Toronto, Ontario, Canada
April 8, 2003
(Thank you to karamella for this transcript)
Today on E-talk Profile: Popular music takes a new turn with the classical sounds of Josh Groban. Hi, I'm Thea Andrews. Welcome to E-talk profile. They call him "the new boy wonder of voice." Discovered by producer David Foster at age 17, Josh Groban has been pushing the boundaries of pop music with his classical sound and operatic influences. Today, 21 year old Groban can say he's dueted with some of music's female giants; Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand. This singing phenomenon has also starred in his own PBS special, and in two shows (?) Ally McBeal episodes. In 2001, viewers' interest and curiosity were peaked to the point where they sent Grobam's self-titled debut album to the top ten of Billboard Internet sales chart. Recently I had the chance to chat with Josh, and find out the story behind the boy next door with the lungs of gold.
Thea: You're a Los Angeles…
Josh: Yeah I am. I know I know, I've lived there my whole life and my parents brought me up there… and it's had its ups and downs, but it's always home, so… I'm always happy to be back.
Thea: Is it strange for you now, growing up in that city and seeing the entertainment industry on (?) and all of a sudden being…
Thea:…in the midst of it?
Josh: As much as I was interested in the arts and interested in the entertainment industry, that is not something I expected to be doing for long. I expected to do theatre in New York or something like that, I expected to be in music biz… you know it's a world that I didn't really know anything about. So yeah, growing up there and growing up with friends who had famous parents and you know… growing up with kids who wanted to be pop stars ever since they were little… you know there's that major vibe. It's like national. It's the same kinda thing. Everybody wants to grow up to do that, so… I was probably one of the only people I knew that didn't have that… didn't immediately know I wanted to be… you know…this whole stardom thing was not something I was really interested in. I wanted to do theatre, I didn't care if it was local theatre, Broadway or just… hopefully one day Broadway but… um the whole making an album, having millions of fans isn't you know… It just never occurred to me that that could even be possible, so… My senior year in high school I started doing stuff. I did musical theatre, I was like in Fiddler on the Roof, and... I was doing you know I was playing drums in jazz concerts and stuff…
Thea: What was your favorite musical theatre part when you were… in high school and doing all your shows?
Josh: Oh gosh… to have played, that I played, or that I wanted to play? That I played? I was Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
Thea (amazed): You were Tevye?
Josh (laughs): Yeah, exactly.
Thea: You must have been, like a small little Tevye.
Josh: Well he's poor, he's not supposed to be eating a whole lot…(laughs)
Thea: Exactly! I would maybe have gone with Perchik for you, but…
Josh: I did Perchik before actually. I did Perchik in the summer program, and then when I went to LA County High School for the Arts, which is where I went to high school, they cast me as Tevye. It was just because I had the voice for it, you know, they had to pad me up, put the hat on and the beard, and… it was just a blast. It was so great and that got me my real experience of feeling that buzz on stage. Be able to step out on stage and 3 hours are passing by and you're not even knowing, so… that's the energy of live performance.
Thea: Coming up next on E-talk profile: Josh gets the opportunity of a lifetime.
Thea: Take us back to that day. Because that was a really extraordinary circumstance.
Josh: Yeah it was.
Thea: You were called in to fill in for, of all people, Andrea Bocelli.
Thea: How did that happen?
Josh: Um, it happened because I had sung for David about two weeks prior. He needed a singer right away, so he called my voice teacher and said "who've you got whose young and can sing show tunes?", so I knew "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera, and I went in and sang it, and it was… 20 000 people were in that arena, the concert for governor Gray Davis of California's inauguration, so… this is insane, so I finished, and I thought "Well ok that was fun, but I'll never see David ever again". You know, what does he want with me?
Two weeks later he gave me that phone call, he said "Hey man, I wrote a song called The Prayer for Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, and Andrea's in Germany, he's rehearsing, he can't come to the rehearsal, would you mind…you were great last week, would you mind coming in and sing with Celine until Andrea gets here?" And I was 17 at that point and I knew the song a little bit, I was a huge fan of Bocelli and his range is just so incredible and I was listening to the song and I'm thinking "David, I'm not sure if this is right for me to do", you know, "I'm not sure I can sing this song. I don't want to embarrass myself in front of Celine, so thank you, but no thank you." And we hung up and I thought… I wasn't even thinking in terms of big break, it was like, I guess I didn't know that big breaks happen to people like me. I just thought "Oh, nice guy", you know, "but no thanks". And he called me back and said, "No, you don't understand, I'm not asking you. You're not gonna let me down. I expect you here at 2 o'clock."
