`Idol' finalist juggles military, music

Fourth-place finish got Gracin a record deal but he's still a proud Marine

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July 11, 2004|By Katie Leslie | Katie Leslie,SUN STAFF

By now it's clear that you don't have to actually win American Idol to get a record deal and instant celebrity, especially if you are the only male country crooner in the competition and armed with the endorsement of the United States Marine Corps.

Josh Gracin, perhaps pop culture's most noted Marine, finished fourth in AI's second season and released his debut album Josh Gracin last month with Lyric Street Records. Currently, it sits at No. 2 on the country Billboard charts, and while critics have lambasted his music for oozing with sugary pop tones and lack of originality, the album continues to soar -- it's the highest-selling country male debut album in 12 years.

Last week, the 23-year-old singer was traveling throughout New York City's five boroughs on a recruitment tour with the Marines. Though based at Camp Pendleton in southern California, he is now in demand as a spokesperson for the military. It seems impossible to separate Michigan-born "Josh Gracin, the country singer" from "Josh Gracin, the Marine" -- for example, he performs music from his album while on military recruitment rounds. These tightly woven worlds have given Gracin a unique identity, a type of authentic "all-American" edge that other AI contestants would be hard pressed to produce, and that might be what he and Lyric Street Records are counting on.

Why did you join the Marines?

I had many opportunities to have a music career before joining the Marine Corps, but I blew a lot of opportunities because of my attitude. I was a teenager -- I felt like everything should be handed to me and I shouldn't have to work for anything. I never did drugs or drink or anything like that, but as far as being able to hold down a job and being responsible, I ended up making excuses for the way I was being. I realized that I needed to do something to give me the foundation I needed to succeed and be able to have a family and handle how the music business is. I knew that the best place to possibly do that would be the Marine Corps.

Before American Idol, what opportunities did you have to break into the music business?

I was 15 when I started. I went down to Nashville and recorded a demo CD down there with eight original songs. We peddled it as much as we could, considering I was still in school. I sang at county fairs, performances around Michigan, and I got to perform at the Grand Ol' Opry for a talent show.

If you hadn't come across American Idol, would you have pursued singing anyway?

Definitely. Like I said, I was pursuing it before the Marine Corps, and I was actively going to pursue it once I got out. And then AI came along and provided the opportunity to test the waters, get back out there and see what was available and if I still had what it takes. That was the best decision I ever made, besides joining the Marines.

How did you get leave to be on the show?

Well, the Marine Corps looked at it as a huge opportunity for good publicity with all the war stuff going on, and they really felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, as 30 million people watch the show. They gave me a TAD (temporary assigned duty) and they put me up in the public affairs office in Los Angeles, so I could be right there where American Idol was going on.

Who is your greatest musical inspiration?

Garth Brooks. I also grew up with Trace Lawrence, Randy Travis, Martina McBride...you know, all of the greats. I had a lot of influences growing up, but Garth Brooks is definitely the major one.

And do you write music?

I have started writing music. Unfortunately, when they found out that I had music good enough to actually be on my album, it was too late. So, I'm currently writing them down and maybe when the next album comes around I'll be able to get some on the album and get a publishing deal.

How are you handling the media attention?

It definitely helps to have fellow Marines and family to keep you grounded. I'm not acting any different or being different, and just taking it as it comes and staying as normal as possible. I mean, I still go to restaurants and malls by myself. I mean, I talk to anyone that wants to talk to me, do autographs ... so it definitely hasn't changed me at all.

What do you want to be doing in 20 years?

Still singing, with a bunch of albums under my belt. If I'm not singing, I still want to be involved in the music business in some way. So hopefully, everything continues...

As the all-American guy you are portrayed to be, how did you react to having to wear make-up for TV?

Not too cool. (laughs) I mean, I am a Marine. But when they explained why...to take the shine off your face from the cameras and all that, I understood. I definitely took it off right when I was done, though.

Gracin's military service ends in September after a four-year commitment. He will then relocate to Nashville to join his wife, Ann Marie, and daughter, Briana.

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