Casey Abrams, who finished sixth this past season on “Idol,” found out in 2009 during his freshman year in college that he had ulcerative colitis, a chronic digestive inflammation that can be extremely painful and causes internal bleeding if left untreated. Flare ups happen, especially in times of stress.
In fact, he landed in the hospital twice during “Idol” because of it, almost forcing him to leave the show.
Although there is no cure, there are medications to relieve the symptoms. For a time prior to “Idol,” Abrams said he thought the condition would prevent him from becoming a full-time touring musician.
He recalled thinking, “I can’t do music anymore. This isn’t going to be fun. I’d be weak and have no energy.” But in the end, he added, “it gave me a reason to keep fighting [and try out for "Idol."]. It gave me more obstacles but it was a wake-up call. A voice in my head said, ‘You can’t stop!’ ”
Like Elliott Yamin and Crystal Bowersox with Type 1 diabetes and James Durbin with Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourette Syndrome, Abrams is leveraging his fame to build awareness of his disease. In this case, 1.4 million people in the United States suffer from Abrams’ condition.
When the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America asked Abrams to help the group out, he agreed. He met with individuals who have the disease at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead Monday on an off day during the “Idols Live” tour. He and the other 10 contestants are going to be at Gwinnett Arena Tuesday evening for a sold-out stop.
He also promoted an IBD Icons contest, sponsored by the foundation and Janssen Biotech Inc. Anyone ages 18 and over tell stories about life with Crohn’s or colitis. The winners get flown to Las Vegas to see him perform live in December. To apply, go to www.IBDIcons.com and click on “call for entries” by August 26, 2011.
I also got to speak with Casey for a few minutes before the event. He talked mostly about his disease. Here’s the video, which I’d edit down a bit but can’t because I forgot to get Quicktime Pro installed on the computer. (I used to have access, but my computer had a virus a few weeks back and I forgot to have this program re-loaded on my computer.)
During his meeting with other people suffering from Crohn’s or UC, he answered some questions about life on “Idol.” He was asked about Haley Reinhart and their seemingly cushy relationship during the show. He said he had a crush on her, but they were not an item then and still aren’t an item now. (Too bad!)
He talked about the pressures on the show that fed into the flare ups. But producers were very understanding. They were told if he needed to run to the restroom, to just let him do it. If he needed to skip a rehearsal, let him. He attempted to reduce the flare ups by lying down and resting but that didn’t work. He needed meds.
He was also supposed to stay away from others because the therapies often reduce the immune system. But he always had a roomie. (Jordan Dorsey, a semifinalist, was one of his roommates and though he said Jordan was nice to him, he said he wasn’t always nice to others.) “I am now in a cramped bus, but it’s with people I love and adore,” he said. “They’re like my brothers now.”:
Abrams has to watch his diet, avoiding cheese and nuts, which irritate his intestines. For a time, he discovered Indian food, then found out it was too spicy.
When someone asked him what he enjoyed most about “Idol,” it was less about the performances in front of the camera but hanging out backstage watching the others sing, talking to the producers, joking around. “The tiny things in life is what I enjoy,” he said. “Making connections. That was fun. Being in the studio making songs. That was my favorite part.”
He said “Idol” also taught him to say no. Growing up, he said he’d always say yes to everything, even to his own detriment. “Saying no to [record producer and "Idol" mentor] Jimmy Iovine helped me out,” he said. “I had to say no to him a couple of times. Picking my battles relieves stress.”
Right now, he is still under contract with 19 Entertainment but I doubt they’ll sign him to any contracts. So once his 90 days after the “Idol” finale is up (about the time the tour is over), he’ll be able to build his team, create an album and even audition for an acting gig or two. Given his eclectic taste and penchant for jazz, it’s doubtful he’ll have a big mainstream career, but he certainly has the musical proficiency and likable personality to carve out a career in the business.