October 3, 2008

Josh Gracin’s ‘Idol’ Star Keeps Rising

By Nathalie Baret For the Journal

Former "American Idol" finalist Josh Gracin earned his record deal like any other aspiring musician. Sure, the ex-Marine had some help with the visibility he received when he placed fourth in the second season of television's most popular reality contest. It also didn't hurt that country music's Rascal Flatts gave him a bona fide thumbs-up.

Still, when it came down to the simple facts of Gracin singing a cappella in front of a handful of record executives, he tipped the scales and won himself a future with Lyric Street Records, home to Flatts.

Surprisingly, Gracin said this life-changing event didn't set off his nerves that much. His four years with the Marine Corps, coupled with weekly appearances on "American Idol," where he stood center stage in front of a live audience and millions of TV viewers, more than prepared him.

"I love singing and have learned not to back away from what I believe in. The further I go, the more I see that I only succeed when I follow my heart," he said in a statement.

Before auditioning for "American Idol" and Lyric Street, the Westland, Mich.-born and raised songster got a taste of being on stage when he entered a smaller-scale talent competition while still in his teens.

"When I was 16, I had an opportunity to get up and sing on the Grand Ole Opry stage. The contest was mainly for people who wrote their own songs and for those who had bands and stuff. But it was neat for me to have that feeling of standing where so many country legends had stood."

That surge of excitement for singing his heart out and passion for getting audiences on their feet bloomed fully on Fox's talent series in 2003. Though Gracin wasn't crowned the actual American Idol, the time he spent flexing his warm, twangy vocals and polishing his charismatic Garth Brooks-style showmanship helped prepare him for what was to follow.

"I was proud to have gone as far as I did. The American people choose. If they like you, they like you; if they don't, they don't. Everything was fair," he said.

"Truth is, who knows what I might have been doing had I won the competition. I might not have been getting to sing country music."

Fortunately for him, though, his rendition of Rascal Flatts' "I'm Moving On" that he performed on one of the program's episodes led to one of the most important phone calls he received in his life.

"Oh, man, Rascal Flatts were literally on their tour bus 10 minutes before I came on and did their song. Bass player Jay DeMarcus saw me singing and right away called Marty Williams, who produced their first and second album, and he got me in contact with Marty. He (Marty) flew me out to Nashville and had me sing for Lyric Street, and I got my deal."

That lucky break took place three years ago. Gracin's 2004 eponymous debut made a nice dent on country charts, thanks to the track "Nothin' to Lose," which rose to No. 1. The goldcertified record yielded two more high-charters with "I Want to Live" and "Stay with Me (Brass Bed)," making the Idol castoffturned-country- star one of the only three new male country artists in recent years to release a freshman disc with three consecutive top five hits.

"It's been an amazing couple of years," the songwriter/guitarist said. "Country music fans have been really receptive and encouraging."

Gracin's pop-rock country follow-up, "We Weren't Crazy," which he cut last year and was released in April, has already spilled out a few singles. Spurred by the rocker "Favorite State of Mind," the slow jammer and nod to his small-town roots, "I Keep Coming Back;" and the Top 10 title track, the album looks to be another winner for Gracin and the Lyric Street team. His newest and fourth single, "Unbelievable (Ann Marie)," a ballad he wrote for his wife and mother to his four children, is already climbing the charts after its release on Aug. 25.

Josh Gracin

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4

WHERE: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Balloon Fiesta Park, I-25 north and Alameda NW

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $6 for adults and children over age 12. Children 12 and under are free. General parking is $10 per car. Advance admission tickets are available by calling 821-1000. For more information, visit www. balloonfiesta.com

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