INTERVIEW: Josh Groban on Kanye, Kid Rock and the dreamy crooners coming to Tampa Bay

Josh Groban has a beautiful dark twisted fantasy, one involving long roads, grimy fingernails and rest-stop meatloaf: "I would love to be a truck driver for a year," the 32-year-old singer tells me. "Just go off and driiive."

The poperatic You Raise Me Up belter might be overstating his need for freedom just a smidge. He's a smart aleck; you learn that fast when chatting him up during a 20-minute phone call. But at this point in his career — when his comedic chops are garnering as much buzz as his all-world vocal cords — being a creative ramblin' man is appealing. Singer, actor, comedian, old-school multifaceted showman.

Don't fence Groban in, man.

"I don't think I could give up music like Justin (Timberlake) did (for a few years)," says the Los Angeles native, who brings his current tour to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Nov. 8.

"But sometimes you feel like you're just out of batteries. . . . Widening what people see you as gives you more options to express yourself. If you can go and make a silly comedy, you don't have to go and make a funny song."

Often playing against his clean-cut, classicist rep, Groban — taking a break from his award-winning music — has put in legit knee-slapping work on TV (Glee, The Office, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and the silver screen (Crazy, Stupid Love).

When Jimmy Kimmel recently brought a certain unhinged rapper on his show, the late-night host reran a bit that has since garnered more than 5 million YouTube hits: "Josh Groban's The Best Tweets of Kanye West," in which the straight-faced crooner makes music out of such loopy, and real, Kanye Twitter musings as "Man...whatever happened to my antique fish tank?"

When I tell Groban that his uplifting take on "I make awesome decisions in bike stores" could have been a big hit, he laughs: "I gave up some of my best melodies for that bit! They literally put the tweets in front of me and gave me a mike and a piano and said go. Every one of those melodies was off the cuff."

Groban says the "pie in the face" stuff allows him a certain confidence musically, of "not being afraid to be put on a pedestal vocally." He's not going to apologize for having peerless pipes, but he's not a humorless bore, either. "I don't blame people for being surprised (by my humor). My music, especially in the beginning, was serious as a heart attack! But you have to start with a broadstroke image. Then, after a while, you can show different sides of yourself."

•••

Diehard fans of his music — he's especially swoon-worthy in the eyes of female fans and Aunt Shirleys everywhere — need not worry about him giving up his No. 1 talent: knocking 'em flat with his "tenor in training," a thick, soaring prodigious blast of opera-lite for the rest of us.

He'll duet with anyone, anywhere — Beyoncé, Placido Domingo, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Brightman, even Ellen DeGeneres for a not-too-shabby Total Eclipse of the Heart — and he makes everyone better.

But his biggest duet? Groban was discovered when he filled in for a sick Andrea Bocelli during rehearsals for the 1999 Grammy Awards. Just 17 and a protege of producer David Foster, Groban rehearsed yowza duet The Prayer with Celine Dion. Grammys host Rosie O'Donnell invited the unknown onto her talk show. "That moment could have ended then and there," Groban says. "But it was a great opportunity, and I thought: This is an open door. Keep going and work your a-- off."

New album All That Echoes blends those rafter-rattling, aria-appropriate vocals with more pop-savvy production by Rob Cavallo, who is best known as a producer for punk trio Green Day.

Yeah, I know: weird.

"Rob and I ran into each other at Kid Rock's house. We were like, what are we both doing here at the same party? But we were extremely compatible."

Wait, hold on a sec: Josh Groban — whose earnest Christmas album Noel is one of the bestselling holiday LPs ever — was getting funky at Kid Rock's house?!

"Kid Rock and I were neighbors when I lived Malibu. He throws a great party."

Oh. Okay. Carry on.

Regarding Cavallo, Groban says, "Sometimes you can't look at it on paper. You just have to go in there and make sound."

And make big sound he does, keeping it clean but sexy, a precious commodity these days.

In a strange, hubba-hubba coincidence, Groban's local stop is around the same time as major visits from fellow class acts Drake, John Legend, Michael Bublé and Harry Connick Jr., all of whom blend genres and entertainment platforms.

When asked who's the hunkiest of the lot, Groban deadpans: "I'd put me at No. 1, but I'm a little bit biased."

He's joking, of course.

Maybe.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

If You Go

Josh Groban performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive,

Tampa. $46.75-$96.75.

