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Born and raised in Westland, Mich., about 30 minutes west of Detroit, Josh Gracin grew up listening to his parents' favorites -- Elvis, the Beatles and the vintage rock and pop on a favorite local station. Then, when he was 11, the station's format changed to country, and he started getting into artists such as Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, George Strait and Randy Travis. His first public appearance was at an eighth grade talent competition where he sang Brooks' 1993 hit "Standing Outside the Fire" and managed to win over an audience full of dance music-loving peers.
Growing up as the only boy among four sisters, Gracin found his parents unwilling to sign a release for him to play sports, so he took up saxophone instead. He also had experience singing everything from opera (as a member of his school choir) to Motown (as the only male singer in a review called the Fairlane Youth Pop Orchestra). While still in school, he was part of a talent competition that took him to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
After high school, he enlisted in the Marines and a few years later got married. About two years into his four-year term of the Marines, he saw the first American Idol show. Though he hadn't sung in a couple of years, he auditioned and was chosen as a finalist in the second year of the series, ultimately placing fourth.
Well after he became part of the show, the U.S. invaded Iraq and the military's world changed. Although he had no control over his deployment or that of his unit in Camp Pendleton, he did some soul-searching nonetheless. "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 how the Marines were doing over there. I felt guilty because I was singing on this show, and there were fellow Marines over there in foxholes."
Gracin's transition from reality show contestant to recording star began when he sang Rascal Flatts' "I'm Movin' 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 Gracin's talent, called and put him in touch with Marty Williams, who had co-produced both the band's breakthrough album and its successful follow-up. That set in motion a series of events that led to a record deal with Lyric Street, the same label that signed Rascal Flatts.
Gracin's self-titled debut album, featuring the first single "I Want to Live," was released in 2004. Its second single, "Nothin' to Lose," reached No. 1 at country radio.