Who's That Boy?: Ardent fans help Josh Groban make a name for himself
Richmond Times Dispatch
April 22, 2004
By Melissa Ruggieri
His fans pant over his luxuriously wavy locks and, oddly, his leg muscles ("His rippling leg muscles even flex while he sings," gasps one fan-board posting.)
Many of those same worshippers also have taken an oath as "Josh's Angels," promising to watch over him when he's on tour - a notion that could be a psychological exploration unto itself.
Still more wistfully sigh online things such as, "Six more days 'til I see my sweet angel Josh" and "We're gonna kidnap Josh!"
We get it.
Most of America is still wondering who, exactly, is Josh Groban?
The boring stuff is that he's 23, a native of Los Angeles, lives in Beverly Hills and - hold your collective screams, gals - is happily courting actress January Jones. Slightly more interesting is his Big Discovery Story, one that had been told countless times on countless talk shows, but is so cool, it bears yet another recount.
Mega-producer David Foster was looking for someone to sing at a charity concert in Sacramento, Calif., and was given 10 tapes from students of Groban's voice coach at the time. Groban, a student at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Program in California, got the gig, but never expected to hear from Foster again. Two weeks later, his phone rang.
Popular classical singer Andrea Bocelli couldn't make the 1999 Grammy Awards ceremony, and Foster needed a replacement to sing with Celine Dion. Welcome to the spotlight, Mr. Groban.
"[David] was the first person who said, 'You can do this,'" Groban said recently from a tour stop in Toronto. "He really gave me that push, and he's been pushing me ever since."
Foster produced Groban's 2001 self-titled debut, a sublime mixture of soft tunes that spotlighted Groban's creamy baritone without alienating fans of adult-contemporary music.
Groban has sold millions of albums, but his style is still difficult to peg. Classical purists rightfully sniff at his efforts, although Groban certainly tiptoes into the classical realm and often sings in Italian. On the other hand, his best-known song, the pensive "To Where You Are," was co-written by pop tunesmith Richard Marx, and another popular offering, "The Prayer," is a duet with fellow vocal prodigy Charlotte Church.
Though "To Where You Are" and the recent "You Raise Me Up" from the three-times platinum "Closer" album received strong notice from adult-contemporary radio, Groban's music isn't typical format fodder. He knew he couldn't rely on traditional outlets to sell himself and even now pokes his sideways smile into unusual places for a singing star.
The first glimpse many got of Groban - pre-album release - was as a high school student with a dazzling voice on a couple of episodes of "Ally McBeal." That turn caused enough "Who was that?" reactions that it was soon apparent that Groban's combination of sensual voice and inoffensive looks could make things happen - if people could get to know him.
"We didn't have the one single or the one video. We had to find different ways to break the market, and I needed to be physically in 100 places at once to get people to hear [the music]," Groban says, adding that living on the road so much as a solo artist leads to a solo life. "It's like you're in a time capsule. On the bus. On the stage. In the bed. It's a pattern, a formula - but now I'm in a place where the work has really paid off."
After a couple of years of appearances at high-profile events, including the 2002 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies and this year's NASA tribute during the Super Bowl pre-show, Groban finally sketched out his first proper tour. Saying he "wanted to test the waters," Groban booked small theaters for most of the dates.
"I guess we played it safer than we imagined," he says humbly, acknowledging the mind-boggling popularity of tickets to his shows. For the record, Monday's Landmark Theater concert is sold out; tickets on eBay are running as high as $300 a pair.
He might be "seeing the world through hotel windows," but Groban repeatedly remarks how "great" everything is and how excited he was to put his music on a live stage.
"I wanted to experiment with that live energy, to push myself a little," he says. "It's very much about having intimacy with the music. I love theater - and I love playing in these old theaters. It's not a Vegas stage show. It's very much just me and the music and a five-piece band and a 20-piece string section from each city."
Growing up, Groban was lured by the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon's "Graceland" album and, not surprisingly, a lot of musical theater. These days, he's still "brushing up" on older bands and retains a love of world music (explored on "Never Let Go" from the "Closer" album) but also tunes into Coldplay, Maroon 5 and Bjork - artists he shares the top of the Billboard charts with (OK, maybe not Bjork at the moment).
As evidenced by the fawning Web sites established in Groban's honor, his faithful flock - affectionately known as "Grobanites" - follow every blink of his doe eyes. We think the young man should be afraid.
But Groban meets the pressures of fame with a steady maturity that belies his age. "It hasn't gotten out of control. I mean, I wouldn't call myself a press darling. I've learned at this point that that kind of thing comes and goes . . . unless you're Bennifer," he says with a chuckle. "My girlfriend and I kind of laugh, and my family saves every clipping. But the fans aren't intrusive. Every now and then I get knocks on the hotel room door."
A word of advice, Young Groban. Do NOT let your lodging choice while in Richmond slip out. Guaranteed you'll hear knocks on that door all night long.