With over 10 million albums sold and a worldwide audience that numbers 10 times that, Josh Groban is a force of nature in popular music. In support of his latest CD “Stages,” a collection of his versions of Broadway’s best tunes, Mr. Groban will be stopping at the District’s DAR Constitution Hall Sept. 14.
Mr. Groban reflects on his early days, his missed career as a cruise ship magician, his desire to sing hip-hop hooks and where you will find him when he’s not onstage in D.C.
Question: Is it true that your first love was magic, not music?
Answer: [laughs] I did love magic from a very young age. But I wasn’t very good at it. I was kind of a hammy kid. I just liked showing off.
Q: You loved it so much you auditioned for Disney’s Magic Castle [in Los Angeles]?
A: My dreams were crushed. As a kid I auditioned to be a junior member, and my magic coins just fell to the floor. The toddler I had invited to help me started laughing at me. It was a very Ralph Wiggum moment. In hindsight, I’m glad it didn’t go well. [laughs] I would probably be doing sleight of hand tricks on a cruise ship right now.
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Q: When did you discover your voice?
A: I would lock myself in my room and sing — privately. It wasn’t until I was in junior high and I joined the choir. A teacher pulled me out from the back off the choir and said, “I want you to sing at this monthly cabaret show the school does.”
I invited my parents, and there were a bunch of kids there. That was the first time I really felt a kind of adoration. My mom was crying. The kids gave me a standing ovation. It was one of those “Afterschool Special” moments.
Q: How did you meet David Foster?
A: I was working with a voice teacher in Los Angeles named Seth Riggs. He was a neighbor and family friend. During one lesson David Foster called. Michael Crawford had pulled out of playing the governor’s big inauguration concert in Sacramento. It was at Arco Arena. Twenty-five thousand people. Coolio was gonna be there.
Q: Not the Coolio?
A: Oh yes! Foster said, “Who have you got that can sing this song from “Phantom of the Opera?” Seth had three or four of his students — me included — record a version of “All I Ask of You” on cassette and send them to Mr. Foster. He picked my cassette. I sang for him at that event.
The next day I went back to school. Two weeks later I got a call from him to sing with Celine [Dion] at the Grammys. It was one of those moments where preparation meets opportunity.
Q: How did you end up on “Ally McBeal”?
A: David Foster and I were about halfway through making my debut record, and we were performing at a charity event. I was sandwiched between B.B. King and Ray Charles. I was the bathroom break. [laughs]
The cast of Ally McBeal and [show creator] David E. Kelley were being honored that night. David was there and, I’m sure, assuming he wouldn’t be able to book Ray Charles or B.B. King on the show. He asked, “Well, can we get that kid? Who’s that kid?”
They asked if I had any original material. David Foster said, “Yes, here are the songs we’ve done so far.” They picked one. I was just going to be the wedding singer for one scene where Calista Flockhart and Robert Downey Jr.’s characters were getting married. But Robert Downey Jr. got arrested three days before we were to shoot. Rather than fire me, David Kelley wrote a whole new script turning a 30-second wedding singer role into an entire story about this kid who has to take Ally to the prom to get back at his ex-girlfriend.
Q: Can you sing absolutely anything?
A: My voice has always been really versatile. I feel lucky that the kind of music that I really wanted to sing fits my voice the best. If I were to try to put on a rock voice or a country voice or even rap, I would lose my voice in five minutes because I would be doing things my chords aren’t meant to do.
Q: So there won’t be a Josh Groban gangsta rap CD?
A: Unfortunately no. I may at some point sing Kanye’s tweets again [as I did on Jimmy Kimmel’s show], but that is the extent of my journey into that world. I would love to sing a hook for a rapper.
Q: How will you spend your time in D.C.?
A: D.C. is a phenomenal city. I’ve spent a lot of time there and have so many great memories there, both musically and otherwise. When I get there I try to see my friends that work in organizations like Americans for the Arts. Do what I can to pound my fist for arts education when I’m there.
But then when I’m there, I’m also just a tourist. D.C. is our Rome — incredible.
if you go
WHAT: Josh Groban in concert
WHERE: DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20006
WHEN: Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.
INFO: Tickets $65 to $300 by calling 800/653-8000 or visiting Ticketmaster.com