So we worked with the song and it was the first time I had to sing in Italian - besides voice lessons - and I got to the Shrine and he never got me any passes, so the security guards were like "Yeah right, you have to sing with Celine". So you know I get on stage and it's the same deal, you know. "Where's this Josh Groban guy? He's 30 minutes late!" And I'm like "Well I've actually been here for the last hour." "It's you?!?! …Stand on the X, whatever, sing when you have to." So you know it was like, nobody cared, I mean… And we started singing and as we started going through the song more and more, more and more people started paying attention and there were so many celebs in the audience. And it was kind of like a dream. It was… I couldn't believe that I was standing onstage in the Shrine auditorium with Celine Dion, singing this song. And she was incredible. She was so nice and helped me with the Italian, and my hand was shaking and she held my hand while we were singing and um.. it was really scary but it wound up being the day that changed my life.
Thea: It sounds like very early on David Foster taught you one of the most important lessons of the entertainment biz…
Josh: Yes (laughs)…
Thea: Smile and sing kid!
Josh: Just smile and do it. You know it's likeness meets preparation meets… just being thrown in the fire and being able to do it, and he's pushed me (?) so many times and… I think a lot of people figured that since I met David Foster it was just all (?). He arranged this, he arranged that…I met this person, you know obviously some of that is true because of the connections he has, but man, the things that he did as tests, the hurdles that I had to overcome… it was a year before I was even signed because I was just basically travelling all over the place singing for Warner Brothers people, and singing for different charities. I mean it was really a difficult year and I went off to college and he goes "oh you're going to college…oh. Ok." you know (laughs). So I said "Yeah David, I have to. You know we're not signed". So you know even then, my school was getting upset that I was going to LA all the time to sing for David, and I eventually said to him "Look, let's either make a record or let me concentrate on college." You know one of the two. And he said "Alright. Let's make a CD."
Meeting David Foster was really kind of a revelation because he said, you know, "It can be possible, and here's how we can do it. We can make this great album and you can be you. Let's make this happen". And coming from him it was such a surprise cause he's won so many Grammies for female pop artists, mostly, I mean pop stuff that he does is really incredible. So it was really cool to have someone like that picking me up and saying, "You can do this".
Thea: You've always said that your parents were very supportive of you, but they didn't push too hard. How do they feel about you dropping out of school?
Josh: Well they had really observed pretty closely what had happened with me and David and all the magic that was there and all that… he was capable of doing for me… and with me. So they were very excited about the possibility of the fact that I could be recording with him. I mean they knew who he was, they knew what he had done and they knew everything he did was a class act, and he's the man. He's a genius at what he does. And so the opportunity to work with him… it's real life 101. It's an incredible opportunity that you don't get from any class and so… as much as of course I was brought up…"You work hard in high school, you get to college, you get your degree, and then you audition" you know, my parents appreciated the fact that my opportunity was coming now and I needed to take it. I needed to try, and if it didn't work out, I was young; I could go back.
So I'm very happy that I did, and they were very supportive, but they weren't stage parents, you know, not pushing me out on stage in a tuxedo when I was 3 years old and saying "Look at our son!" you know, it was just something that they were very interested in, getting me interested in the arts, taking me to the theatre, and when I started singing they were really excited, but they prepared me for the real world. The said "Great, take lessons, but here's your school work", you know. They always made sure that I had a backup plan.
Thea: Being introduced to the business I guess so quickly and not having the foundation that maybe other "stage kids" have, not having those parents…
Josh: I wasn't in the Mickey Mouse Club.
Thea: Did you wish you had that foundation?
Josh: You know what? Actually no. I mean I… not really. Because when I was young, when I was ten, I wanted to be ten, you know, I wanted to be playing video games and being a kid and being stupid and just figuring out life. I didn't have to have that kind of pressure early on. So when I started, and I was 17, I still felt very young to be starting, but I was still way behind compared to some other people who'd been doing this since they were 4 or 5 years old. So, but… In the longer run I was kinda happy that I was able to have a great, great, grounded, normal childhood where that wasn't in the equation, so that, you know I could decide for myself that this was the right move when it happened. It wasn't something that was always a childhood fantasy. When I watch all those old tapes of me when I was younger I'm glad that that's what on tape and not me doing star (?) So… I don't know.
Thea: Coming up next on E-talk profile: Josh faces the cold realities of the music biz.
Thea: When you actually got in and started working with record companies and the executives and they were pushing you maybe to… "Be a little pop, kid!" or "Be a little rock 'n' roll", or…
Josh: Sure, sure.
Thea:… or do this or do that, I'm sure they all had opinions on how you should be.
Josh: They all do…They still do, yeah.
Thea: How did you have the… maturity to say "No. This is… I'm gonna stay on my course, this is what I wanna do."?
Josh: Um.. I guess just because I'm a bad liar, and when I'm uncomfortable people can really see it. So you know I did a couple of things where they'd say "Oh I want you to try this, I want you to say this. I want you to sing…"
Thea: What are some of the things they asked you to do?
Josh: Well the hair was always an issue. "Oh cut the hair", you know… (laughs) That was always the thing.
