Popera Star on the Rise: "Boy Wonder" Josh Groban Has a New Disc and Is Coming to London
London Free Press
December 11, 2003
By Angela Pacienza
What is it with our obsession with popera? Nearly every artist who puts a pop twist on a classical singing style can list Canada as a best-selling market, per capita. The pop-opera classical alternative group is now commonly labelled popera and includes Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. The newest member of the club is Josh Groban, a 22-year-old baritone with a powerful voice and boy-next-door good looks.
His first North American tour starts in January with four Canadian stops. The first is at the 3,200-seat RBC Theatre at the John Labatt Centre Feb. 17.
That show sold out quickly, but more tickets may become available nearer the date.
The Los Angeles native fell into the spotlight in 2000 with the help of several lucky charms.
Victoria-born producer David Foster caught Groban singing Andrew Lloyd Webber's All I Ask of You at the inauguration ceremony for former California governor Gray Davis in 1999. A few weeks later, Foster called the young singer and asked him to fill in for an ill Bocelli at the 1999 Grammy Awards, on a duet with Celine Dion.
From there he won a role on Ally McBeal and later a glowing endorsement from Oprah.
With those credits behind him, he released a self-titled record in 2001, which went on to sell five million copies. The album is still in the Top 100 after 99 consecutive weeks.
Given that success, he said, making a second album was an intense process.
The soft-spoken singer, hailed by the New York Times as "the new boy wonder of the voice," admits to feeling a heavy weight on his shoulders while recording Closer, a 13-song disc released last week.
"Most of the pressure was what I was putting on myself and what I knew I had accomplished and what I felt I needed to do to make the second album in a different direction," he said recently during a stop in Toronto that included an autograph session at Sherway Gardens, a mall in the city's west end. Close to 3,000 people showed up.
"It was a shame that I wasn't able to get past the 'Oh, he's just a singer, put him in the other pile,' with the last album," he added.
Deciding he needed to step it up a notch, he turned to songwriting and tackled more vocally complicated music. The album features three Groban songwriting credits and guest appearances by violin star Joshua Bell and the French world music duo, Deep Forest.
"It's not about finding the hit song or making the hit video," he explained of his musical appeal. "It's just honest and shows a vulnerability."
He's also changed his look, opting for T-shirts and jeans instead of stuffy suits and ties.
"On the first album I felt this pressure to dress in suits and more formal outfits because of the music. I don't feel that anymore.
"Why try and act like I'm 40 years old when I'm not? I have the same fashion mindset as people doing pop and rock."
It's a formula that seems to achieve rock star results without the rebellious attitude or MTV support.
Helping push the fanfare is a group who call themselves Grobanites, who have dozens of websites and even raise money for charity in Groban's honour.
"It's fun," Groban said of his groupies.
"It's harmless. I didn't know what to think when it first started. I thought 'Is this a cult?' "