‘AI’ finalist, Marine to play Joyland

“American Idol” and pop are practically synonymous. But Fox’s ubiquitous talent competition has also produced several country stars. One of the most notable, Josh Gracin, who performs Friday at Joyland, has the distinction of being a contestant while serving in the military.

In 2003, Gracin performed on the program while active as a lance corporal in the United States Marines. He had been singing country since childhood but found himself in front of millions of viewers doing songs made famous by the likes of Kool and the Gang (“Celebration”), Billy Joel (“Piano Man”) and, gulp, ’N Sync (“That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You”). Gracin’s ability to put his own twang-y touch on the tunes landed him a fourth-place finish among the finalists.

“I think being a country singer helped separate me from everybody else,” Gracin said from his Tennessee home. “That’s the most important thing. Look at the music world. People who have great careers are able to separate themselves.

“It sounds like it’s an easy formula but in truth, it’s hard,” the 28-year-old continued. “You have Britney Spears in pop, Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift in country, there’s nobody else like them.”

One person impressed by Gracin’s “American Idol” performance was Rascal Flatts bassist Jay Demarcus, who helped get the singing Marine signed to Lyric Street Records. In June 2004, Gracin’s self-titled debut disc dropped. It climbed to No. 2 on Billboard’s country survey and reached an even more impressive No. 11 on the all-encompassing Billboard 200. Album sales were driven by the chart-topping single “Nothin’ to Lose.” On it, Gracin gives the Marcel-penned lyric a humorous, rapid-fire delivery. When he first heard the one-named artist/songwriter’s version, though, Gracin had reservations about recording it.

“I thought it was really hokey,” Garcia said with a laugh. “I wasn’t sure how we could do it. But (producer Marty Williams) assured me we could do something with it. And we did: I gained a No. 1 record and, just as important, a friend in Marcel.”

Gracin’s second album, “We Weren’t Crazy,” came out last April. The title track cracked the Top 10. It details a young couple’s decision to disregard conventional wisdom and run off together. Unlike most of his material, it’s a song the married father of four co-wrote.

“We were all sitting around in the studio talking about our life stories,” Gracin said. “I told them when I was young everybody called me crazy. Parents are usually right but on this aspect they were wrong.”