Thea: This hair they don't like?!
Josh: Well it was even longer than this. Yeah it was even longer. I was.. I was straight out of college and it was… just out of control. So yeah I did trim it down a little bit, but…
Thea: Look guys, the chicks dig it.
Josh: Yeah, exactly, come on, it's a surfer (?) thing. But you know, I… to be honest, when I started, they wanted me to go more and more into a classical thing. They wanted me to do everything in Italian, you know because Andrea Bocelli had such big success, they thought "Oh I want you to do more in Italian." And I love singing in Italian, but I don't want to make that the whole thing, because that's not me, you know. Obviously when you first start and you're just new, nobody really knows what kind of thing you do, everybody's gonna say "you should do this", but as I started getting it more and more and as we started working more and more in terms of what the album was gonna be and what I sounded like and…they were just so great at just letting me be… Josh, you know, and just letting things roll from that standpoint. No big image, no big deal with… stylists or "you need this", just like…"Ok well", you know, "here's your shot, kid, go out there and sing, and if people like you, great, if they don't, well… it was nice knowing you". So (laughs) that was my job, just go out and sing and hopefully get the people to like it. So I'm thrilled that that's happened.
Thea: You are… your genre of music is impossible to define.
Josh: Yeah, kinda yeah.
Thea:…Because you do a little bit of everything. Do you have a way that you think of yourself? As a pop singer, as a classical singer…?
Josh: Hm. I see myself doing more classical stuff in the future maybe, otherwise I would…I guess I'd call myself a song stylist. I guess I'd call myself a pop singer with many different influences. I think that my goal is basically to make different styles popular, make things listened to by a large range of ages and different types of people. The great thing is we poll people on the Internet about "What do you listen to?" and they'll say "Yeah I listen to Linkin Park, Eminem and Josh Groban too", you know. I think it's great, because they have the same tastes that I have. I mean I listen to everything and I grew up listening to people like Paul Simon's Graceland. Everything from that to you know, Björk and Radiohead and Eminem, you know I just… everything out there combined with all the classical stuff I grew up with.
Thea: You mentioned in the past that you don't have the same type of career as some of your contemporaries. And when I say contemporaries I mean other performers your age; Christina Aguilera, who's had great success, pretty… sticking pretty tightly to one thing, to one genre. Do you wish that your success was more in pop culture than in culture in general?
Josh: Um… I don't know. I think it's certainly a lot more fun to be doing that kind of thing, to be part of that world. I would also think that I would get old pretty fast, I mean… so I guess my answer would be no, if it meant that I was doing anything my heart wasn't into you know. I think it's really great that a lot of people listen to the CD to kind of get away from that a little bit, cause that's kind of what's making the world go round right now. It's great to feel like I'm succeeding in he same way and selling just as many records.
Thea: And your new albums' coming out in October?
Josh: I hope so! I definitely hope so, in October, yeah.
Thea: Just so we get the little plug in here…
Josh: We're back in the studio now and I'm very excited just to be doing new music and I definitely hope to have the new CD out by September/October.
Thea: And you're gonna be writing and arranging a little bit on it too, right?
Josh: I hope so. Definitely. I'm doing some writing now and it's something that I've always been interested in doing. But there were so many amazing writers on the first album, and I figured I'd just sit back and learn so… I'm gonna hopefully… sit forward a little bit and try a little bit now… this time.
Thea: Coming up next on E-talk profile: Josh's fans can't get enough of him.
Thea: You have a very wide variety of fans. What do you say when you have mothers and daughters approaching you on the street?
Josh: Oh, man. It's weird because sometimes really, you know I have this radar. I always know when people have recognized me. But you can't go up to them just because they're staring at you, you know… (Thea laughs) like…"I noticed you were looking at me. Hi, nice to meet you." You can't do that, that's totally, you know, uncool. So you know a lot of the times you can tell that… they'll do the whole… (pretends to be eating something, then looks up amazed, eyes widened and turning his head as to indicate looking at someone walking on the street.) And they'll just do that forever! (stares again) And they won't stop! It's just like…(waves discreetly) …"How ya doin'?" (Thea laughs) But sometimes they talk to you and when they talk to you, usually it's really great. They're usually very polite and they talk about how they love the music, and you know some of the songs have meant a great deal to so many different people, some people have had great losses in the last year, and a song such as To Where You Are (*sorry couldn't make out the following sentence.*)..and so yeah a lot of times when people come up to me they share stories with me that are amazing. And so I really enjoy talking to people.
Thea: Is it true that you've received over 100 marriage proposals?
Josh: Haha. Oh yeah at least, I don't know, probably…most of them are…probably all of them are joking. But it's cool, it's nice to see, you know, it's… There's definitely a very large female fan base…and you know I was always the kind of awkward one in high school so to be able to have that now, calling my friends and like "oh yeah, that's right". So it's been cool. It's been really cool. You know I get underwear (rolls eyes) in the mail too, so it's…
Thea (surprised): Underwear?!?
