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At Cancun Cantina, Josh Gracin tinges his country twang with R&B

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Playing the “whatever happened to . . . ?” game with former reality show contestants can have mixed results. So it’s a pleasant surprise when, 10 years down the road, one is pursuing the same passion that drove him to appear on camera in the first place.

In this case, it was country singer Josh Gracin, who played a rocking 70-minute concert Friday night at Cancun Cantina in Hanover. One of the few “American Idol” finalists with a recognizable music career, Gracin has stepped in and out of the spotlight since he appeared in 2002 on the Fox singing competition, when it was just starting to explode in the pop-culture sphere. Gracin placed fourth, but it didn’t really matter — a Nashville record label scooped him up.

He’s laid relatively low in the country music scene in the past few years, but it could be because he seems much more in his element on songs tinged with an R&B sound than anything else. While his twang served him on the successful singles he played during the show (“We Weren’t Crazy,” “I Wanna Live,” the speedy “Nothin’ to Lose”), he basked in the opportunity to try out a new sound.

After telling the crowd that he was born outside of Detroit, Gracin said he wanted to mix some R&B and soul with a side of country music, and he and his band burst into “Long Way To Go,” a bass-heavy song from his latest album, “Redemption.” His voice worked especially well on the tune, along with a soulful take on Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

Gracin embraced some more cheesy concert aspects as well, such as throwing a steady stream of drumsticks into the 100 or so people gathered around the stage. And he proved himself to be such an Everyman, that during the encore, he casually walked to near the back of the bar to begin a booming Aerosmith medley. One patron seemed annoyed that someone bumped into him, until he realized that the offender was actually the one with the microphone singing the chorus to “Dream On.”

Either way, Gracin seemed to have a great time in the laid-back atmosphere, where he got to experiment with straying a bit from his roots.

“Usually it’s rock and roll, or I bring it down to a ballad — there’s usually no in between,” Gracin said as he set up “Get Back to Us,” a new mid-tempo song.

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