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Unlike most of us who cringe at the memory of a broken limb and the subsequent trip to the emergency room, Austin Paul holds a different connotation with his childhood injury. Ten years ago, on the first day of basketball camp, Paul broke his leg, causing him to temporarily drop out of all athletic activities. As a replacement, his mom enrolled him in the only camp that didn't involve using his legs: songwriting.
While this may have been a disappointment for many a teenage boy, Paul was thrilled; since that fateful day, he's written over 400 songs.
Sometimes Paul will find himself walking to class, humming a tune, wondering those familiar thoughts we all have from time to time when we can't place a certain song that's been playing on loop in our minds. Then he'll realize, he just made it up. "It's weird; songs come to me. I've worked with a lot of other songwriters and it seems like that doesn't happen to them," says Paul.
While deep down Paul feels that singing and songwriting would have found him at some point in his life, whether a broken leg led him there or not, it did give him something of a jumpstart. The D.C. native's ambitions to break into the music industry led him to CU Boulder's music school, and with only a semester left before graduation, Paul has three released iTunes albums, an internship with Dave Tozer under his belt (the two just recently spent a long night co-arranging a string part on a John Legend demo), and he held a spot as one of the top 200 contestants on this season's American Idol.
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Sounds like your typical music nerd, right? Well, there's a catch. As well as an innate performer, Paul also happens to play D1 football for CU Boulder (he's a long snapper-the guy that passes the ball back to the punter or holder), and he's also a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. Basically, Paul is a rare hybrid of the stereotypical college jock and a more sensitive, artistic type. Think John Mayer meets Tony Romo (in fact, Paul actually sang Mayer's ballad "Bigger Than My Body" for the judges during the episode that aired tonight).
While there's no denying Paul's vocal talent, the singer himself suspects that a main reason he made it so far on American Idol - currently ranked #1 in America in the Nielsen ratings -- was due in part to his unusual story.
"I was a dork on the football team because I was this music school kid, and I was the jock in music school because I was this meathead. I'm exaggerating a little, but it was kind of like that," he says of the experience.
Last summer, at the urging of friends who were headed up to Denver to try their hand in the singing competition, Paul decided to give it a shot; he'd already turned the opportunity down once due to embarrassment from a mouth full of braces. Once there, it was unlike anything he'd ever witnessed. "You can literally go into any of the halls and start singing with someone, and I don't know another place on Earth like that," he says. "I was blown away by how many good singers were there -- it wasn't a joke."
He was equally blown away by the reception that he got from the producers at the auditions who he felt were really pulling for him after they first heard his voice. They even came out to CU Boulder to film him on campus for a backstory segment for the show.
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Ultimately, however, when it came to the celebrity Idol judges approvals, Paul was shot down with criticism. Infamous for their harsh comments on the show, judges like Simon Cowell and Victoria Beckham had qualms about Paul's demeanor. They thought he came off as too arrogant. "They want someone who has a good voice and a good image -- a good story -- that they can kind of develop to be a star, not someone that comes in and already thinks they're a star," says Paul. "I feel like I was maybe too comfortable with them in their minds."
While Paul says the experience was humbling, he's not quite ready to give up on his singing career. In fact, his passion for music is so apparent, it's unlikely that his future aspirations will ever completely shift focus. If all else fails, he'll at least have that jock alter ego to fall back on, but America's next Idol or not, something tells us Paul is in it for the long haul.
If you want to hear more songs from Austin Paul, check his albums out on iTunes. All of the proceeds from his song "One Heart" will be donated to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund for Haiti.
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