Crystal Bowersox's run on "American Idol" has done a lot of things for her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. It's given people in the economically hard-hit area reason to hope, it's lifted the onetime street busker from anonymity to the biggest forum on television, and it's set the stage for the first Northern "Idol" winner, as well as the first female champ since 2006's Jordin Sparks.
It's also made her friends and mentors incredibly proud and excited at the prospect of seeing the teenage musical prodigy on the cusp of winning a major-label contract and attendant economic windfall that could dramatically impact the rest of her and her son Tony's lives.
Guitarist Ron Rasberry gave Crystal one of her first shots, letting her play during his set breaks when she was just 13 years old. Though he was never an "Idol" watcher before, he knew she could go far on the show. "I didn't know the politics, I didn't know the demographics of who votes," he said while seated on a stool at Toledo's gritty Papa's Tavern, where Crystal got her start more than a decade ago. "As far as against everybody else I heard sing and play on there, hands down, right from the start, I thought, 'She's got this.' What you see is what you get. Crystal is the real deal. She's not pretentious. She'll walk into that door with a guitar, and if there's a kid sitting there at the bar ... she'll just hand the kid a tambourine and break out the guitar and start playing. She's just a great person."
Rasberry was confident she would and should win, as was another of her musical godfathers, his good friend Bob May, a local musical stalwart whose son, Frankie, was Bowersox's bass player for several years. "I think she is [going to win]," he predicted before Bowersox had even made the top three. "I really do. And nothing against the other contestants, because they all are nice people and they're good too, but they are not, not in my ears, they're not as good as Crystal."
Even at Oak Harbor Middle School, there was something special about the quiet, well-behaved Bowersox that caught the eye of secretary/ guidance counselor Candy Bensch. She would watch the student voted "most likely to someday be a famous artist" in her junior high yearbook sit quietly in study hall and perform at Christmas and spring pageants and sense that Crystal was going places.
"When she was here, I don't think a lot of people were aware at first that she sang until we had the talent show, and then everybody just wanted her to sing another one and another one," Bensch said of the now-famous seventh-grade talent show where Crystal blew away the audience with a cover of a Jewel song. "So yeah, we all knew she was very talented. ... Of course we think she's going to win. And if she happens not to be the number one, she's number one to us."
It should come as no surprise that Bowersox's grandma, Alice, is feeling pretty confident about Crystal's chances to win it all. "We knew she was going somewhere," Alice said at a viewing party at the church across from the singer's childhood Elliston, Ohio, home several weeks ago. "I mean, we really knew she had a lot of talent. And now the rest of the world is finding it out. ... She's always been independent, from the time that she was that high [bends down and hold hand three feet off the ground]."
Is she going to win? "Oh sure, of course," Grandma smiled.
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