Kaminski/Splash News Online; Bauer-Griffin
April 30, 2009 12:00 AM

American Idol‘s judges saw something special in Matt Giraud and even saved him from elimination when he first got the fewest votes following movie night. Now, the contestant — who was sent packing for good Wednesday night — tells PEOPLE he has another high-profile fan: Good Charlotte‘s Joel Madden.

“Joel’s like, ‘Yeah, man, come over and jam anytime,'” reports Giraud, who met the musician and his girlfriend Nicole Richie while out to dinner one night. “It’s kind of crazy. I still get freaked out when I meet famous and they know who I am. I just try to stay humble and don’t think of yourself as too big before you are.”

Giraud said he was happy to make history as the first recipient of the Judges’ Save, and appreciated for his extended run in the competition. “I don’t think it was a waste, and I hope it doesn’t go down in history as a waste because I only made it a couple more weeks,” said the affable contestant nicknamed “Matt the Riffer” by his fellow Idols. “I still get amazed when I think about that night. There was so much love in the room. I’ll hold onto that moment for the rest of my life.”

The 23-year-old Michigan native, who received props from Simon Cowell for his final performance of “My Funny Valentine,” said he was leaving at precisely the right time. “I felt lucky to hear Simon say, ‘Matt, you were brilliant’ and compare me to Nat King Cole. That’s a pretty good note to go home on.” Besides, the non-stop Idol schedule was getting to him. “I was mentally ready to go,” Giraud admitted. “It’s an exhausting journey.”

Giraud — who says he’d love to open for The Fray or Gavin DeGraw — may not have won the competition but, then again, that wasn’t really his goal. “I never really thought of myself as the American Idol,” he said. “I wanted to win but that wasn’t what I was most worried about. I was fighting to stay. I wasn’t slacking. But my dreams were to play piano on that stage, to sing jazz and to meet the mentors, and they had all come true. I played some of my favorite songs of all time in front of 30 million . I mean, what an opportunity!” — Shawna Malcom

Relive Matt’s Most Memorable Idol Songs!

Tell us: What was your favorite performance from Matt? Would you buy his album?Kaminski/Splash News Online; Bauer-Griffin

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