Josh Kracjik fell in love with music — and being a musician — when he was growing up in Wooster.
Now the blues-rocker is trying to make millions of people fall in love with him.
Kracjik, 30, and a resident of Columbus, is one of the seven remaining contestants on The X Factor, the vocal competition airing on Fox.
Produced by former American Idol judge Simon Cowell, the series went from 250,000 auditions, including online contenders, to a much smaller number of contestants clustered into four groups (“boys,” “girls,” groups and those over 30 years old) and assigned one of the judges as a musical mentor: Cowell for the girls, L.A. Reid for the boys, Nicole Scherzinger for the over-30s and Paula Abdul for the groups.
A combination of votes by viewers and by the judges has narrowed the field to Kracjik, the last of the over-30s; girls Rachel Crow, Melanie Amaro and just-one-name Drew; and boys Marcus Canty, Chris Rene and another one-name, Astro. All of the groups have been eliminated.
“To go from 250,000-to-one down to seven-to-one, I’ll roll the dice on those odds,” said Kracjik. “It feels really good.”
The top seven will perform songs associated with Michael Jackson on tonight’s show, at 8 on Fox; two will be eliminated on the results show at 8 p.m. Thursday.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Krajcik said he could not reveal what his Jackson song will be but “my biggest thing is that I need to bring something new to my performance every week. I came from a pretty strong performance last week” — of the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses — “but you can’t feel comfy. I’ve got to challenge myself, continue to take risks … and just do my best.
“MJ is a tough category for me,” said Krajcik, who said his mp3 player has Muse, the Beatles, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in heavy rotation. “It’s not something that, you know, you would immediately think that I would do. I’ve gotta try to make it my own … and hopefully America will dig.” (Asked what he would like as a category, he said with a laugh, “Contestant’s choice.”)
Somewhat scruffy, Kracjik has managed to set himself apart from a lot of the glitz surrounding X Factor, where several other performers have gotten glammed up with fancy hair and makeup.
“I’m not opposed to cutting my hair or shaving or whatever,” he said. “I’m just kind of lazy about it. But yeah, I enjoy short hair, too, so we may still tighten up the look a little bit.”
Many of the competitive performances have also come with elaborate lighting, dancers and backup singers. And an opening, non-competitive number was being lip-synced by the contestants (as similar numbers have been on other shows) until singer LeRoy Bell’s botched mimicry ruined the illusion.
“I was glad that LeRoy had screwed up there,” Krajcik said. “Now we get to sing it. … I think probably the show didn’t love that that happened. But I don’t love those ensemble numbers to begin with. I’m uncomfortable with that anyway. So to at least be able to sing live is great for me.”
The bickering among the judges, which sometimes stalls the show, appears to be real, Krajcik said.
“I’ve seen some of the judges after [an on-air argument] and they’re off-camera, and they’re mad,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re genuinely mad. I think they’re passionate about the contestants they’re mentoring, and the pressure is building for all of us, including the judges.”
Scherzinger, he said, is “great. She’s slightly distracting with her beauty. But she’s very talented, she’s very smart and she gets me. She doesn’t try to make me something I’m not. She tries to make me a better me.”
And that may be reflected in his work on the show.
“I’m used to just being with my instrument, and a band,” he said. “I think that comes most naturally to me. At the same time, you don’t want to be too stagnant or static in your performance. The challenge is to be surprising without pushing the boundaries so far that you come across as not being yourself.”
He firmly believes he can win and has “before I even first auditioned. It’s not a cockiness. It’s just something I’ve always believed, that people would enjoy what I do.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “I’m not a shoo-in by any means because everybody here is fantastic.” Asked later who is the biggest roadblock to winning, he said, “Simon’s girls are all amazing. It’s hard to even narrow it down from there. … Each one of his girls could win, I think. Melanie has got one helluva voice. If it’s me against them at the end, it’s going to be a real tough challenge to win.”
Oldest in competition
Krajcik is also well aware that he is now the oldest performer in a competition and against youth-targeting performers like Crow, 13; Drew, 14, and Astro, 15. That gives him one advantage and — with viewers able to vote by app, text and Twitter — a possible disadvantage.
On the plus side, he said,:“I have experience, and I think experience can go a long way, you know? I’ve been playing in bars around Ohio and the States since I was 15.”
It’s unlikely that Krajcik would pull a move like Astro, who sulked and briefly refused to perform following the news that he was one of the lowest vote-getters.
“It’s hard when you’re a young kid on a show like this,” Krajcik said. “The pressure, I can tell you, is very, very immense. I think he was trying not to be emotional, and the only reaction he had was to be tough. I can understand that. … I think he’s learned from that, and he’s popular, and he’ll be just fine.”
Astro has also been outspoken about his social-media following. Krajcik noted: “When I started playing in bands, there was hardly even an Internet, and these kids have grown up with Facebook their whole lives. Their social-networking skills are obviously far surpassing mine.”
Reminded that Twitter has indicated vigorous support for “Burrito Josh” — a nickname fans came up with because of Krajcik’s fast-food work — he said: “I’m starting to catch on. I’m trying to do my thing. It’s tough, and doing a double elimination this week, you’ve got to keep people engaged and you’ve got to let them know how you feel — because that’s what the voters and ultimately America want to see from all of us.”
Krajcik said his own musical journey began in Wooster.
“I took piano lessons starting in second or third grade,’’ he said. ‘‘I got an electric guitar when I was 12 and I was completely enamored with the rock bands of that era, the early ’90s.”
When he was 15, Krajcik said, he convinced the operators of the Shady Glen in Lodi that he was 22 “because it was a 21-and-over bar. Somehow I pulled that off. And I made a hundred bucks playing for four hours and I said to myself, wow, I can make money doing this. This is what I want. I made a decision then that I was going to give it my all.”
Started his own band
Skipping college, he had bands starting when he was 18, moved to Los Angeles for a time but ran out of money, then went to Columbus and formed the Josh Krajcik Band with Corey Gillen and Mitch Pinkston.
“They’re just great,” he said. “I’ve been playing with those guys for eight or nine years.” But it hasn’t been easy money. “I was not making very much. Some years were better than others. Since the economy hit it’s been very hard. People can’t afford to see bands and be entertained in bars.”
Now he’s playing for millions — but “I try to block all that out, and think of it as though I’m just playing Musica in Akron, and it’s comfortable, because I’m used to playing a place like that.”
Besides, he said, “If I’m playing in front of 20 people or 20 million, it doesn’t make a difference to me because I give my all each time.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at http://heldenfels.ohio.com and on Facebook and on Twitter. He also does a weekly video chat for Ohio.com. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.