Not every American Idol star is catapulted to overnight success. While 2006 contestant Chris Daughtry might be packing arenas, 2008 contestant Jason Castro — like Daughtry, a fourth-place finisher — is currently on a mall tour. The first Idol to actually play an instrument on the show, Castro's big moment came when he delivered a heart-wrenching rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic "Hallelujah." With an album due in 2010, the dreadlocked singer spoke about his Idol experience and his music.
You're on a shopping mall tour. That's a good way to get in touch with Middle America.
It's good because people don't have to think about what venue the show is at or how much it costs, because it's free. You're always at the mall. I go to the mall once a month with my family. And everybody goes to the mall. It's a cool way to just hang out. I'm really excited about it.
Do you have a favorite mall?
I just go wherever my family is going. Most of the time it's just to hang out with them. I go to Northpark Mall and Grapevine Mills Mall in Dallas. It opened up when I was younger. It was an hour from my house and was a big deal then.
Do you have favorite store?
The one that gives me free clothes. Every now and then that happens. I did an in-store at the Gap, and they hooked me up so I was wearing Gap stuff. It's a great store. I'm wearing their jeans right now. Usually, I just search around and pick and choose from everything.
Your rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was a classic moment. Taking on that song after guys like Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright have done it must have been daunting.
That was the only song the whole time I was on American Idol that I knew prior to coming on the show. For me, it was a chance to play a song that I knew and loved. I didn't think of the past people who had done it, even though they're inspirations. When I heard Jeff Buckley do that song, I just about died. I thought it was cool and a different song than you usually hear on the show. I knew there was a little risk to it. That's the main thing in music; you have to do something you love. I had a chance to do it that week, and I couldn't turn that down.
Talk about your background. You started out on drums, right?
Yes, I grew up playing drums. I come from a musical family. When I got college, I didn't have my drum set. I bought a guitar, and I was just messing around with it. Through the process, I fell in love with how a song works and how music, melody and lyrics all come together. I started pursing writing and singing, and American Idol came to my town. I was like, "Why not?"
What made you want to take on Ray LaMontagne during auditions?
It was a Gnarls Barkley song ["Crazy"] that was done in the style of Ray LaMontagne. I sang that at every audition. I didn't know a lot of cover songs. There are only live recordings of Ray doing it. They couldn't air me on TV because they couldn't get the rights. That's why no one has seen me do it.
Looking back on American Idol, what was the experience like?
I look back at it and wouldn't trade it for anything. It was mind-blowing what I did in a short amount of time. Live TV is such a cool experience. Going on tour and flying on a private jet was out of this world. I just had a blast.
Was it difficult to adjust to being famous?
American Idol helped the transition. You become famous every day. We were in the spotlight, but every time we went to the show, there were people there for us. It never stopped being strange. I was like, "What? How do so many people know me and know so much about me?" When I thought about it, I realized it was because I was on TV.
Do you have a best Simon Cowell moment?
You know, when he'd compliment me, that's a good day. It happened a couple of times. I do have a Paula [Abdul] moment. One time on the show, she started critiquing my second song, and I only sang only one song. I was just like, "What is going on?"
Tell me about your new album.
It's almost done. We're in the process of mixing and doing some final tweaks. I have heard some mixes so far, and I am so excited. I always played guitar and sang myself. Incorporating more instruments was something I wanted to do but wasn't sure it would translate. I am so happy with it. I had a great time making it. This is the album I wanted to make. It's everything I wanted it to be.
Do you feel pressured about its commercial success?
You know, regardless of Idol or not, you want it to be successful. I wanted to get it done as soon as possible but not rush it or anything. My relationship with the label has been great.
You'll be playing new tunes on the tour?
I'm playing a lot of new songs and a couple of songs from the show, those classics. "Hallelujah" will be on the record, which is very exciting. When we sang it on the show, we didn't do the long version, so that's one track I'm really excited about it.
Any chance you'll be getting a haircut?
No plans for that. You know, it's convenient. I started it a few years ago as a joke, and it just kind of stuck. I have no reason to cut it.