This Wednesday, millions of viewers will tune in to American Idol’s twelfth season premiere, and season seven alum, for one,Jason Castro can’t wait. That’s because Castro’s new album, Only a Mountain, will drop the day before the show’s first episode, and the Texas native plans to celebrate both events in a big way.
The former finalist will host “An Evening with Jason Castro Benefiting MusiCares’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund” at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, Jan. 16. There, Castro plans on showcasing music from Only a Mountain with a 45-minute acoustic set, followed by an American Idol viewing party.
“It’s fun to marry two things together,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s going to be a sweet night. “
Being an Idol does have its perks. Castro admits that he already saw a special sneak-peek of the new season, and he loves what new judge Nicki Minaj is bringing to the table. He also adds that the tension between Minaj and Mariah Carey is apparent from the start.
“I don’t know if tension’s the [right] word, but I was pleasantly surprised by Nicki,” he says. “I don’t know too much about her, but she was very entertaining and I think a great addition to the show,” he raved.
Castro said Carey, who was a mentor on his season (he performed “I Don’t Wanna Cry”), is “pretty nice” to contestants. “I think a bit of the diva comes out,” he teases.
It’s been five years since Idol audiences were introduced to Castro, the blue-eyed, dreadlocked singer that judge Randy Jackson once said was like watching a “weird beach luau.” Castro’s season was the last time the panel included the original three-judge format of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Jackson. The following year, Kara DioGuardijoined the show.
“The original three,” Castro says of that season, which ended in a showdown between winner David Cook and runner-up David Archuleta. “That was intense. Nothing has been quite the same ever since. Even Simon’s new show [The X Factor]. It’s not the same. There was something really cool about the original three that is forever gone.”
His self-titled debut was released in April, 2010 through Atlantic Records and a subsequent release, Who I Am, on Atlantic Records/Word came out later that same year. Castro’s single, “You Are,” was successful at Christian radio, and the Idol even scored an appearance on the ABC show The Bachelor, notably as the entertainment for Jason Mesnick’s 2010 wedding to Molly Malaney.
“People still ask me, ‘Do you do weddings?’” he laughs. “When I say, not really, they say ‘But you did it on TV!’ I guess I do play weddings!”
Following that tour, Castro was anxious to create new music but got “bogged down with label discussions and re-negotiations,” he tells THR. That left Castro in a unique position to work with his new label, Nashville-based Word, for a year-and-a-half before beginning production on his new album.
“For a minute there, I was ready to just walk away and do my own album, but we were able to get something together, and move forward. I wrote for about two or three months, just writing, which I like to do, because I write a lot while I’m traveling but I love to have a set time to dive into writing and being creative.”
The title track, co-written by Seth Mosley and Mia Fieldes, offers the listener a message of hope and a promise that joy may be found in the “midst of trials.” Says Castro: “There is a reason it is the first single and the title track. It’s the spirit in which I want to carry out with everything I want to do. It’s obviously a serious song. It’s about having struggles and we have some mountains to get by, but it doesn’t have to be this heavy thing. I love the playfulness of the song. It’s only a mountain. These problems are not what they seem. When we are in the moment and we are having problems, we think it’s the end of the world, and you get a few steps down the road and realize, that no, it wasn’t.”
He also praised producers Matt Bronleewe, Ben Glover, and David Garcia for allowing the songs breathing room in the studio.
“At first I was a little hesitant about using producers because I want all my music to be authentic and uniform and sounding like one, but it turned out a great way to do things,” he says. “All three producers were guys I have been writing with for a long time and had relationships with. That is one thing I really cherished. Not only writing with [them] but the same guys I recorded with. It really captured the essence of the songs. It was really a treat and a first for me.”
Idol fans may also notice the (uncredited) vocals of another Castro — brother Michael – in the background. Castro’s younger sibling, who made it to the Hollywood Rounds in season eight, is now an official Nashville resident, and Castro stayed with him while recording the new CD. This summer, the Castro brothers playfully released a few songs on YouTube, including a cover of X Factor judge Demi Lovato’s hit, “Give Your Heart A Break,” last year.
“We’re both kind of closet Demi Lovato fans,” he reveals. “She has a great voice.”
For Castro, Dallas is home with his wife, Mayhall, and one-year old daughter, Madeline. Mayhall remains Castro’s muse, and is the inspiration for the song, “If It’s Love,” which Castro says is a “special one.” The song, a pretty, piano-based track, focuses on a fight that the couple had the night before the singer had to hop on an early morning flight to another performance. “At that point you are exhausted. You know you are leaving and flying on a plane,” he said. “I was writing her an email and saying it’s not worth it, and just making that choice to love in the midst of all the tiredness and traveling.”
The other driving force for Castro is his faith. His values shine through on each track, particularly the inspirational “Rise to You” and the duet, “Same Kind of Broken” with newcomer Moriah Peters. “That’s what I wanted to share — I want to give people the hope,” he says. “Everybody has challenges, but I don’t think we need to let them get us down.”