Most "American Idol" fans remember Season 7 finalist Jason Castro for his shy smile, dreadlocks and rendition of "Hallelujah." On Monday, Castro, who turns 24 next month, appears at Boulton Center where he'll sing some "Idol" favorites as well as songs from his eponymous April 2010 debut CD (rereleased in November with five new songs he wrote). We spoke with Castro recently, who talked about how he learned to sing and "American Idol's" new judges, among other things.
You grew up in a musical family, but are pretty much a self-taught singer. What were the advantages or disadvantages of that?
The advantage, I think, of learning later in life is that you kind of capture a certain naturalness to your voice, and I think a lot of people that grow up singing and taking lessons really kind of get molded by their teacher - which is a positive. But I think that one advantage of going out and being an artist is having a unique voice. I think that kind of happened because I started singing later in life. You know, I didn't really have anyone telling me how to sing. And, of course, now I take lessons and it helps, as I learn how to sing. But now I know my voice and I can add on from there, which I think is something that doesn't necessarily happen if you're singing from when you're little. So, I like to think it's a good thing for me.
You rereleased part of your premiere album in November with five Christian songs you had written. Why?
Well, it was really just a natural process of things, you know. As I'm growing up through this musical career, I'm always looking for opportunities and open doors and believing that God really does have a plan on this career path. And I'm really just going with the flow. This opportunity came up as my debut album released, we started to get a lot of interest, the label that is, started getting a lot of interest and inquiries from Christian retail stores. ... Nothing on the debut album is really, you know, is nothing that you'd really put on Christian radio. They were all pretty intentionally just love songs and pop songs ... The faith songs didn't really fit into what we were doing, they were just kind of out there. But as we rereleased the album, we incorporated a lot of new songs and it was just another chance to share music with other people. And really, you know, it means a lot to me because I think there's a lot of people out there that haven't necessarily heard my album or even know that I have an album out, because maybe they aren't into the whole pop world or anything. So it's great to be able to reach out today to those fans of the show as well, who maybe listen to Christian music and that keeps me encouraged. And that's the other aspect of the faith songs, is that we all do share something in common and to be able to encourage people in their faith is really a privilege.
Were you writing any Christian music before you heard about the interest that Christian radio was expressing?
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Oh, definitely from the beginning. ... People ask, "Are you a Christian artist or are you a mainstream artist?" You know, I really see myself as an artist. Period. I'm not writing for any specific audience. Primarily, I write for myself and out of my own experiences. So I think through that it's natural that I write some songs of my faith. It's a big part of who I am. ... But I will say, as we were doing that debut album, I was really focusing, I was pulling out mostly love songs and stuff ... I was dating a girl, got engaged, got married all in the last year, so love's been a big thing on my mind.
You got married about a year ago, right?
Yup, we hit the year mark, so that's cool. So, yeah, I focused on the first album that's mainly love songs and then as the interest came up, I definitely sat down and focused on, "All right, now I just get to write about my faith." Which is fun. It's always good, as you're writing for anything, to go, "What do we want to write about about?" And that's really how every song starts, with a conversation. "How are you feeling? What do you want to sing about today?"
Do you have any idea why the fans at the Christian stations are responding more strongly to your music than at the Top 40 stations?
You know, I don't know. Other than, I think, one thing. When it comes to the Top 40, a majority of the music is really beat driven. So every now and then there's a couple of songs that break through, like Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" or Train's "Soul Sister" ... but the majority are beat-driven stuff, which is not my thing. I mean, I don't have any songs like that, so I think it was definitely an uphill battle in that world. ... For whatever reason, it never really clicked.
Do you watch "Idol," at all since you've been ...
"I do! Yeah, it's definitely an entertaining show and I have been watching it this season. And I love that, you know, everybody before this season was asking, "What do think is going to happen?" And, you know, nobody knew. But I really think the new judges are awesome. I've really been enjoying it.
Well, personally, I'm a big Aerosmith fan. But I do think Jennifer's doing just a great job, too. She's like the all-around performer. You know, not just singing, but acting. I think that's cool, just having that experience in life. I think they've got some great judges and I think the chemistry is really cool.
Speaking of acting, [fellow "Idol" finalist] Brooke White had an acting role in a made-for-TV movie recently. Have you thought about acting at all?
I have not. I mean, I've thought about it, and I just said, "no." It's not my thing. I like to focus on one thing. I don't know, I have a hard enough time being myself. I don't know what I'd do being somebody else.
What's the most valuable thing you learned from being on Idol?
You know, I still think it's like confidence. Going into the show, I wasn't even really sure if I could sing, I had only been singing a couple of months. And each week that I stayed on "Idol," it just really built my confidence and gave me a belief in myself. And so, I think that's the biggest thing I've taken away. I can do this. That's what I got out of it.
Have you remained close with anyone who was a contestant during your season?
Yeah, we definitely keep in touch. You know, we're all pretty busy. I have a hard enough time calling my parents to say, "Hi." Every now and now we'll cross paths and hang out. Like if we're in the same city we'll make an effort to see each other. You know, we spent a lot of time together. I made some good friends there.
Anybody in particular?
I recently saw little David Archuleta in Salt Lake. We were both there for a week. He was probably one of my better friends from the show. You mentioned Brooke, she's really cool. We got her Christmas card in the mail.
What do you do for fun when you're not touring or recording?
A lot of things, but, mostly, you know, mostly music, even at home, like that's what I do for fun. I'll go write with my friends. I like to go jamming. Really at home, I hang out with friends.... I guess an important thing whenever you travel so much ... [is] just connecting with people you love like that. That's probably the fun-est thing you can do. Apart from that, I like to read and I like to draw.
Are you working on a new album now?
At the moment I'm just touring. I mean I'm writing all the time, but we really haven't sat down to focus on that yet.
WHAT: Jason Castro
WHEN | WHERE: 8 p.m. Monday, YMCA Boulton Center, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore
INFO: 631-969-1101, boultoncenter.org