Josh Gracin first rose to prominence during the second season of TV's American Idol. Although the young Marine finished fourth the year Reuben Studdard won (2004), his mastery of modern country and natural charm earned him an opportunity to record with Lyric Street Records. After his discharge from the Marine Corps, he immediately began to score with hit singles such as "I Want to Live" and "Nothin' to Lose," and award nominations followed. Sporting a facile voice that blended the down-home baritone of Randy Travis and the faux-cowboy interpolations of Garth Brooks, he became an overnight recording star at a time when many of his former Idol colleagues were fading into obscurity.
Began Singing in High School
Born Joshua Mario Gracin on October 18, 1980, in Westland, Michigan, the youngster grew up surrounded by four sisters. As the only boy, young Josh was discouraged from playing football by his parents, but encouraged to explore his musical interests. "I was in marching band and I applaud my parents now for making me stick to it," Gracin said on his Web site, "because it gave me a sense of loyalty and stick-to-itiveness, of doing something to reach a goal."
Besides playing saxophone in the John Glenn High School marching band, Gracin had been singing in church since the age of six, and he listened to the same radio station that his parents did. Initially a fan of classic rock ala the Beatles and Elvis Presley, Gracin changed his musical allegiance once he heard Garth Brooks's seminal hit "Friends in Low Places." "It was Garth who made me take a second look at country music," he told Christine Bohoforush of Angry Country.com. "I grew up listening to the Beatles and the entire British invasion. But it was Garth who made me take notice and ask, ‘Hey, what's going on in country music?’" Subsequently, Gracin became a confirmed fan of such country hitmakers as Joe Diffie, George Strait, and Randy Travis, and he eventually chose Brooks's 1994 hit "Standing Outside the Fire" to sing at his eighth grade talent show.
A member of his high school choir and the only male singer in a revue staged by the Fairlane Youth Pops Orchestra, Gracin gathered valuable experience gigging at festivals, pageants, and fairs all around Michigan. By age 16, he was confident enough to enter a talent competition that resulted in its finalists singing on the stage of the famed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Gracin did not win, but he earned the opportunity to cut a professional demo featuring the songs "She Loves Me" and "One Little Prayer." The young performer sang the numbers as part of his live show once he returned home.
A Marine and an American Idol
Upon graduating from high school, Gracin attended Western Michigan University, but subsequently abandoned higher education in favor of enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. "By the time I graduated boot camp," he stated on his Hollywood Records/Lyric Street Web site, "the experience had helped define who I wanted to be and who I was going to be for the rest of my life." Although a full-fledged soldier, he still hadn't given up his dreams of a musical career.
Stationed at Camp Pendelton in Southern California where he worked as a company clerk, Gracin married the former Anne Marie Kovacs. With a baby soon on the way, he supplemented his military income by working nights at a local department store. During this time, his wife brought the Fox Network's American Idol competition to his attention. Although he hadn't sung in a couple of years, Gracin was willing to give it a try. The only question was whether the Marines would grant their approval. "They were really happy about it," Gracin told Colleen Long of the Associated Press, in an article in the Brunswick News. "I think they thought it was good to have someone in the military to be a positive force out there, performing and showing people that we are good guys. … They transferred me temporarily so I could work and be on the show at the same time."
The second season of American Idol established the program as a cultural phenomenon, and the story of a young Marine trying to make it as a singer enchanted the program's viewers. Each week Gracin sang a variety of song styles dictated by whatever theme the show embraced that week. When pop and rock tunes were attempted, the Michigan native proved average, but when he trotted out country numbers like Garth Brooks's "Friends in Low Places," he earned a powerful, positive response from the audience and judges alike.
During Gracin's stint on American Idol, the United States invaded Iraq. Torn between his fellow soldiers being shipped overseas and the excitement of the contest, Gracin earned the respect of American viewers by saying that if called to active duty he would serve alongside his fellow soldiers. He told CMT.com that "the toughest moment through all of this was when we were doing the show, and I was staying up until four or five in the morning just watching the news and trying to keep track of the Marines over there. I felt guilty because I was singing on this show, and there were fellow Marines over there in foxholes."
Country music was never the main focus of America Idol. As a result, Gracin was eventually voted off the show. Unlike the other cast members, he did not go on the show's official tour, as he was returned to active duty. For their part, the Marines capitalized on the goodwill Gracin had created by sending him out on recruitment drives. Gracin, who achieved the rank of lance corporal, was eventually honorably discharged later in 2004.
