Jason Castro's life could be a blueprint for the American Dream.
Born in Texas to Colombian parents, Castro, 23, is a first-generation American.
"I come from a large family," Castro said in a recent telephone interview. "We came to this country to make something of ourselves. There are a lot of opportunities here that don't exist in a lot of places."
Music came naturally to him. His grandfather was an opera singer, and his father and all five of his uncles sing and play guitar.
Castro started playing drums in fifth grade because, he said, he didn't want to be like everybody else. He played in bands throughout high school, but switched to guitar after enrolling at Texas A&M because he could not play drums in his dorm room.
"I couldn't sing when I picked up the guitar," he said. "So I read about singing techniques on the Internet, like how-to articles with breathing exercises, and taught myself."
During his second year at A&M, he quit the band he'd been a part of to focus on his schooling. Castro was majoring in construction science on a full academic scholarship.
He said focusing on school and leaving the music behind made him realize how much music meant to him.
"I was absolutely miserable. It was the worst year of my life," Castro said.
He started writing songs and working out tunes on the guitar. He worked up the nerve to perform in local coffeehouses, where he could mingle with other musicians and songwriters.
Castro knew by then that music would always be a big part of his life.
The next year, 2007, he went to the "American Idol" tryouts in Dallas. He made it to Hollywood and finished fourth. Castro was on his way.
With a couple of albums out and a growing fan base, life is never going to be the same again, he said.
"It's kind of a strange thing," he said. "While I was on 'American Idol,' I realized, OK, this is how it's going to be, there's no way to reverse it. It's always been my dream to make my living playing music, so it's a cool thing. Every now and then I look around and realize it's really happening."
Deeply religious, Castro believes his faith will keep him from "going crazy" in his new life.
"I think the people who go crazy [in this industry] were already going crazy. But that's not really what my life is about. There are a lot of people working 9-to-5 jobs who go crazy, but nobody looks at them."
The one thing that's been consistent in Castro's life has been his relationship with God.
"After that year when I stayed away from music, I asked myself if I was becoming the man I wanted to be and that God wanted me to be. After that, I came back bigger than ever, but I don't think it was me or my talents or whatever that was doing it. God is using me, and I am continually relying on that grace."
After the 2008 American Idols Live! Tour, Castro moved to Los Angeles and began writing songs, eventually signing a deal with Atlantic Records, which released his self-titled debut album in April 2010. He said his songs are filled with positive messages of love and acceptance.
"That's really the common thread running through the songs - loving somebody and accepting them for who they are."
Jason Castro will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East. For ticket information, call 397-7700 or visit amtshows.com.