'Popera' Star Josh Groban Tries His Hand at Writing on New Disc Closer
Canadian Press
November 17, 2003
What is it with our obsession with popera? Nearly every artist that puts a pop twist on a classical singing style can list Canada as their best selling market, per capita.

The pop-opera classical alternative group is now commonly labelled popera, and includes Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. And the newest member of the club is Josh Groban, a 22-year-old baritone with a powerful voice and boy-next-door good looks. 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 California governor Gray Davis in 1999. A couple of 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 got 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 sellers 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 when recording Closer, a 13-song disc which was 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 to catch a glimpse of the boy wonder.

"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 song writing and tackled some 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."

Aside from the music, 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 rockstar 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?' "

His first North American tour, which starts in January, sold out in a couple of hours. The tour will include four Canadian stops during its first leg: London, Ont., on Feb. 17, Toronto on Feb. 19, Montreal on Feb. 20 and Ottawa on Feb. 22.