It's been two years since Jason Castro ambled onto "American Idol" -- ukulele, dreadlocks, stoner vibe and all. And while most of those voted off the show from seasons past have faded into obscurity or drifted into musical theater, Castro, who finished fourth, hasn't been easily forgotten.
Nor has his personality changed, which became clear as soon as he was asked about his upcoming solo album.
"I'll tell you right after this burp," he said, somehow charmingly, during a recent visit to Billboard's New York office. "I just had some amazing barbecue on the way over here. Sorry, but it's definitely giving me the heartburn."
"Jason Castro," the singer-songwriter's Atlantic Records debut, is due April 13 after being moved from November 17, which would have pitted him against big-name fourth-quarter releases including 2009 "Idol" winner Kris Allen. "We got a little overexcited when we set that release date," said Castro, a first-generation Texan whose family is of Colombian descent.
To keep fan interest piqued, Castro released the five-song "The Love Uncompromised EP" January 12; it reached No. 9 on Billboard's Digital Albums chart and No. 5 on the iTunes albums list.
Castro spent much of 2008 exploring the option of signing with an indie before choosing a multirights deal with Atlantic, which saw potential in him as a touring artist. "That's a big reason why we signed Jason," Atlantic senior vice president of pop/rock marketing Dane Venable said. "We felt he could have a really solid, long-term career on the road. Onstage, he's deeply emotional and connected with his songs, as well as with the fans who come out to see him."
‘Still going for it’Castro hit the road in January for a six-week tour supporting labelmate Matt Hires. At most stops, he played a second daytime show at local high schools to reach his younger fans and made appearances at radio stations. "It was a grueling schedule, and it made me nervous for him just looking at it," Venable said. "But the fact that he's so laid-back makes it almost better because he really takes the work he puts into his career day by day."
Castro's first single, "Let's Just Fall in Love Again," a spright folk-pop number released before the album's date change, has seen a spike in interest since February, when the shopping Web site Overstock.com began featuring the single in a new national TV commercial that will run for three months. To date, the track has sold 108,000 digital copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
On March 8, Castro unveiled his new single, "That's What I'm Here For," on a special episode of ABC's "The Bachelor," strumming his acoustic guitar as Jason Mesnick and Molly Malaney tied the knot.
He's not booked to perform on "American Idol" this season -- "If the invitation were extended, he would gladly come and perform," Venable said -- but Castro still has an opinion on departing judge Simon Cowell, who often unleashed his wrath on Castro for bringing a dorm-room ambience to the "Idol" stage.
"Simon is definitely the voice of reason a lot of times, but I can't say I ever took his critique as beneficial to me," Castro said with a laugh. "I always knew the kind of music I wanted to do, and that's why I'm still going for it."