For country music fans, one of the highlights of the Fox network's "American Idol 2" was the success of a young Marine named Josh Gracin, a dyed-in-the-wool country singer whose electrifying performances won him hearts and votes across the country.
In the weeks leading up to his fourth-place overall finish, it's probable that there were more than a few people thinking about how nice it would be to welcome him to the country charts.
Country fans everywhere have gotten their wish. The young Michigan native with the great pipes and dynamic stage presence has recorded a self-titled debut album that will carry his brand of high-energy country to the nation's radio airwaves.
Josh signed with Lyric Street Records after a process that culminated in a life-changing audition. It took place in a Music Row office before just a handful of label executives, a scenario that has been known to terrify even experienced entertainers. Josh, though, is made of sterner stuff. "Surprisingly," he says, "I wasn't nervous at all."
His Marine training and toughness were no doubt one element, along with the lifetime he'd spent on stages big and small honing his singing and performing skills. Mostly, though, it was the fact that he'd just run a gauntlet that saw him outlast 70,000 aspirants in front of 20 million people on nationwide television. In fact, the very thing that gives most people butterflies--the importance of the occasion--had the opposite effect on him. "It came down to knowing that this could mean my career and the direction of my life," he says, "and that's what calmed me down a lot."
He was, after all, a man who had already faced down one of our culture's most iconic figures, the dream-skewering AI judge Simon Cowell. Faced with his sometimes withering British disdain, Josh held his ground. "I knew he was just trying to razz me a little bit and get under my skin," says Josh with a knowing smile, "and it just made me look for ways to turn something negative into something positive."
Josh's success on the show speaks volumes about a young man whose talent and intensity are accompanied by an innate sense of over-the-top showmanship. His AI2 performances were models of audience excitement, triggering an onslaught of fan letters and chat room adulation that made it clear a good portion of the country was smitten with him. The combination made him a natural for attention from Music Row, especially given his affection for country music on a national show skewed toward the world of pop and hip-hop.
His debut CD, Josh Gracin, captures the world-class voice and performing magic that made him such a star on American Idol 2. Songs like his debut single, I Want To Live. The CD's energy draws directly from the fire Josh displays on stage, a place that has long felt like home to him. "When I'm up on stage," he says, "it's like a whole new world for me. I love performing. I'm a firm believer that it's really great for a singer to have a good voice, but to bring it to another level you have to draw the audience in and make them part of the music, make them feel what you're feeling."
Josh's translation from highly successful AI2 contestant to recording star began when he sang Rascal Flatts' "I'm Moving On" on one episode. The guys in Rascal Flatts happened to be watching the show on their tour bus that night. Bass player Jay DeMarcus, impressed with Josh's talent, called and put him touch with Marty Williams, who had co-produced both the band's breakthrough album and its highly successful follow-up. That set in motion a series of events that led to the record deal. For Josh, it was the culmination of a lifetime of singing, dreaming, and living.
The record deal came about when Marty had me come out to Nashville to sing for several labels, says Josh. I felt the trip had gone well and I was getting ready to go back to California when Lyric Streets Doug Howard (Sr. VP, A&R) called--it was literally hours before I was supposed to go to the airport and take off to go backbut Doug gave me the chance to audition for them. I got a call about a week later saying they were interested in signing me. I flew back to Nashville to meet with Lyric Street President Randy Goodman and Doug. It was just me singing and with a guitar player. It was a lot smaller crowd than I was used to singing for on the show and after I sang one song, they had me stop and pulled more people into the room. Afterwards, Randy said, Lets do a deal.