Competing on American Idol brought Crystal Stark sudden local and national celebrity. Her talents are still eagerly sought by event organizers.
To listen to Crystal sing a clip of Eyes Wide Open while you read, click the arrowhead below:The music started with Crystal. She didn’t come from a family of musicians or singers. When Crystal was still in her car seat, she heard Smoky Robinson singing by himself. Later, when he sang in a group, Crystal was able to pick out his voice. She tried to sing along with everything she heard on the radio. She grew up listening to 70s music, particularly R & B because that was what her parents were into.
Her mom began bringing her to church when she was 10. She didn’t have a choice about attending but she started to get involved. There was music and opportunities for her to sing and grow in her talent and build character as a person. Attending church was one of the best things that happened in her life. It keeps her grounded and focused.
Her big voice was natural for her. She just sang. She didn’t do special exercises to improve her voice. She didn’t know it was unnatural to be able to sing. She thought everybody could sing. She didn’t realize how well she could sing until she got older.
She liked to sing the Star Spangled Banner when she was very young. When she was 10, she sang it before the Tucson Toros games. Now she sings it once or twice a year for the Phoenix Suns.
Crystal’s first singing teacher was Ms Regina Mims, her junior high choir teacher at Booth-Fickett in the 7th and 8th grades. She took Crystal under her wing and saw something in her that she wanted to cultivate. She helped Crystal with solos after school and had her sing with her at events outside of school. She was always there for Crystal. Ms Mims was given an appreciation concert recently. Church choirs and other musicians that she had worked with over the years performed. Crystal was designated the last to sing. She sang a song that Ms Mims taught her– “One Moment in Time” by Whitney Houston. It was hard for Crystal. She didn’t think she would be that emotional but she blubbered and bawled when she tried to explain and tell her “Thank You.” Ms Mims cried. It was nice. If Ms. Mims hadn’t taken that much interest in her, Crystal might not be where she is now.
The first real high that Crystal got from singing was in high school. She was a sophomore at Palo Verde. She was a nerdy kid. She had big glasses and was as skinny as a stick. Everybody else was growing and developing. Her hair was long but it was a beast that was impossible to tame. Half the time her hair was crazy. She got good grades. She was not considered part of the cool crowd.
But this nerd had the solo in a soulful song in choir called “City Called Heaven.” She stood in front of the choir and sang it to a packed house. She COULD NOT BELIEVE the amount of applause that erupted after that song. She suddenly became a mini-celebrity at school. This was a complete surprise for a nerdy kid. She got a card from the beginning Girls’ Chorus saying “You did great at the concert. We love your voice.” Whaaat? Then the cool people started talking to her. It opened doors. It was amazing to see people respond in that way.
As a senior in high school, she was still undecided about a career. Crystal wanted to be a veterinarian and planned on going to vet school. However, her mother decided for her that she was going to have a career in music. Crystal discovered that you could be a doctor in music. She wanted to have a doctorate in something. Her mom was supportive. It was unusual for a parent to want her child to enter a musician’s life. Her whole family supported her even though they weren’t musical.
Crystal earned a Bachelors degree in music education at the University of Arizona with an emphasis on the vocal side. She started out in vocal performance but that was oriented toward opera singers, which was not for her. She enjoyed the training but knew she was never going to be an opera singer. She was involved more in the jazz choirs.
Crystal counts all the divas as famous singers she has learned from. First and foremost are Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. It was Mariah that stopped her dead in her tracks when she first heard her song Someday. Crystal knows exactly where she was. It was at the Fry’s Shopping Center on a hot summer day in a car with no air conditioning. She heard the song on the radio and was completely flabbergasted. Mariah hit her ridiculously high notes in her whistle tone. Crystal didn’t know what that was. Now she knows the vocal cords are mostly together but they have a tiny opening. The pitch that comes out is immensely high – so high it sounds like a scream or a whistle, but is actually singing. Mariah is the best example of that effect and the most frequent user. One of the first cassettes she owned was Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard.” Other divas Crystal studied were Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Christina Aguilera, and Donna Summers.
Her special ‘sound’ is that her voice is uniquely clear. She was hired to do some background vocals in a recording session. The producer said to her, “Can you make it more raspy?” She said, “No. If you want raspy, you need somebody else.” She has never had any type of rasp in her voice. It is clear – almost laser-beamish with the sound.
Crystal sings an eclectic collection of music. When she is in Tucson, she loves to sing mainly R & B and soul because it is so much fun. Because she works in a church, she does a lot of inspirational, uplifting music, and gospel music. Most of her music is soulful. Anything she sings has some soul to it.
Crystal enjoys her life in music. There are always different venues, different people to play with, and different music. It is gratifying to be creative all the time and to do something that doesn’t feel like work. Her definition of a professional is a musician who is able to support herself being only a musician. You don’t have to be a superstar. Crystal glues together a collection of musical niches to make a living. She does music at the church, teaches voice and piano lessons, sings gigs, and does studio work around town. Putting all that together prevents boredom but can get overwhelming.
