By Ashley Zartner, 15, Bell HS
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Ashley created this poster of Josh and made sure she brought it with her to the concert so she could get an autograph.

American Idol season two had just started and I was sitting in the living room doing my homework and watching TV. All of a sudden, this guy marches into the audition room and says, "Lance Corporal Joshua Gracin, United States Marine Corps, reporting in for my American Idol audition," and then salutes the judges. I was puzzled, what was a Marine doing trying out for American Idol? Josh opened his mouth, and then I knew exactly why he was there. He belted out O-Town’s "All or Nothing." It was phenomenal. His voice was deep, smooth and very rich.

Week after week I fell more and more in love with this Josh Gracin character and his voice. He was very handsome, with his dark hair, light complexion and beautiful brown eyes. His voice sounded better and better as he went along on the show. Around the middle of the season, Josh transitioned to country music. I was just starting to become a big country music fan, so that made me admire Josh even more. Josh was criticized for this, but to me it seemed like the smart thing to do. Josh gained more fans, and showed them that he could pull off singing two types of music. In the end Josh didn’t win, but he took fourth place, which was wonderful.

I also like Josh because he’s a Marine. He is patriotic and ready to fight for his country. Most importantly, Josh is devoted to his young daughter, Briana, and his wife, Ann Marie. I think that devotion shows that you can have a family and still follow your dreams; you just have to bring them along with you.

On Nov. 19, I found out from my friend Brittany that Josh would be appearing at the Carlsbad Company Stores near San Diego for "Santa’s Holiday Ho Down." Right away I yelled for my mom to come. She opened the door to my room with a "What do you want?" look on her face.

"Mom, Josh is going to be in Carlsbad this Saturday, can we please go? I know it’s kind of far but it’ll be fun. Please!" I pleaded.

"I’ll think about it," she said. I was hopeful, because usually when my mom says she’ll think about it, it means yes!

All week I told my poor friends, who had heard me mention Josh nearly every day for the past seven months, that I was going to see him. They weren’t jumping up and screaming for me like I’d expected them to, but they did seem somewhat happy for me. The people who were excited for me though, were fans from—the "Joshaholics." When I made a post about it, one of them said they "hope I meet that bundle of hotness." I got instant messages from some of them and we would discuss what I was going to wear, or what I would give him to sign. I talked to my friend Brittany about having Josh sign a T-shirt.

Finally, Friday came. Even though my mom was sick with nausea and a fever, she agreed to take me. I then called my friend Mari who had agreed to go with me, and told her the good news. But oddly enough, I wasn’t really pumped or excited yet.

I was amazed

Zoom to Saturday morning. I woke up at 8 a.m., quite early for a Saturday. I laid out what I was going to wear: a pair of jeans and some black casual shoes, plus my Josh Gracin T-shirt, which I had purchased online earlier that year at Josh’s merchandise store. It read "Baby we’re amazed by you, Joshua Gracin," in honor of Josh’s breathtaking performance of Lonestar’s "Amazed." I also pulled out another Josh shirt of mine for Mari to wear if she wanted to pretend she was a fan.

After laying out my clothes, I made two small posters with Josh’s picture on them, one for myself and one for my friend Brittany, in case I had the chance to get his autograph. My sign had a picture of Josh from when he was younger, and Brittany’s sign had a picture of Josh in his Marine uniform.

When I was finished getting ready it was 2 p.m. I still had to wait an hour and a half. I paced back and forth through my house and waited for Mari to call. I tried calling her countless times, but she wasn’t home and would not answer her cell phone. We ended up leaving at around 4 p.m., without Mari, who never showed or called.

On the way to Carlsbad I was really paranoid because I didn’t think we were going to make it in time. The traffic was unbelievable. We finally got to our exit at 6:15 p.m., but Josh was scheduled to go on at 6:25. I was nearly pulling my hair out. As we arrived at the Carlsbad Company Stores, there was absolutely no parking and my mom didn’t want to let me out while she went to find a parking space. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to find me. I was ticked, but we had no time to argue. We parked at a Holiday Inn across the street even though it said, "Customer parking only." In the end though, we didn’t get a parking ticket.

