The United States Marine Corps is denying a report that Lance Corporal Joshua Gracin was given a pass from mobilizing against Saddam Hussein to face off instead against Simon Cowell. Over the weekend, the New York Post quoted the musical Marine's mother as saying he'd received an exemption allowing him to appear on ''American Idol'' while his unit is being shipped to Kuwait. But the USMC announced in a statement yesterday that his unit is scheduled to remain at Camp Pendleton near San Diego and is not set to go to the Middle East.
While the Corps denied keeping Lance Cpl. Gracin from being deployed, it acknowledged the public relations value of having him appear on the popular reality show. ''The Marine Corps sees the recruiting value of Gracin's appearance before a national audience, appreciates the level of talent the Marine possesses, and recognizes the benefits of allowing him to continue competing on the program,'' the statement read. The singing enlisted man marked his performance last week with a salute and will appear again this week as the judges narrow down the contestants to 32 semifinalists.