By Jimmy Robertson
What started out as a fun TikTok hobby ended up striking just the right chord with producers from one of Hollywood’s top singing competitions.
And in the span of just a few weeks, Daniel Griffith went from a man who sang as a fun diversion to one with a different name who ultimately became one of America’s more popular contestants on this season’s “American Idol.”
Griffith, Class of 2020, who went by the name “Dan Marshall” while on”American Idol,” belted out a series of well-known songs — mostly of the country genre — during a span of approximately a month and made it to the final 14 out of 59 contestants before being eliminated. After his late-April dismissal, he wasn’t disappointed but rather was excited.
“I absolutely surprised myself,” Marshall said. “My goal was to get the gold ticket,” a guaranteed trip to Hollywood after the initial audition. “That’s something that was humbling, but everything else was just kind of icing on the cake.”
The intro to this “American Idol” solo act almost didn’t get played. A producer for the show found Marshall through the For You page on TikTok. She sent him a message through Instagram, introducing herself as a producer of the show and letting him know of her interest, but he never responded.
“I thought it was fake, so I didn’t answer,” Marshall said.
Undeterred, the producer contacted the alumni relations office at Virginia Tech, and someone there contacted Marshall’s mother, a roundabout path that ultimately led to an invitation for an audition. He discussed the opportunity with his family and girlfriend and decided to try his luck.
“The overall consensus of whether I should or shouldn’t do it was, ‘What do you got to lose?’” Marshall said. “And the answer is, ‘Nothing.’ Give it a shot. Country music is something I’ve always loved and had a passion for, and if I can share that with America, with the world, so be it. It was really neat.”
Initially, though, some may have been confused when news of a Virginia Tech graduate appearing on “American Idol” leaked on social media channels. His friend knew him as Daniel Griffith, and so, too, did fans of the Virginia Tech football team, where he played as a reserve linebacker for four years.
Those wanting a good explanation as to why he instead went by his middle name – Marshall – on the show probably will be disappointed.
“I thought it sounded cooler,” Marshall said, laughing. “I don’t know, man. It was actually something I talked with like a lot of friends, family, and they’re just like, ‘Yeah, dude, Marshall sounds cooler.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess it does.’ And so, before I went on the show, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna switch it up. See what happens.’”
Marshall, who graduated with a degree in agribusiness from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, had no formal training in music before participating in the show. He never had voice lessons, taught himself to play the guitar, and wrote many of the songs that he loaded on TikTok.
His first musical appearance in public came early last summer when he performed at his grandfather’s memorial service. After that, he started posting more videos, which led to a gig at a local brewery last July in his hometown of Chesapeake. He said he had played in four or five gigs before receiving the invitation to audition for “American Idol.”
During his audition, Marshall delivered a performance that was on key, using his deep pipes to sing “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, one of the most iconic songs in country music history. He impressed judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry, who advanced him to Hollywood.
During his time on the show, Marshall belted out songs that he knew well, like “Friends in Low Places” by Brooks and “She’s Got It All” by Kenny Chesney. But he branched beyond his familiar country roots, performing “Heaven” by Bryan Adams and paying homage to the soulful Richie with “Stuck on You,” the 1984 smash hit that reached No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.
Marshall had been working as a land surveyor in the Tidewater area before the “American Idol” opportunity.
“I was at a crossroads in my life,” he said. “I just kind of wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was thinking about maybe going into the military or going and using my degree. Obviously, either one would have been a fine choice, and I would have been cool with either. But this opportunity kind of happened, and I think it’s an opportunity that anybody would have stopped and said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna give this a try. I’m going to give this an honest shot.’”
Now armed with valuable name recognition, Marshall plans on moving to Nashville by the end of this summer and seeing where his deep, dulcet tones take him.