Jason Castro is truthfully one of my favorite American Idol contestants ever. His easy, breezy pop sound was a breath of fresh air on season 7 (where he was the fourth-place finalist) and I was thrilled to find out last year that he had inked a deal with Atlantic Records.
Even more thrilling? The singer's surprise marriage to longtime girlfriend, Mandy Mayhall, 22, where he played some tunes just like he did at the recent Bachelor wedding of Jason and Molly! I caught up with the Texas native, 23 -- who just announced his first headlining tour! -- last Tuesday and got the skinny on his big dates.
UsMagazine.com: You were one of my favorite Idol contestants and I'm glad you carried that sensitive singer/songwriter sound over from the show to your new album.
Jason Castro: The reason I started singing was because I wanted to be able to tell stories. I love singing and writing songs and I think that this reflected on the show in that the songs I chose were more in the singer/songwriter vein.
Us: You famously covered Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on Idol. How does that song resonate with you?
JC: That song never gets old. I sang that song everyday, multiple times a day for the last year or two and it never gets old. It was one of the first songs I ever tried to learn and so it always stuck with me. I never recorded it, so that's why it is really important for me to have it on this album because it is a song that I really want to document and have for keeps.
Us: What other life experiences inspired your album, which is largely made up of love songs?
JC: I didn’t set out with a theme or anything, but that's kind of my place in life right now. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of love and [am] in love in a lot of ways. Since it's my first album and I started writing songs just right before Idol, I had a lot of life to look back on and pull from.
Us: You just got married! Tell Us about your relationship with your new wife, Mandy?
JC: I've been with Mandy for a long time -- probably about four years. We started dating around the time I started singing and writing songs. My first songs are written about her and those did not make the album, thank God. She's definitely been a big inspiration -- she's been my life -- and has helped me see the world in a different light.
Us: When and how did you propose?
JC: I was actually sitting on a ring for a little while -- that was the one thing after Idol that I bought as my big purchase. I still haven't got a car, still haven't got a place to live, but the first thing I bought was a ring. My family is big on surprises, so I really wanted this thing to be memorable. Mandy and I had plans to be in Oklahoma over Halloween to visit her sister and see a football game and I remember her saying a long time ago it was important for her friends to be around. The game was on Halloween and we decided to dress up in costumes and the costumes were the tricky part [of the proposal]. She wanted to be all sorts of things but I wanted her to really be a princess or something, so we dressed as Beauty and the Beast which was strategic in a lot of ways. I actually had on like a full on costume like head piece and everything. I had fur on my hands and it was outrageous but it afforded me the opportunity to walk around in public and nobody recognized me. We got to spend a really special day together and when it came time to pop the question, we were going to carve pumpkins and I had written on a pumpkin 'Would you marry me?' She was definitely surprised!
Us: How was the wedding ceremony?
JC: The wedding was kind of thrown together after looking at our schedules and when our families would be available. New Years didn't work out but January 2 kind of fell in line at the place we wanted to get married. It just kind of worked out and we could afford it -- but I wouldn't have had it any other way. The wedding was really more beautiful than I ever imagined and the stress [of planning it] only lasted a month.
Us: Did you perform at all?
JC: I actually sang a little song which was more of a joke than anything -- I didn't do any real singing. I sang a country song that goes, 'All I can think about is getting you home,' called "Getting’ You Home" by Chris Young.
Us: And not long after your wedding, you performed at Bachelor Jason Mesnick's ceremony!
JC: There were a lot of weddings going on! That was great. The bride was actually requesting "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for her walk down the aisle and I have sang that at a couple of my friends' weddings. There aren't weddings that are that beautiful everyday and [Jason and Molly] were so grateful for us coming out and we just got treated so well there.
Us: How do you feel nowadays about Idol? Do you begrudge it?
JC: To me it's pretty simple: It was the experience of a lifetime. I don’t really consider it the start of my career; I feel like it was a cool competition to be a part of and got to get recognized, see people and let people hear how I sing. It helped me get my foot in the door but I really think that now is where my career starts. I call the Idol tour the best summer job I ever had. I got paid to travel on a tour bus and play arenas every night. That was cool.
Us: Do you watch the show now?
JC: I haven't watched too much, but I am glad I am not there [this season]. It just doesn’t feel like it has the same magic this year. I feel like they're changing it up too much with the new judges. I think what people are attached to about the show is the fact that the power is really in the peoples' hands to see somebody go from nothing to really help them create a career. It's a lot like seeing your favorite band in your hometown and five years later you hear them on the radio and you feel like you've supported them all through that.
Us: One final question for the fans who watched you on Idol: How do you maintain your famous dreadlocks?!
JC: You know it's kind of shocking there isn't really a lot of maintenance. I wash them with shampoo and I don't do anything to them!
Pick up Castro's self-titled debut CD tomorrow and catch his upcoming headlinging tour! Check out his tour dates below and visit his Web site for more information.
17 Dallas, TX The Loft
22 Phoenix, AZ Chasers
23 San Diego, CA House of Blues
25 Los Angeles, CA The Troubadour
27 Kansas City, MO Bottleneck Blues Bar
28 Chicago, IL Lincoln Hall
30 Detroit, MI Pike Room
1 Cleveland, OH Grog Shop
2 Columbus, OH The Basement
3 Orlando, FL Walt Disney World
4 Atlanta, GA Vinyl 6 Nashville, TN Rocketown
8 Clearwater, FL Capitol Theatre
12 New York, NY Joe's Pub
13 Vienna, VA Jammin Java
15 Boston, MA Cafe 939
16 Philadelphia, PA The Note