Crystal tries to get inside of every song she sings. She searches for an instance in her life she can pull from to identify with the song she is singing. As she gets older, it becomes easier to find an experience. When she was young and singing songs at church, a fellow choir member gave her a hard time when she sang phrases like “I’ve been through my share of trials.” The choir member would say, “What trials have you been through? You are 16.” Now, she has real trials. She can get so much more involved in the song, which makes it more fun to sing. She doesn’t normally cry with any of the secular songs she sings because they are usually upbeat. The only lower stuff she sings is more like “You did me wrong!” That just makes her fiesty.
When a performance is over, Crystal jokes that nobody wants to drive home with her because she always grills whoever is with her – “What did you like? What did you not like?” She is very analytical. “What didn’t work? What am I going to do for next time?” She likes to go over everything so she can do better. She is real hard on herself. If she says, “I think I did a good job,” that is huge. She never says that. Every performer that wants to constantly improve is like that.
Crystal’s celebrity exploded when she competed on American Idol. She had watched the program for four seasons. She thought one singer on the show was not that great. She felt that if that singer could make it, she should be there, too. Her family was solidly behind her and encouraged her to compete. She set off to Chicago and auditioned. If she actually won, her plan was to do what Carrie Underwood did. Carrie’s first single was Jesus Take the Wheel. If Crystal got that far, she wanted to use her celebrity to bring a gospel message out on to the music scene. She wanted to do something positive to actually benefit people and not just to shake her hips and do her ‘thang.’ There was too much of that. Crystal was able to choose her own music to sing but she knew that singing gospel in the auditions was frowned upon. One singer in the competition sang a gospel tune and the next week she was booted out. Crystal thought it was something that she would have to wait to do until after she won.
Crystal was eliminated at number 44. When she came back from the performance, the other contestants asked if she made it. She shook her head – No. There was an audible gasp. They were all shocked which made her feel good. “Well, thank you!” she said. Being a Christian, she knew that if it is not God’s will, it is not supposed to happen. She was so grounded in her faith that she was fine. She hung out that night with Katherine McPhee, eventually the runner-up for the season. That was when she got her nose pierced and second piercings in her ears. They just had a blast.
Life for Crystal has never been the same since competing on American Idol. Locally, everyone rallied behind her. People still recognize her locally, but not nationally, because she was on the local news shows a lot. She did weekly commentary in the Daily Star about the performances on the show. She was a TV host at Channel 18, now My Tucson TV, because she did a lot of interviews with Cox 11, their sister station. She did radio interviews and from that, became a radio DJ. MSNBC called her to be a commentator about American Idol because they had seen her weekly column in the Star. Her band got gigs through the roof. It was just crazy. And she didn’t even make it that far – not even to the top 40. She is still offered opportunities based on that competition. She will be judging the $25000 Lucky Break competition at a local casino.
As a result of that competition, the gigs come to her. She doesn’t need to go to an agency although she would like to keep the frequency of her shows more consistent, more often. She draws up her own contracts, hires the musicians and vocalists, and runs the rehearsals. She is the business manager as well as the artist. It gets tiresome to do it all. She needs a manager – bad. “She is going insane.” She hasn’t found the right person in town. At the end of the day when she has time to sit down and do something about it, she just wants to sleep because her kids wore her out or she has to do laundry.
Crystal’s aspirations for fame are restrained. She doesn’t want to be superfamous like Lady Gaga. No thank you. But it would be cool to be famous like Anita Baker – someone that everyone knows but can still have a normal life with her own anonymity. She would like notoriety like some of those contestants on American Idol that didn’t necessarily win but are still working in the music field and not a huge superstar. She feels a singer turns into someone completely different when she has to adapt to being a superstar. She wouldn’t want to be Carrie Underwood. Now her musical life is very flexible. Her philosophy is that her family comes first. She is the primary caregiver for her kids. If anything happens with them, she has the time to deal with it.
Crystal’s dreams are of a life on the smooth jazz circuit. She sees the smooth jazz artists come through Tucson. They have gigs a few times a month, go on smooth jazz cruises, play various towns, and sell their CDs. They are with their families the rest of the time. She would like to be a part of their world. The cruises would be fun and she could integrate the family vacation and her work together. That is the ideal life for her as a profession – touring.
The one problem is that smooth jazz is primarily instrumental. There are some vocals every now and then but some are not that good. She thinks she can up the vocal representation. She wants to do a jazz album that enters into that smooth jazz realm. She has noticed that singers that go on the smooth jazz cruises have really been traditional jazz singers – not smooth jazz. She feels that if she was a blend, she could open up for the smooth jazz groups here and on tour. If the smooth jazz idea doesn’t pan out, she would want to be on some kind of jazz circuit, more towards the R & B side. She would like to be on satellite radio. When her kids get older, she would investigate performing on a cruise a couple of months out of the year.
If she could no longer sing, she would join the Super Nintendo circuit. She is really good at Donkey Kong Country. Really good.
Learn more about Crystal Stark at http://www.crystalstarkmusic.com/, her Official Site.