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Ypsi "Idol" Contestant Was "Singing For My Life"

Of the Oakland Press

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Of the Oakland Press

Ypsi has an Idol. Or at least a potential American Idol.

Matt Giraud, who grew up in Ypsilanti and graduated from Lincoln High School, was one of four "American Idol" finalists chosen in Thursday night's (March 5) wild card round, joining a field of 13 who will start competing in earnest for the reality show's eighth season championship next week.

"I was singing for my life," Giraud, 23, who now resides in Kalamazoo (where he attended Western Michigan University), said during a teleconference with reporters on Friday afternoon (March 6). After his underwhelming performance of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" the previous week, Giraud found himself needing a wild card berth if he was going to continue in the competition.

And he got it with an emotive performance of the Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You" on Thursday. The performance was praised by the show's four judges -- even by routinely acerbic Simon Cowell, who called it "a billion times" better than the Coldplay song, though he compared Giraud's singing to fifth season champ Taylor Hicks.

"Sometimes it's a little over the top," acknowledged Giraud, who was the 12th and presumably final contestant chose to go on until the judges made a surprise 13th choice, Anoop Desai. "But...if I go over the top a little, that's alright. They'll understand. It's 'American Idol' -- what the heck!"

Giraud said Friday that he has a grandfather who was a singer but did not come from a musical background otherwise. His primary influences early on were gospel music, including Kirk Franklin, as well as country and "*NSYNC and that type of pop music." He developed an affinity for jazz and Motown later on, and honed his own skills in the high school choir, playing drums and singing at Detroit World Outreach Church in Redford and playing piano ad hoc in the lobby of the Ypsilanti Marriott Hotel.

"I'd come in and sit down and just get lost and play," said Giraud, who was nicknamed White Chocolate by some of his choir mates because of his soulful style. "It was strictly passion. It wasn't anything else. I never got tips. I was just learning. People would encourage me; 'I like the way you'd play.' "

Giraud said he called home after Thursday's show. "I called my dad's first; I heard him screaming and his girlfriend screaming. They're so proud; 'You killed it!' My mom was so excited, just flipping out...That's probably one of the best parts of the show is making your family so happy."

Moving forward, Giraud said he expects to continue mixing piano into his performances but also step away from the instrument to "work the crowd." He's also looking forward to the theme weeks and mentoring sessions.

"I'd love to work with Billy Joel, maybe Elton John -- some of these heavy, iconic piano singers," Giraud noted. "Maybe Alicia Keys, that'd be cool. I heard somebody call me 'the white-boy Alicia Keys;' I thought that was pretty funny. I'd love to work with some iconic piano-player performers."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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