For the Record …
Born Joshua Mario Gracin, October 18, 1980, in Westland, Michigan; son of Mario and Brenda Gracin; married Ann Marie Kovacs, 2000; children: Briana Marie, Landon Joshua, Gabriella Ann.
Began singing at state fairs and local competitions as a teenager; appeared in Nashville singing competition at 16 and on the Grand Ole Opry, and sang on demo tape, 1996; enlisted in U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as company clerk and rose to rank of lance corporal, 2000-04; placed fourth on season two of Fox TV's hit reality competition American Idol, 2004; signed with Lyric Street records and released his first album, Josh Gracin, 2004; scored with three top five singles on Billboard country charts, 2004-05; acting debut on daytime drama The Young and the Restless, 2006; appeared on such television programs as Wheel of Fortune, Holiday Celebration on Ice, and CMT Insider, 2004-07; toured with country superstar Brad Paisley, 2006; released second album, We Weren't Crazy, 2008.
Addresses: Record company—Lyric St. Records, 1100 Demonbreun St., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. Management—William Morris Agency, 1600 Division St., Ste. 300, Nashville, TN 37203, phone: 615-963-3000, fax: 615-963-3090, Web site: http://www.wma.com/agency/contact.aspx. Web site—Josh Gracin Official Web site: http://www.joshgracin.com.
A Recording Star in His Own Right
Concurrently, Gracin met country supergroup Rascal Flatts, who, after seeing him perform one of their songs on Idol, introduced the young Marine to their producer, Marty Williams. Quickly, Gracin was signed by Lyric Street Records, the country subsidiary of Disney's Hollywood label. Still waiting for his discharge, the young singer had to work around his schedule as a Marine, flying into Nashville on weekends to record. The hard work and stressful schedule paid off, and Gracin's recordings of "I Want to Live," "Stay with Me (Brass Bed)," and "Nothin' to Lose" all hit the country music top five with the latter topping out at number one.
Gracin's debut became certified Gold, and he was subsequently nominated for the Billboard New Country Artist award. Further, he was nominated for a CMA Award for Breakthrough Video, for his on-screen rendition of "I Want to Live." Accolades and strong sales led to appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, to an acting role on The Young and the Restless, and to tours with Trace Adkins and Brad Paisley.
Despite his building success, Gracin pulled the plug on his second album, which had been scheduled for a 2006 release. Gracin felt that the album, initially titled All About Y'all, then changed to I Keep Coming Back, did not exemplify his sound. He released one single from the sessions, the top 20 hit "Favorite State of Mind," and then went back to the drawing board. "I'm glad I had the chance to rework the album or else I wouldn't have been happy," he told Live Daily.com. "I don't think it would have been able to stand on its own."
Eventually re-titled We Weren't Crazy, Gracin's sophomore album featured three of his own songs, including a tribute to his wife, "Unbelievable (Anne Marie)." Upon its release, We Weren't Crazy sold well, but the title single stalled out at number 17. Citing the four-year-long wait for the new album, Thom Jurek of the All Music Guide summed up, "Ultimately, this is formulaic contemporary country, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing; its fans are always hungry for more stories, more guitars, more catchy hooks and big choruses. Gracin does it better than most; if anyone has a chance of making lightning strike twice—despite the long wait—it's him."
Gracin's success has helped pave the way for other former Idols and their entry into country music, such as Kelly Pickler, Carmen Rassmussen, and especially mega-star Carrie Underwood. Unlike Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, and Jennifer Hudson, Gracin does not distance himself from the show. "I'd do America Idol all over again. Where I am now, musically and vocally, is nowhere near where I was on the show," he told Boot.com. "And the bottom line is, I was very naive and prideful. … I'd do it a lot differently. It would be fun to go back and compete against some of the successful non-winners."
"I Want to Live," Lyric Street, 2004.
"Nothin' to Lose," Lyric Street, 2004.
"Stay With Me (Brass Bed)," Lyric Street, 2005.
"Favorite State of Mind," Lyric Street, 2006.
"We Weren't Crazy," Lyric Street, 2007.
(Contributor) American Idol Season 2: All Time Classic American Love Songs, RCA, 2002.
Josh Gracin, Hollywood, 2004.
(Contributor) Herbie: Fully Loaded, Hollywood, 2005.
We Weren't Crazy, Lyric Street, 2008.
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