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“I was looking for a voice to sing the rehearsal at the Oscars; we were up for the movie The Prayer. I made a call to the vocal coach, Seth Riggs, and I said, ‘Send me everybody who sounds like Andrea Bocelli.’ He sent me a cassette, and unlike The Coors, where one girl was more beautiful than the other, on this tape one singer was worse than the next.
“The last guy on the tape – number four, Josh Groban, 17 years old, singing All I Ask Of You from Phantom Of The Opera – was unbelievable. I flipped and said, ‘That’s the voice!’ I got him out of school, got him to my studio and said, ‘Buddy, you’re going to sing at the Oscars tomorrow for rehearsal.’ That’s how it started.
“My buddy, Humberto Gatica, whom I’ve worked with a lot, said to me, ‘You gotta sign that kid. Just sign him.’ But it was tough. What do you do with a kid who sounds like that? What happened was, because Andrea Bocelli didn’t want to make pop records anymore, I made a record with Josh as though it were a Bocelli record. In my mind, I was thinking, ‘What would I want Bocelli to do?’ Josh was very young, so he didn’t have much say in anything; he just went along with the program.
“Here’s the thing, though: Josh’s dirty little secret is, when he goes home at night, he listens to Radiohead and Portishead and things like that. He’s a rock ‘n’ roller at heart, but when he opens his mouth, he has that gorgeous voice. So he was conflicted for much of the time that we worked together. He was very appreciative of the success, but I was kind of making my records and not his records.
“In an interview recently, he said something like ‘Now that I’ve worked with Rick Rubin and Rob Cavallo, I’m getting a chance to make music without somebody telling me to sing.’ Rick Rubin produced Josh’s fourth album, which didn’t go well. But I think he had to do that record to get to the Rob Cavallo record. I haven’t heard it, but the single is great. Rob’s a brilliant producer and a good musician, a real roll-your-sleeves-up guy.
“I joked to Josh recently, ‘You know I’m trying to find the new Josh Groban, because, hey, you’re 32 now…’ But the longer I go trying to find the new Josh, the more I realize how great he is. There’s a lot of guys who can sing sort of like that, but Josh is in another stratosphere.”