A few weeks ago, he was a self-described “burrito slinger” at a Columbus lunchtime joint.
Two nights ago, Josh Krajcik sang his way into instant online buzz along with high praise from curmudgeon Simon Cowell — which might ultimately make him a key challenger on the inaugural stateside season of the reality show The X Factor.
The Grandview Heights resident, who works the counter at the Downtown restaurant Cinco, wowed a four-critic panel (including ex- American Idol judge Paula Abdul, record-label executive L.A. Reid and British pop singer Cheryl Cole) plus a live audience during a spring taping at the Sears Centre Arena near Chicago.
His audition — a seven-minute segment also featuring his mother, Wooster-area resident Lisa Pim, in which the musician maintained his usual laid-back form — was shown Wednesday night on Fox.
“When I’m done working, I smell like onions,” he joked. “It’s sick.”
Cowell seemed skeptical about the contender’s rumpled, unshaven facade and even more so about his unlikely song choice: the Etta James standard At Last.
Yet a soulful, gravelly showing earned Krajcik thumbs up across the board — as well as online comparisons to Joe Cocker; Stevie Ray Vaughan; and, probably because of the rapturous crowd reaction, overnight British sensation Susan Boyle.
“It just blew me away,” Cowell said. “You didn’t come out with any gimmicks.”
Unlike Boyle, though, the 30-year-old is no wallflower.
A fixture on the central Ohio scene since forming the Josh Krajcik Band in 2004, he once backed Ohio-born rock singer Gran Bel Fisher — with his group booked on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and at the high-profile Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee, among other gigs.
Krajcik later accompanied Fisher on more intimate club tours, which included opening spots with A-list artists such as Corinne Bailey Rae and the Fray.
The career setbacks represented by the departure of Fisher from Hollywood Records and the quiet reception for the recent second Krajcik release, Atavistic, were felt deeply.
Still, “He’s a strong-willed person,” said 29-year-old Corey Gillen, his longtime drummer.
“His natural ability to sing and sound unique will serve him better than anything else.”
Krajcik will soon endure a “boot camp” (similar to “Hollywood week” on Idol), with the X Factor rules preventing him, along with his mother, from being interviewed.
He has yet to prove his chops — and avoid elimination — through countless go-rounds.
Locals aren’t deterred from cheering, however.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” said Cinco owner Matt Radcliffe, who helped produce the latest Krajcik album.
“His voice is amazing, but, if they let Josh play the guitar, it’s game over.”
The restaurant, meanwhile, plans to introduce a burrito featuring his name and favorite fillings: double beef, onions and spicy-hot Sriracha sauce.
Area singer dazzles in ‘X Factor’ audition | The Columbus Dispatch