Charmed, I'm Sure
The Suburban, Montreal
February 13, 2002
By Craig McKee
At 20, he's had breaks most singers only dream of--now he's ready for the biggest show on the planet.
Groban will sing a duet with Charlotte Church that will be seen by 3.5 billion people.
How many 17-year-olds would turn down the opportunity to sing with Celine Dion?
Josh Groban did.
He said no when famed producer David Foster called and said that Andrea Boccelli had been delayed getting to dress rehearsals for the 1999 Grammy Awards. Foster needed someone to fill in and sing his song, "The Prayer" with Dion in the rehearsal.
"I said, 'Maybe not, David. I think you could do much better with a professional who is much older than I am,'" the now 20-year-old Groban said in an interview during a promotional stop in Montreal last week. Luckily, Foster didn't take no for an answer. He called back a few minutes later and convinced the young singer to give it a try. "It was a day that changed my life, and I would have slapped myself forever if I hadn't done that." Groban added. "It's been the story of my relationship with David; he's pushed me beyond anything I thought I could do, and I've learned so much because of it."
Now, three years later, the Los Angeles native with the classically trained voice is preparing to sing at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Once again, the song is "The Prayer," but this time his partner is 16-year-old Welsh singer Charlotte Church. The duet will be seen on television by 3.5 billion people.
Groban was in town to promote his debut album, which features a version of the same duet with Church, as well as a collaboration with The Coors. The album certainly has a classical feel to it, but Groban isn't ready to characterize himself as a classical singer.
"We don't want to say I'm the next classical singer, because I've got a real respect for that genre, and I know how much hard work goes into that," he says. "In the mean time, I'm a pop singer with classical influences, and we'll just leave it at that."
The album also includes a Richard Marx song, and a cover of the beautiful 1973 ballad "Vincent" by Don McLean, a song that was suggested to Groban by Sarah Brightman's boyfriend and producer Frank Peterson. Groban toured last year with Brightman, including summer stop at the Molson Centre in Montreal--well before his album was released. She asked him to join her to sing the song "There For Me", which she had recorded with Jose Cura.
The Grammy performance was not actually the first major gig for Groban. His first experience happened after a tape of his voice had been sent to Foster by his voice teacher.
On the basis of that tape, Foster asked Groban to sing at the inauguration concert for the Governor of California. Michael Crawford had been picked to sing a song from "Phantom of the Opera" but cancelled at the last minute, and Josh filled in, performing the song "All I Ask of You." It was the biggest thing I'd ever done, I was still in high school and there were 20,000 people there."
It was just a month later that the Grammy call came, which led to an invitation to appear on host Rosie O'Donnell's show. "Hey, opera boy! I want you on my show," she said backstage to Groban.
Since then, more incredible opportunities have been dropped in Groban's lap, without, it seems, him making much of an effort to get them. His performance for Foster at a charity event hosted by Bill Clinton led to another break. In the audience was the entire cast of "Ally McBeal," including creator David E. Kelley. "I was sandwiched between B.B. King and Ray Charles," Groban says.
A few days after the event, Kelley called and said he's like to have a song by Josh in the show. But much to the singer's surprise, a script arrived a few days later with a part in it for Groban. "I never did a screen test; he didn't know if I could act or not."
Groban's character, Malcolm Wyatt, returned for a second appearance, this time on the Dec. 10 Christmas episode, singing a sombre "To Where You Are" in a church in tribute to his character's recently deceased mother. Groban says the script was really paying tribute to all those who died in the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Even though he's described as a classical singer. Groban has other musical interests; in his spare time he plays the drums. "We're getting classical purists as well as people who listen to Tool and Depeche Mode. I'm really grateful for that because that's my interest in music. I have my classical selection and then I go and rock out on my drum set to Disturbed."
While he describes himself as a lyrical baritone, he says voice teachers tell him he's a "tenor in training." Groban adds that he'll likely make a decision in the next five years whether he will take his music in a classical or pop direction.
"The challenge is finding the right original music that wasn't written for *NSYNC or Michael Jackson, or Andrea Boccelli for that matter," he says, "I'm at the point where I'm going to keep training and see where my voice takes me."