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Josh Gracin on life after ‘American Idol’ and why he’s ‘furious’ at TMZ

Josh Gracin performs at a showcase om Nashville. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images of IEBA)

Country singer Josh Gracin is one of the most successful “American Idol” contestants of all time, but he won’t be attending the final episode on Thursday night. And he wants people to know why.

First, he has scheduling conflicts. Still, there’s another issue: When “Idol” producers asked if he would perform on the season finale, they wanted him to sing covers of country songs in a big group of former contestants, exactly like he did back in the second season.

You may scoff at ‘American Idol’ now, but it changed pop culture forever

For Gracin, 35, that was a problem. It’s been awhile since his last hit song and he’s eager to make another splash in Nashville – and have the industry take him seriously. He knows it’s unlikely to help if he’s in front of millions singing someone else’s song. Though he’s extremely grateful to “Idol” for launching his career, he politely declined the offer.

“If ‘American Idol’ doesn’t want to acknowledge what I’ve been able to do without their help…if they can’t even acknowledge the success that I’ve had and what I’ve been able to do, how am I going to get Nashville to acknowledge that and get past that stigma?” Gracin said recently in a phone interview.

Yes, the elusive reality show stigma that tends to stick with you in Nashville, a very insular music world. Even Carrie Underwood, who won Season 4 and became a superstar, still feels the need to prove herself to the country community. Gracin’s situation illustrates what happens to the contestants who do well in the grueling competition, but not quite well enough to get assistance from the show (i.e. a record deal) after it’s over. You’re left with the trappings of sudden fame yet must fend for yourself — such as, in Gracin’s case, the time he was going through a rough patch and posted a frustrated Facebook message, which TMZ reported as an apparent suicide note.

Back in 2002, Gracin auditioned on a whim in Los Angeles – he was a member of the Marine Corps and happened to be living on a base in Southern California. After impressing judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson with O-Town’s “All or Nothing,” he coasted to the finals and became a fan favorite.

“When we got down to Top 4, we had a meeting with [iconic record producer] Clive Davis,” Gracin said. “He asked me what I wanted to sing and I told him country music. He said, ‘I see you really singing pop music. Is that something you would want?’ I said ‘No, I want to sing country music.’ So I kind of stuck to it.”

Gracin came in fourth place. A couple weeks later, 38 million people watched Ruben Studdard defeat Clay Aiken in the finale, the most-viewed “Idol” episode ever. Gracin, married with a one-year-old daughter at the time, headed back to the Marine Corps for his final year of duty. Afterwards, he was determined to try his luck in Nashville. Luckily, Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts (signed to Disney’s Lyric Street Records) became a fan after he saw Gracin perform the group’s “I’m Movin’ On” on the show. Gracin landed a record deal with Lyric Street.

He had a string of hits right away, from “I Want to Live” to “Nothin’ to Lose” to “Stay With Me.” Following his hit debut album in 2004, singles off his sophomore album struggled a bit. After some disagreements with the label, Gracin left Lyric Street, which folded shortly afterwards when Rascal Flatts departed. Gracin released a third record with a new label in 2011, though none of the songs charted.

Gracin has been touring heavily as an independent artist ever since, which is why it’s crucial to show people in Music City that he can write and produce his own songs – not just go on stage and sing covers. As he explains, it’s a very “clique-y” place, where a core group runs the town and throws all resources behind their own artists they support.


Posted by Josh Gracin on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“Nashville isn’t taking anybody anymore unless you’re a writer that has a catalog of music that you’ve written for other people or you have an investor behind you,” he said. “Because they’re not wanting to take the risk financially anymore like they used to.”

While Gracin looks to prove himself, the leftover fame from “Idol” can still affect him in the worst ways. Such as in August 2014, when in the middle of an argument with his ex-wife, Gracin posted a seemingly alarming message on Facebook, which read in part: “Please remember me as someone who gave his all in his music…pray for my family as they carry on in this world without me. Goodbye.”

“’AMERICAN IDOL’ JOSH GRACIN WRITES APPARENT SUICIDE NOTE,” TMZ screamed, reporting police were dispatched to Gracin’s home and he later went to the hospital on a psychiatric hold. The story went viral. The next day, a representative for Gracin said the singer “has been battling depression and as a result found himself in a personal crisis” and was discharged from the hospital. Gracin, who was back on tour about a week later, said he never authorized any statement on his behalf. He insists that the post was misinterpreted and is incensed with TMZ.

“When I got wind that was the way TMZ had took it and spun it, I was very furious,” Gracin said. In reality, he said, he was “going through a lot of stuff,” and needed space. “I’ve always been the guy to face and fight [problems] head on, and for once in my life I was like, you know what, maybe I do need to get away and go disappear for awhile.”

While Gracin admits he could have worded his post better, he’s still upset that the gossip site “twisted” his words:I know a lot of people that have struggled with depression and struggled with that, and I felt like that does them a disservice that’s not fair, because they’re really struggling.”

Now that the dust has settled, Gracin is intensely focused on his new music and touring, while also staying busy with his four kids. He posts new songs to his Facebook page, such as haunting ballad “Home” and the uptempo “Lips.” Gracin hopes to emulate an Eric Church-like path to success, where you’re so successful outside of the system that eventually the system has no choice but to knock on your door.

And though he won’t be at the “Idol” finale, the end of the iconic show makes him reflect on way it kickstarted his career.

“Trying to get a single back on the radio and get things moving again, it definitely makes you appreciate how easy things were during that time of coming off a show,” he said, “as opposed to fighting and scratching like every other artist in Nashville has to from the very beginning.”

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