"American Idol "veteran Crystal Bowersox has signed a deal… (Meg Bitton Photography )
Though it's still — on some nights — the most-watched show on television, "American Idol" is by all accounts a smaller proposition than it once was, with fewer viewers, less cultural clout and a seemingly diminished ability to produce megastars on the order of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
The retrenchment appears to be affecting veterans of the program too: At the South by Southwest music festival this month, Season 8 winner Kris Allen and Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze could both be seen sharing cozy club stages with the kind of up-and-coming acts SXSW was designed to spotlight.
And this week two more "Idol" alums — Crystal Bowersox and David Archuleta — are putting out new albums through indie labels whose modest coffers probably rival the majors' hair-and-makeup budgets.
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"Crystal hasn't looked for limousines or any of that from us," said Randall Grass, general manager at Shanachie Entertainment, which releases "All That for This" on Tuesday. "The way she grew up," Grass continued, "she's not interested in unnecessary stuff."
Indeed, if Bowersox is enjoying fewer showbiz perks now than she did during "Idol," the folk-blues belter sounds at home on the appealingly laid-back "All That for This"; it's a big improvement over 2010's clunky "Farmer's Daughter," which seemed designed to sell Bowersox's hippie-chick vibe to fans of Rihanna (or at least Pink).
Working with producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, she rides a gentle funk groove in "Fall Into Place" and duets handsomely with Jakob Dylan in the stripped-down "Stitches." Even the presence of a cover version, which might've signaled some residual allegiance to "Idol's" karaoke-style model, feels oddly idiosyncratic — it's a roots-rocky take on the Sundays' early-'90s alt-pop hit "Here's Where the Story Ends."
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"The album is a different kind of presentation than what people normally associate with 'Idol,'" Grass said, and for Bowersox that lower-key approach seems like the right one.
The same goes for Archuleta's "No Matter How Far," his first release for eOne Music. Not because the record's particularly good — it sounds like a dinky Justin Bieber knockoff — but because Archuleta isn't around to promote it: The Season 7 runner-up (and devout Mormon) is serving a two-year mission in South America.
That's the kind of break unlikely to be looked upon gladly by executives at Jive or Interscope. But for a small label such as eOne, which has signed numerous artists following their major-label experiences, it offers a chance to get a piece of the "Idol" action. Even if that action isn't what it used to be.
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