Crystal Bowersox has had a singular vision most of her life: Be a singing star.
"I've been a horse with blinders on since I was 10 years old," says the 28-year-old singer-songwriter, who plays with her band tonight at Fulton 55.
At 14, Bowersox was playing the coffeehouse circuit in her home state of Ohio. At 17, she moved to Chicago and played extensively in the city's Lakeview neighborhood. She was also a street musician, playing the Lake Redline train stop.
"One day I was in the subway and the next I was at the House of Blues and then the next day I was back in the subways," she says.
Then came "American Idol" in 2010.
Bowersox, known for her dreadlock hairdo at the time, was the runner-up on season nine of the television competition show, losing to Lee DeWyze. She was the first female to make it to the finale since Jordin Sparks won in 2007 and the first contestant to have an original song played on the show.
It was a career changer.
"I wouldn't be on the phone with you," Bowersox says of the exposure she gained from the show. "I was a subway performer. I was a street performer, or some would say a beggar or a busker."
Since the show, she has released two albums, and performed alongside musicians such as Harry Connick Jr., Alanis Morissette, BB King and Blues Traveler (she was featured on a track on the band's latest album). She recorded the duet "Stitches" with Jakob Dylan.
It's a busy life, Bowersox says.
She has a home in Portland that she hasn't been to since November, and she lives out a suitcase for large chunks of the year, flying around the country to play small theater and club shows.
"I'm exactly where I want to be," she says. "I love being able to see every face in my crowd."
This year Bowersox is scheduled to perform on Broadway in the title role of "Always, Patsy Cline." Taking on the role of the country music icon was a daunting task. Especially since the singer has such a powerful voice. Bowersox did her share of research on the singer's life, but she also spent time listening and dissecting her songs, taking note of the way Cline held her N's and her L's, how different sounds seemed to come from different parts of the body.
Acting was actually Bowersox' first passion, before an obvious talent for singing and songwriting steered her in another direction.
"Now that I'm older and wiser, I can pursue anything I want," she says.
Not that it was exactly an active pursuit. The producers heard Bowersox and wanted her for the show, not as a Cline imitator. They wanted her to bring her own voice to the character.
"I know I'm blessed to get that phone call."
Crystal Bowersox, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Fulton 55. Tickets: $20-$50. Details: (559) 412-7400, www.fulton55.com.
This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.