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 personalty changed, which became clear as soon as he was asked about his upcoming solo album.
"I'll tell you right after this burp," he says, 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 Nov. 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," says 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" Jan. 12; it reached No. 9 on Billboard's Digital Albums chart and No. 5 on the iTunes albums list. "We saw that we didn't need to reactivate his 'Idol' fan base," Atlantic senior VP of pop/rock marketing Dane Venable says. "They've stuck by him this whole time, and now our challenge is to keep them excited and grow beyond that core audience."
Castro spent much of 2008 exploring the option of signing with an indie (19 Entertainment passed on a deal after "Idol") before finally settling on a multirights deal with Atlantic, which saw potential in him as a touring artist. "That's a big reason why we signed Jason," Venable says. "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."
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 hot AC radio stations. "It was a grueling schedule, and it made me nervous for him just looking at it," Venable says. "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 says -- 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 says with a laugh. "I always knew the kind of music I wanted to do, and that's why I'm still going for it."