American Idol's fourth place finalist Jason Castro is hoping the third time's the charm.
In 2008, the ukulele-strumming Dallas singer became an Idol fan favorite, beloved as much for his long brown dreadlocks and laid-back charm as for his vocal talent. But his eponymous 2010 debut album quickly slipped off the charts, and he proved ill-suited for the Christian music career that followed.
Now, after taking time off to raise a family and work day jobs around Dallas, the 29-year-old singer is back for another try with Castro, a pop-folk trio featuring his brother Michael and their kid sister Jackie. The group released its debut EP, Diamond Dreams, on Sept. 2, and it performs Friday at House of Blues.
"It's just a neat thing, being able to do this with your family," says Jason. "In the past, every interview, every picture, every autograph ... it was all on me. So I'm thankful I'm able to do this with their support."
Jackie, 21, says forming a sibling band was a natural progression after growing up in a tight-knit, music-loving Columbian-American household in Rowlett. When Jason was drumming in the local rock band Keeping Lions, he taught Jackie to play guitar and invited her onstage to sing Taylor Swift songs at the Door and the Prophet Bar in Deep Ellum.
But while Jason went off to Idol stardom, Jackie hit the books. In December, she graduated from UT-Austin with a 4.0 GPA, earning a communications degree in just two-and-a-half years so she could focus on Castro.
"I'm a big nerd who loves school — unlike my brothers. They don't really enjoy it," she says.
Michael, 28, happily agrees. After Jason dropped out of Texas A&M to pursue singing, Michael quickly followed suit.
"I was never interested in singing, but I was like 'You mean you can just get out of college and get a bunch of stuff if you do this?' So the next season, I auditioned for American Idol," Michael says.
He didn't get chosen, but he gained enough support from Jason's fans to launch his own singing career. Jason, meanwhile, followed up his debut pop album with two records for the contemporary Christian label Word: Who Am I (2010) and Only a Mountain (2013).
Both were well-received in the Christian market, but he felt increasingly out of place singing spiritual music.
"I got a new appreciation for the Christian music industry and I met a lot of people who really changed lives ... but it didn't seem like the place I was supposed to be," Jason says. "I grew up thinking that Christian music was really, you know, not great art — just rip-off music with the same words you hear every Sunday."
Burned out from touring, Jason moved back to Dallas to spend more time with his wife Mandy and their two young daughters. He worked at his local church and his father's swimming pool design company and later started his own home-remodeling business.
But he always kept one foot in music. Songwriting sessions with Michael and Jackie eventually led to a deal with Nashville-based Fervent Records, which released Diamond Dreams. Produced by Charlie Peacock, best known for his work with the Civil Wars, the harmony-rich songs on the EP could easily fit between Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers on Triple A radio.
All three siblings take turns singing lead, "but I'm leading a little more than anyone else now, so I get to say 'I'm the lead singer' onstage," Michael says with a laugh. "But that's not a permanent thing. We just write songs and whoever it fits best sings lead."
Despite the all-for-one nature of Castro, Jason is still the star of the trio, thanks to his American Idol fame. He chopped off his Idol-era dreadlocks two years ago, but has since decided to let his hair grow long again. "I can't handle short hair," he says.
And while he has no plans to return to the dreads anytime soon, don't be surprised to see him sporting the Rasta geezer look when he gets older.
"I saw a guy on an island once with gray dreads and I was like 'That's gonna be me!'," he says. "That was always my dream. So, you know, never say never."