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American Idol Alum Stays True to Kalamazoo Roots

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Matt Giraud

Thanks to a fifth-place finish on American Idol in 2009, Matt Giraud has experienced a meteoric rise to fame in the music industry. He has come a long way since his days at Western Michigan University when he was a full-time working musician and college student. Five years post-Idol, Giraud calls Nashville, Tenn., home, but still has a soft spot for Kalamazoo.

We touched base with Giraud to find out how he came to find a job he loves and what keeps him tied to his Kalamazoo roots.

"I was a full-time working musician by the time I was halfway through college," Giraud said. "I was a dueling piano bar player, hotel lobby piano player, and a private party/events player, but I did not have much direction or big goals ahead of me. I was kind of content in it because I am the kind of a person who can get content with where I am if it is good at the time.

"Obviously, my career path took a big turn when I got fifth place on American Idol in August of 2009. All of a sudden I had 13,000 people-sized crowds and arenas to play with my top 10 finalists and friends from Idol. I had sold out concerts in theaters back home to hear my music when I barely had any written yet!"

"I love being able to express myself as well as entertain people and give people a good time as my job. I have had jobs where there was no satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when I was told there was going to be one. That's because my sense of accomplishment came from a cheering crowd who had a great time or touching someone with a song I wrote. Once I got to do music for a living, I realized that I could truly love my work," Giraud said.

"I had to take my performance abilities up a notch. We were told to consider American Idol 'star school' so we learned how to perform better, rehearse with big bands, be professional, get better, work hard, and do interviews! Now looking at my life and career roughly six years after American Idol, it definitely gave me a boost to end up where I am now.

"At this point, being a songwriter and performer that is still working all around the country is more to do with what I bring to the table rather than the fact that I was on American Idol so I'm constantly reminded that I can't get lazy. I have been blessed to still have the phone ringing, but overall American Idol definitely gave me a big boost in my career and got me noticed on an international level," Giraud said.

For those hoping to follow in his footsteps, Giraud emphasized being flexible, nice, and professional.

"I still deal with the professional part sometimes myself because I think I have a 'being on time' deficiency, but I am taking medication for it. And by medication, I mean coffee," he said.

"I could go on about things that a musician should know like how it is always helpful to learn how to play an instrument, be versed of different styles of music, learn to write, and be a fan of others, but these themes can be applied to any business. Admire those who have come before you, know how to do your job the best you can, and always try to be better at what you do."

After traveling around the country for a living, Giraud said he still considers Kalamazoo home.

"Kalamazoo is just my favorite place. The great food places like Crow's Nest, Food Dance, Martini's, the bike trails, music, my alma mater Western Michigan University, festivals, Kalamazoo Nature Center, and the all-around great people you find here just make it my favorite place on Earth. No matter where I have lived like Nashville, Detroit, LA, and living on a bus all over the country on tour, I always can't wait to get back home to my home, Kzoo," Giraud said.

Although he said he misses his family and friends while he is away, Giraud said his current home base of Nashville also offers a great atmosphere.

"As for Nashville, I obviously love the music most," he said. "There is just so much talent and drive there. The passion for music in every room is incredible. Everyone sings, everyone listens. There is a lot of love and acceptance for those who come to write songs and make it.

"It's an inspiring and magical place full of opportunity and excitement for most. It doesn't have that 'boulevard of broken dreams' feel like LA tends to. It's less about status and just about the song. It all starts with a great song."

Speaking of a great song, Giraud said he is really pleased with his most recent material.

"In the last year I have written some of the best material of my life. Just being around Nashville and writing over and over with writers that I work well with has been great for my material," he said.

"It has been great playing out more often as well. I'm getting in front of new audiences wherever I can. Making friends with places like Hard Rock Cafe has been big for me because they bring me in with a live band and let me perform for a lot of the tourists and friends that are coming into town to hear great music.

"Also being invited to play at songwriters festivals has really helped meet other great songwriters. I recently got new management and I will be working on knocking down a producer and we have a few prospects that we are exploring right now to make a great record with some of the best stuff I've written over the last few years."

In between writing new material and taking the stage, Giraud is sure to visit Kalamazoo often.

"I try to come back once or twice a month at least," Giraud said. "I'll be playing Sept. 5 in Paw Paw at Warner Vineyards as well as somewhere close to Kalamazoo on New Year's that is yet to be announced.

"I hope to see some local people out! Make sure to follow my Twitter and Facebook to stay updated on where I'll be playing next! Thank you so much for the support over the years!"

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