By Denice Rovira Hazlett
On Tuesday night, Oct. 25, Josh Krajcik took center stage on Fox’s X Factor before a live audience and millions of international viewers to deliver yet another powerful vocal performance with his stirring and stripped-down rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” eliciting overwhelming praise from the judges and securing a place on next Wednesday’s second live show, Nov. 2, when Americans will cast their votes to determine the grand prize winner, which, by all accounts, could very well be Krajcik himself.
Yet even with worldwide fans, glowing compliments from X Factor’s creator, the curmudgeonly Simon Cowell, and a $5 million recording contract within his reach, superstar Josh Krajcik isn’t much different from the quiet kid who shuffled through the halls of Triway with duct-taped shoes and unkempt hair. Now that the whole world can finally see how talented he is, Krajcik remains down-to-earth, unassuming, and incredibly humble.
In late September, Krajcik was headed to Los Angeles, Calif. and X Factor’s boot camp after blowing judges away with his potent performance of Etta James’ “At Last.” The next several weeks would be a whirlwind of hard work and high exposure. But before he boarded the plane for the West Coast, Krajcik had a few people he wanted to see.
“He came to my classroom unexpectedly to visit my students,” said Krajcik’s stepfather Bill Pim, of Millersburg, a teacher at Triway Junior High School. “He just knocked on the door, and asked if he could come in. The kids were thrilled.”
Krajcik pulled out his guitar and gifted students with a private performance of “At Last” before sharing a few thoughts with the enthralled young fans, many of whom had embellished their notebooks with the name of their new musical hero.
“The message he gave them was about being humble and thankful for what you have,” said Pim. “He encouraged them to never give up on their dreams.”
“I think it’s important,” said Josh Krajcik in a recent X Factor interview, “no matter who you are, what your status is, what you look like, where you’ve been, to follow your dreams.”
Pim had the unique experience of being Krajcik’s teacher as well as his parent, recalling how Krajcik’s homework notebook, which was supposed to be neat and organized, was always a mess. He also remembered how young Josh struggled to find his way in high school, often falling victim to bullying and ridicule.
“Kids shoved and made fun of him because he didn’t fit the mold,” remembered Pim. “He didn’t do what everyone else did.”
Pim said Krajcik looked to athletics to find his identity, but came away frustrated while waiting for his turn to shine.
“He tried sports,” said Pim, “but just sat on the bench and didn’t get to play.”
Pim remembered a disappointed adolescent Krajcik asking, “Why am I doing this? This isn’t any fun. I’m not even getting in the game.”
But Krajcik’s in the game now, one he plays very, very well. And while it might seem to have happened overnight, Krajcik’s success is the result of a lot of hard work, patience and perseverance. Krajcik’s stepmother, Jackie Krajcik, a fourth-grade teacher at Orrville Middle School, said it also took some thick skin.
“He marched to a different drummer,” said Jackie Krajcik. “Even though people would criticize him, he was always true to himself.”
As teachers, Bill Pim and Jackie Krajcik both agreed that it’s important to support kids like Josh who don’t fit the traditional mold, and it’s important for students to recognize and encourage the unique talents of their fellow classmates, because you never know where they might go.
“We have to teach to those kids, too,” said Pim. “I think that’s the mistake our system makes too often, to expect every child to be the same. I mean, whoever would have thought this kid would end up the most famous in his class, or in all of Wayne County?”
Pim said those who have always believed in Josh are behind him 100 percent. Local businesses like Expert T’s have created Josh Krajcik T-shirts, donating a generous portion toward the music program at Triway.
“It makes you so proud to be from around here, proud to be in Wayne County,” Pim said. “They’re taking care of that kid right now.”
Cheri Snoddy, of Wooster, always knew Krajcik had a gift. Snoddy worked alongside Krajcik at Wooster’s famed pizza place, the Coccia House. She described him as the “sweetest kid” who was “always singing.”
“I had faith in him from the beginning,” said Snoddy. “People didn’t realize how good he was.”
People realize it now. During Tuesday’s performance, Krajcik was again true to himself, delivering the song’s message with that classic Krajcik magic: “May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true. May you always do for others, and let others do for you.” The Huffington Post pointed to Krajcik as one of the “real winners of the night” with his “raw, simple performance.” X Factor judge Paula Abdul said Krajcik’s was her “favorite voice in the past decade.”
Simon Cowell’s praise of Krajcik was equally unreserved.
“You’ve got it all going on,” said Cowell. “That was a brilliant, brilliant choice of song. Probably the best performance we’ve had.”
The X Factor airs again on Wednesday, Nov. 2 and Thursday, Nov. 3 at 8/7C on Fox. Viewers will vote by phone, text, and Twitter to determine the winner.
Regardless of the outcome, Krajcik will walk away with the assurance that he need never again sit on the bench.
“It was a validation for everything I believed I could do.”