I attended every performance.” Though he watched “Idol” only occasionally in prior seasons, Kalo said he’s been glued to every episode this year.
Current principal Wittman, whose office is covered with University of Michigan spirit gear, said she first saw the Bowersox video a month ago when she walked in on a teacher showing it in art class. As it turned out, his son had been in the same talent show and he recently realized Bowersox, 24, was on the tape as well. “I walked down and he was showing the video and [I said], ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” she said. “And [he said], ‘Listen to Dan.’ When he [Kalo] made that prediction, I was like, ‘That is incredible. So insightful.’ ”
The school’s cheerleaders recently painted nearly every storefront window in downtown Oak Harbor, and Wittman said the recognition has done wonders for morale in the small town near Ottawa County where Bowersox grew up. The unemployment rate here is at more than 19 percent, almost 10 points higher than the state average.
Bowersox’s run on “Idol” has energized the school, which was awash in red MamaSox-boosting shirts last Wednesday (May 5). Wittman also used the singer’s success to help inspire her current students to do well on their recent Ohio achievement tests by showing the talent-show clip. “I can actually play off of Crystal’s success because she was very driven at a young age and has worked so hard,” said Wittman. Wittman’s husband, Jerry, happened to stop an MTV crew an hour later in downtown Oak Harbor to proudly play a CD of original Bowersox songs on his car stereo outside one of the shops with the sanctioned Crystal graffiti on the windows.
“I told the students that with hard work and dedication and all of those good things, that they will be successful some day, that they never know where their dreams can take them,” principal Wittman said.
“She’s a small-town girl, we’re small-town people, and so all this recognition is not something that we’re used to,” she said, pointing to a 1999 yearbook on her desk with a picture of Crystal as an eighth grader, when she was named “most likely to someday be a famous artist or sculptor.”
Walking the halls of the school, just outside the doors of the auditorium where Bowersox performed that award-winning Jewel song, eighth-grade math teacher John McKitrick recalled the first time he heard Crystal sing. McKitrick was the swim coach back then and Crystal was on his team. “After swim meets, our bus rides were quite … hectic,” he said, recalling how hard it was to quiet down the boisterous junior high kids after a meet. “But Crystal, usually around Christmastime, would sing Christmas songs on our bus rides and the kids would pretty much get quiet the whole bus ride home. And we’d have Crystal sing us from one point to the next point. The bus rides were always so much more enjoyable with Crystal singing.”
Get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.