We ran across the street and raced to where we heard music. I was freaking out because I heard someone singing and thought it was Josh. I was too frantic to listen carefully to the person’s voice, or else I would have figured out it wasn’t him. There was also a huge crowd so I couldn’t really see. My mom and I politely pushed our way through the crowd. I must’ve said "excuse me" and "thank you" at least 20 times that night.

We found a spot where we could see the stage, but we were still about 20 feet away. My hands were shaking; I never felt so excited in my life.

They thought I was crazy

Soon after, a man came out and spoke for about three minutes and then introduced Josh. I screamed, "Oh my God, oh my God!" People looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care.

Finally, the person who all of this was for came out with a big smile on his face. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a white long-sleeved button-down shirt that was splashed with light brown. He looked gorgeous, even cuter than he did on TV. All I could say to my mother was "Oh my God, Mom, oh my God!" He began to speak and I had this sudden outburst and I screamed "I love you, Josh!" while holding up my sign. My mom told the people around us, "She’s a big fan," as if trying to excuse my nuttiness.

He sang "White Christmas," one of my favorite Christmas songs. He then sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Afterwards, he said "Thank you, enjoy the show." I was in shock because he’d only been on stage about 10 minutes. I thought I’d never see Josh again.

I really wanted an autograph, so again, I had to get through an enormous crowd. But he was gone by the time I got to the stage. I was almost heartbroken, until I had the idea to just wait at the back of the stage for him. My mom and I walked to where the backstage entrance was. There was a little girl around 11 years old there.

Photos by Charlene Carroll (Ashley's mom)

"Are you waiting for Josh, too?" I asked. She was and her mother told us how her daughter met Josh earlier and took a picture with him. They were now waiting for an autograph.

As we were waiting together, we could hear Josh talking to someone backstage, which was shielded by just a thin black curtain. I couldn’t believe I was so close to him. The little girl’s mother had an idea. She wanted us to peek through the curtains and call out to Josh to ask him for an autograph. I thought that was a crazy idea, but I went along. The little girl and I peeked through and Josh was standing next to Santa talking.

"On the count of three," I said. "One, two, three, Josh!"

He came over, and I started shaking again. Our faces were nearly a foot apart and I said to him "Oh my God Josh, I love you!" I kept saying "Oh my God, oh my God," and he replied, "It’s OK! It’s OK!"

It seemed as though he could not believe someone was going this crazy over him. I never thought that I would act this way over someone who I idolized. I am not usually a crazy or loud person. But all my emotions just boiled over and I had to let them out even though I seemed crazy.

"Josh," I said, "Can you please sign these, one for me and one for my friend Brittany."

He gladly autographed the signs I had made and wrote, "To Ashley, thank you so much for watching, Joshua Gracin."

Before departing, I gave him an envelope that said "To Josh, from your fans." Inside the envelope were comments I collected that his fans had written about him in the last few months on Web sites and message boards dedicated to him. I also included a letter I wrote a few months before.

I ran to my mom who was waiting about 10 feet away, and I hugged her and screamed. I didn’t know whether Josh was going to sing anymore, but we decided to watch the rest of the show anyway.

All of a sudden, I saw Josh come on stage with a guitar. He said he was going to sing a song from his album that was coming out soon. I could not believe my ears, he said "album." I didn’t know he got signed. He sang a country song that sent chills through my body. I loved it.

A brush with greatness

Ashley almost went crazy when Josh put his arm around her before they had their picture taken. She met him after he performed at

After he finished, he started to pose for pictures with people. I was standing with my mom, but I was too shy to run over and take a picture. She literally had to push me. As I stood next to him, he wrapped his arm around me and I could not believe it. My hand was cupped over my mouth in disbelief and my mom had to yell at me to snap me out of my amazement so she could take the picture of us. I put my hand down and wrapped my arm around him. I was praying that my mom’s finger didn’t get in the way of the picture.

As I was walking away he said "By the way, I read your letter, thank you very much."

"You’re welcome, Josh," I replied. "I love you!"

I ran to my mom again and hugged her and screamed "Thank you, Lord!"

As we were walking away, I could not believe what had just occurred. The only thing I could say to my mom was "I can’t believe it Mom, this was so awesome, I can’t believe it." When we got on the freeway, for yet another long drive, I told my mom "You know, Josh is awesome, he was so polite."

"I hope you marry a man like Josh someday," she said. On the way home, we didn’t listen to music as usual, but we talked and talked about my adventure. It was the best day of my life.