If you were a diehard viewer of “American Idol” this past season, then odds are you are already more than a little bit familiar with Casey Abrams. The bearded contestant with the famous growl won audiences over from the beginning, showed that performing with a stand-up bass can be more than a little bit awesome, and ended up placing sixth in the competition.
Casey didn’t inspire just with his performances, though — he also managed to win people over for staying determined in his battle against ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that caused him to be hospitalized at times in the competition. He had to undergo multiple blood transfusions and other forms of treatment, but never tried to use it as an excuse or a hindrance for his entire time on the “Idol” stage. Now, the singer has joined forces with Janssen Biotech along with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) for a campaign entitled IBD Icons — one designed to help raise awareness for this disease while celebrating those who are working hard to succeed despite some tough circumstances.
This week Casey sat down wtih me to talk about this campaign, in addition to what he is planning on doing now that the “Idol” tour is over.
Matt: So what’s the first thing you’ve done since you got back in California?
Casey: Slept. I didn’t get to do a lot of that on tour.
So how did you end up getting involved in this campaign? Did someone contact you while you were on the show?
Yeah, Janssen Biotech hit me up during the show — it’s an awareness campaign.
So the website says that if you get 1,500 likes for the campaign by November 1, you are shaving the beard.
Yeah, the beard is coming completely off. You’ll get to see my chin.
So what level of thickness are we talking about here? Is this the audition beard or the [shorter] one you had singing ‘Your Song’ on the show?
It’s longer than it was when I got the save. It’s lion-like right now.
Did you just let it grow out through the tour?
Yeah! I trimmed it a couple of times during a couple of tour dates in California, but after that I let it grow. It’s honestly been three months since I touched my beard.
So before you went out there, you probably got in your head a little bit what the tour is going to be like. Is there anything that surprised you?
It’s surprising. You think ‘hey, I’m filming this show in L.A., and my hometown knows about it — but you go to Chicago and people know you are. Even if they didn’t watch the show, they’re like ‘hey, my wife showed me a video of you. That’s pretty crazy that you’re here.’
The fact that so many people come to watch you. It’s incredible stuff.
What was it like going over and doing this tour in the Philippines?
Everyone knew our names, and what our favorite color was, and our driver’s license number (laughs). They knew everything about us.
It was really hard to go out places — especially with Scotty. In America, you can hide pretty well — you can just put on a hat and walk outside and blend in with everyone. Over there, you put on a hat and everyone [still] knows you.
What was the strangest fan request during the tour?
I got a couple of marriage proposals…
So are you married now?
(Laughs) No. I should’ve taken the marriage proposals seriously, I should’ve done it. There were [also] a couple of cool crazy books made that I accepted. There were a lot of teddy bears and gnome figures that they made to look like me with the beard and the cargo shorts.
Did anyone try to tug on the beard?
Oh, there were tugs. There were beard tugs.
Now that the tour is over, where do you go from here? Do you try to rest up for a while, or do you dive in and start working on some original stuff?
I started writing a couple of original tunes here and there, especially in Manila. I’m working on co-writing some songs, especially with some of the other ‘Idols,’ so that’s going to be a fun project.
So can you give us some hints about who you’re working with?
Oh yeah! Me and Jacob [Lusk] got stuff, and obviously me and [Haley] are going to do some things.
If you didn’t do anything with Haley, people would cry.
I think I’d get punched in the face. I’d punch myself in the face.
What sort of sound are you looking for, possibly some sort of combination of the jazz and rock stuff we saw on the show?
Yeah, we’re going to jazz down the rock and rock up the jazz.
Are you hoping to maybe have an album next year, then maybe some sort of tour afterward?
Yeah, that’s something I’m hoping to do.
After going through this giant experience for the past year or so, what do you have to tell people who are just starting their ‘Idol’ journey now?
Have confidence! Even if you’re going to hit a wrong note — hit it anyway! I was full of wrong notes, but I pretended to be good. (Laughs.)
When you were going through this, how did you try to manage your ulcerative colitis? What was the hardest part for you?
Just being normal, being one of the rest of the group. During the mansion they actually had to give me an extra room and I couldn’t room with the other guys. I had to be close to the bathroom because of ulcerative colitis.
I wanted to live my dream, I wanted to play music in front of millions … there was a big risk going on stage and doing a couple of songs instead of staying in the hospital, but I wanted to take the risk.
So finally, what else do you have to share about the work you’re doing?
There’s people out there who have inspiring stories — I have a pretty inspiring story, and I like to hope I inspired people on the show. [With] this [IBD Icons] website, we have all sorts of inspirational stories and we’ve condensed it into some of the finalists. Now people can go to that website and vote on who they think is the most inspirational, and the winner gets to come see me in Vegas.
Stay tuned — hopefully we’ll be hearing more great things from Casey in the future!
More “Idol” news