Leah Greenblatt
February 08, 2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

A singer-songwriter named Ferras (pronounced Fer-AHSS) just snagged American Idol‘s golden ticket — and he didn’t even have to face the judges. The 25-year-old unknown’s soaring anthem ”Hollywood’s Not America” was selected as the exit music for contestants who will be booted off during season 7’s Hollywood Week (which begins Feb. 12) — a lucky break that the Illinois native calls both ”amazing and totally nerve-racking.”

It doesn’t hurt that his debut album, Aliens and Rainbows, out April 1, was produced by hitmakers The Matrix (the force behind singles by Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair, and Jason Mraz) — or that he found a champion in, of all people, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. A fan of Ferras’ music, Durst helped hook him up with a contract at Capitol Records. The admiration of a hard-rocker is especially ironic given that Ferras is more soft pedal than nü-metal, since he writes his own songs primarily on the piano.

Despite the remarkable exposure Idol can provide, the show doesn’t guarantee longevity; Daniel Powter’s ”Bad Day” became a smash when it served as season 5’s see-ya-later send-off, but his follow-up singles fizzled. Nonetheless, Ferras considers this gig to be a better opportunity than spending a few months getting dressed-down by Simon, Paula, and Randy. ”The thought had crossed my mind,” Ferras says of auditioning. ”But I always wanted that Cinderella story of a record-label president signing me, and to make it happen on my own.” So far, it sounds like the beginning of a beautiful fairy tale. (For an exclusive performance of ”Hollywood’s Not America” on Idolatry, go to ew.com/ferras.)

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