Matt Giraud was born in Dearborn and grew up in Ypsilanti but it’s Kalamazoo that holds his heart. Not too long after he graduated from the music program at Western Michigan University, Matt found himself in the national spotlight when he auditioned for, and gained, a spot on Season Eight of American Idol. It was clear early on that the judges loved Matt and considered him one of the top competitors of that year. When the voting results from the Top 7 night came in, and Matt was to be eliminated, the judges proved their loyalty when they invoked the judges’ save for the first time in American Idol history. Matt went on to place fifth overall and did his home state of Michigan proud. He’s since spent time performing all over the world and lived for a while in Nashville before moving home to Kalamazoo. Matt sat down with us to have a little chat and let our readers know what he’s been up to lately.
When did your love of music start? Did you take lessons or take part in school music activities?
I wasn’t one of those kids who say “I’ve been singing since I was 2 years old and I love it and I was born to do it.” I actually don’t really enjoy singing that much. I was a drummer and that was what I really loved to do. I still do it often when I play piano bars. When I was 15, my mentor made me try to sing. When I did, they said “Ok, you can sing. You’re not going to play drums anymore.” I joined the worship team and that was it. Still, though, I’m more of an instrumentalist at heart. I love to play drums and play piano.
What made you decide to attend WMU? What was your time like there?
It was the music program that drew me. I went to a little school (Lincoln High School) and my music teacher told me I needed to come to WMU for Jazz. I auditioned and was accepted into the program in 2003.
I remember my time as a Bronco fondly. I think of songs I wrote while there and all the different things that inspired me…even the girls I dated who dumped me. I really liked it here. They say the friends you meet in your first year of college will be your friends forever and that’s true for me. I have friends to this day who I stay in touch with, who have even worked for me. I love Western…I’m still paying for it (laughing) but I love it.
How did it feel to receive the first ever judges’ save?
When they announced it weeks prior I wondered who they’d think was good enough to save. I never thought it would be me. It was a very emotional moment. When I watch it back now, it’s like WOW. The energy in the room, the whole room chanting at Simon, randomly seeing Zac Efron in the front row, it was all so overwhelming and surreal.
What were the hardest (and best) parts about being on American Idol?
(Chuckling) “Messing up weekly in front of the entire world. It’s one thing to think of making mistakes in front of strangers…it’s another thing when it’s everyone you’ve ever known. They’re all watching at home…every teacher, high school friend. When you have a good week, it’s great but if you have an off week…it feels horrible. It’s the worst. I remember having a few sleepless nights after performances like that. The best part was all the time off TV, meeting the celebrities, hanging out with the other contestants, making commercials.
What are your favorite memories from those days?
Singing for Smokey Robinson comes to mind. We were sitting in a big fancy house and they told us someone was coming…and in walks Smokey Robinson. They told us we were going to sing our Motown songs for him. I was singing “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye. I was singing for him and he was smiling at me. I’ll never forget that he said “Marvin would love that”. It meant a lot to me because he knew Marvin.
It’s been 9 years since your time on American Idol. What are you up to now?
A lot of performances and corporate events. I’ve had a couple number ones songs in the Jazz world. I had a song on the radio here in the last year called “Fated”. I just booked 6 weeks playing in Atlantic City at the opening of a new casino. I had the opportunity to travel the world for “Symphony Idol” with a couple of girls from other seasons. Got to get all glammed up and play with 80 piece symphonies. I play a lot at piano bars and weddings; I keep pretty busy. The power and reach of American Idol blows my mind. It’s opened doors for me and created opportunities that I really appreciate.
What made you choose to settle in Kalamazoo?
I lived in LA for a bit after, American Idol and then moved to Nashville to see what it was like. I wrote a lot of songs and had a lot of fun…but I just missed home so much. In this day and age, with the internet, you can do music anywhere. I’m just too much of a Michigan boy to ever permanently leave.
Tell us a little about your son, Beckham, and how he’s changed your world and perspective:
A kid will force you to grow up. I still feel like a kid raising a kid. He’s forced me to grow up quick. Before he came along it was all about me; what do I want to do? It was all about my life. Once your child comes along, he becomes the priority. You think about him when you make all your decisions. What kind of car is safest? I am not that crazy helicopter parent but I hooked up security cameras and remote cameras so I could check on him while he’s sleeping. You worry, you know. Sometimes I wonder what’s happened to me. I used to be so laid back (chuckles)! I’m so proud to be his Dad.
What does your perfect day “off” look like?
Honestly? Being alone. Not leaving the house at all. I like to be a hermit, chillin’ and watching the news, making funny videos. Lately, since meeting a wonderful woman, I’ve been spending more of those days with her. A trip to Target feels like a vacation when I’m with her.
Which movie character would you most like to be?
Winnie the Pooh so I can eat honey all day. Nah, just kidding. I don’t know about wanting be a particular character, but I often identify with them. It’s totally random, but the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I know I don’t look like him (that much) but I see myself a little bit in that movie. I feel like I’m a lonely soul and the way he used to look out at the world around him, wanting to be part of it with songs like “Out There”…I felt like him. I wanted to get out there and experience the world. I did end up getting that chance…to go out there and see what it was like.
With which musician or group (living or dead) would you absolutely love to perform?
Ray Charles or Louis Armstrong
What advice do you have for someone wanting to break into the music industry?
I teach now. I do private lessons (vocals, piano, life coaching) and I tell my students to listen to as much music as you can and get on stage as much as you can. Some people say, “I don’t do open mic nights. That’s beneath me”. Get over that. Get over yourself. It holds you back. Get up there and do it. It’s not about the money…it’s about opportunities. Take advantage of any opportunities that come to practice your craft. Be a sponge…don’t be a diva. The world needs fewer divas.
Where do you keep your golden ticket?
You know, I don’t know if I even have that anymore! I betcha I do though, because I have a massive box of stuff in my garage that I can’t even move (it’s like a fridge box).
You don’t have it framed?
No…I keep cooler stuff framed. For example, the key to Kalamazoo framed…THAT I have framed.
Erica Shier is a married mother of four who loves reading, scrapbooking & thrift stores. When she’s not driving her small pack of children around, she spends her time volunteering, writing & trying to keep on top of the laundry.