(813) 301-2500.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Every now and then, the gods of hunkdom smile down upon us in Tampa Bay. In the next week or so, some of the smartest, classiest (okay, and prettiest) gentlemen in popular music will come to town. We've told you about Josh Groban's golden-throated way with the swoon. Here's why the other GQ-ready acts headed our way give us the vapors.

Michael Bublé

The Smirky One

Remember the album cover of Frank Sinatra's 1959 classic Come Dance With Me!, with Ol' Blue Eyes winking, smirking, wiggling a finger for you to join him in merry mischief? Yeah, well, Michael Bublé, a 21st century Frank-ophile, makes that face all the time. I say the following with awed admiration: The 38-year-old is the smarmiest son of a gun I've ever seen. I love him and despise him equally, which basically means I want to be him. The Canadian Haven't Met You Yet singer is handsome, rich, could sing the Yellow Pages with his whiskey-cured Rat-Pack-ready vocal. But what he's not is subtle. Bublé conducts himself as if his Rolex always reads 2 a.m., as if he's walking into Caesar's Palace ready to take the house. He struts around as if there's always a swingin' big band following him. It's easy to dislike Bublé. Then you watch him rework Ray Charles' You Don't Know Me, or hear his cocktail-classic take on The Way You Look Tonight, and the guy pulls you back in: a wink, a smirk, a song — annoying but irresistible.

If you go: Bublé performs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $54.50-$115. (813) 301-2500.

Sean Daly, Times pop music critic

John Legend

The Smooth One

We love John Legend because he feels like the reincarnation of the smooth, soulful singers our mothers and grandmothers loved. Can't you just picture him hanging with Marvin Gaye or testifying at Al Green's church? That's how John Roger Stephens got his stage name. The hip-hop poet J. Ivy told him his music sounded old-school. "You sound like one of the legends. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm going to call you from now on. I'm going to call you John Legend." The nickname stuck. But it's not just those buttery vocals. We swoon for him because he's smart. Super smart. As in he skipped two grades, started high school at 12, graduated at 16 as salutatorian (and prom king!). Since becoming famous he's championed education and often speaks out about how to improve classrooms. He's off the market now — recently wed to swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen — but that only makes us love him more. Look what great husband material this guy is: Earlier this year, before a show in London, he told his audience, "All men should be feminists. If men care about women's rights, the world will be a better place."

If you go: Legend performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $50.50-$120.50. (727) 791-7400.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne,

Times staff writer

Harry Connick Jr.

The Sly One

Harry Connick Jr. could teach these guys a thing or two about channeling that Ol' Blue Eyes charisma. Who can resist his effortlessly cool New Orleans charm, that drawl that always makes him sound like he's about to burst into an intimate version of It Had to Be You? More charm than smarm (I'm smirking at you, Bublé), Connick's been around long enough to prove he's the real deal. I mean, is there anything the guy can't do? Record the soundtrack for one of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time (When Harry Met Sally) — check, and at age 22 no less! Star in a movie (Remember Hope Floats? And of course, Dolphin Tale) — check. Become a recurring character on a must-see-TV sitcom (Will and Grace) — check. Marry a former Victoria's Secret model — check. Dude's got skills, and that's what makes the King of Cool so sexy. Though the piercing blue eyes sure don't hurt, either. Bonus! He'll be in town filming Dolphin Tale 2 later this year, so keep your cool if you run into him in Clearwater.

If you go: Connick performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $50-$175. (727) 791-7400.

Michelle Stark, Times staff writer

Drake

The Stylish One

Drake first dazzled us with his charm on teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, still innocently using his given name Aubrey Graham in the credits. When we outgrew the overwrought plight of the high school set, we thought we'd never hear from Aubrey again. But no, the guy with the animal magnetism of a baby panda re-emerged as a burgeoning rapper with the mononym Drake, accompanied by a hint of a wheeze likely inspired by the man who pulled him back into the limelight: Lil Wayne. Drake's talent is undeniable; just listen to him rap the opening verse of his track HYFR. He's also responsible for the popular acronym YOLO (You Only Live Once), single-handedly justifying stupidity for an entire generation. But even surrounded by Young Money, sizzurp and the questionable influence of Nicki Minaj, he still smiles in photos with a wide, toothy grin, making every girl in his vicinity long for him to turn to her and sing, "Just hold on, we're going home."

If you go: Drake performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $37-$97. (813) 301-2500.

Katie Manfred, Times staff writer

INTERVIEW: Josh Groban on Kanye, Kid Rock and the dreamy crooners coming to Tampa Bay 10/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:53pm]

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