Josh: They don't throw it on stage. It's all in the mail, it's very polite, it's tucked away: "Warning - underwear". So…
Thea: What would you do if someone threw their panties at you on stage?
Josh (laughs): I have no idea. That would be funny. (chuckles) I'd probably give them to the drummer.
Thea (laughs): Now, considering everybody loves you and you've done some collaborations - everyone would collaborate with you. Who would you choose to do a song with next?
Josh: Um… I would love to do some work with someone like Björk, I'd love to work with someone like Peter Gabriel or Sting and just… people who've really kinda not been afraid to push the boundaries of pop and rock music, you know, people who've been able to take really strong and interesting sounds, electronical music… real pioneers. People that have opened people's ears to different sounds. I'd love to do that. It'd be cool to do a duet with Andrea Bocelli one day, I'll see. But there's a lot of people out there that I'd… I think sometimes the most different collaborations, the ones you don't think of, are the ones that are most successful. So that definitely happened on the first album. I never expected in a million years that I'd be doing a song with the Corrs, or Lili Haydn, or Charlotte Church for that matter. So it all kinda worked out in the end. It was all just something that, everything just falls into place.
Thea: Ah, you've done a little bit of acting in the past…
Josh: A little, yeah.
Thea: …as well. Would you like to do some more of that?
Josh: Yeah, I would actually. I had a great time and acting was definitely one of the… it was half and half, I was doing singing and acting in school, cause I wanted to do theatre, to do both, so… I'm just enjoying… so much doing music 110%, but to be able to do something like Ally McBeal, be able to get into a TV studio where I was completely out of my environment, to rely completely on the cast, and the script and the director… to help you do a good job was just… it was really invigorating and so… I would love to do that again. I'm talking to directors and I'm reading scripts, and if the right role comes along and doesn't interfere with the making of music, then I would definitely like to do that again.
Thea: David E. Kelley created that part in Ally McBeal for you after seeing you…
Josh: He did, yes, Malcolm Wyatt.
Thea:..which must have been a compliment.
Josh: It was a major compliment. He hadn't seen a thing in terms of acting from me, I just sang a… I sang a song at a charity event, and he was there and the cast was there. And the next day I got a part. And it was a small part…and then Robert Downing jr. was… some stuff happened with him…(chuckles) and I thought to myself, "Oh my God, I'm probably not gonna be in the show anymore." And I got another script, and lo and behold, I was in most of it now. So it was an amazing, amazing opportunity because it gave me a chance to do a little acting, and to be able to the full… almost the full song on prime time television was just… it was before the album was released, and already we had like 10 000 people on the Internet just trying to find out who I was, so it was really kinda cool to get that first buzz, to get that first reaction.
Thea: Other big experiences for you; singing at the Olympics…
Josh: Oh boy, yeah. Cold experiences…
Thea: That must have…I mean that's like, hello world! A billion people, introduced to Josh…
Josh: I know. I was nearly in tears, I was so honoured to be there, I mean I was so… I couldn't believe it. It's the Olympics and I'd never been to any Olympic ceremonies, I wasn't really old enough to appreciate the LA games and so… it was just so great to be there. And I love… I think the winter games are so much more fun anyway. So to be able to be there and see a lot of the events, see hockey and figure skating and (??) and everything. It was just great. And to be able to do that song with 80 000 screaming people around you, the energy in that arena was so unreal. Not to mention the energy of the world at that night. It was a major honour and it was definitely a night I will not forget. And my whole family was there so it was really special.
Thea: Ok last question.
Thea: Fate or fluke? Your success. What do you think?
Josh: You know I gotta say fate at this point. There have definitely been moments where I've said to myself "Oh this has gotta be a fluke". And then something else happens, you know the stars are always aligned (*not really sure that was what he said*) so I'd say that there's always… I think with anybody, new, there's always the possibility… I think sometimes the fate and the fluke are in your hands sometimes. It could, you could… decidedly make it a fluke if you decide not to keep your game up. I think that's as long as I concentrate on developing my voice and continuing to grow and working harder and harder and always see that (??) at the end of the stick, I think that fate hopefully will be the answer to that question.
Thea: It was very nice to meet you. (they shake hands)
Josh: Nice to meet you too. Thank you so much.
Thea: Thank you.
Thea: Josh Groban may have helped extinguish the flame alongside Charlotte Church at the closing of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, but his performance fueled the fire of his own celebrity. Groban's CD has gone 4 times platinum, selling more than 4 million copies worldwide. Josh is currently working on some new songs for his follow-up album, and he'' travelling to Europe for television appearances. For E-talk profile, I'm Thea Andrews. See you next time.