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Not My Job: Multiplatinum Recording Artist Josh Groban Gets Quizzed On Elevators

BILL KURTIS: And now we go as far as possible from the punk sound of the Ramones to the smooth songs of Josh Grogan, who joined us live on stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last March.


I asked him if the famous story about him was true - that he got his break from filling in for an ailing Andrea Bocelli on the Grammy broadcast.


JOSH GROBAN: It is true. I had sung for a wonderful producer named David Foster, who discovered me and produced a lot of my stuff, at a charity event just kind of randomly two weeks prior to that night. And he called and found - he found my - you know, my parents number - I was living at home, obviously - and said hey, you were great at this event.

Look, I've written this song. Andrea Bocelli is supposed to sing it at the Grammys but, you know, he's stuck on a plane and he can't get here. Hey, would you mind stepping in for him? And, you know, when you're 17, you just - you have no sense of, like, this is my moment. You're just so kind of into everything that's in your myopic high school world. So I said to him oh, man, you know, I'm a baritone, he's a tenor. And also, like, I've got this history test. And I just...


SAGAL: No...

GROBAN: No, I really - I was not - I did not - I mean, I grew up - I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but my parents are kind of, like real world. I was not a showbizzy (ph) kid. So it - yeah, I really was thinking to myself oh, that's a really big job. You really should get someone else for that. So he called me back about 20 minutes later and said I don't think you heard me correctly.

SAGAL: Wait a minute, hold on...


SAGAL: You turned him down.

GROBAN: I did. I actually said no. I actually said no.

SAGAL: Oh, my God.

GROBAN: And just at the very moment, my mom was going what did you say? He calls me back, and he said get your [expletive] over to the Shrine Auditorium at 3 o'clock. I will see you there. You don't have a choice in the matter.

And he didn't give me any passes or anything. It's just me and my dad, like, telling this enormous bodyguard at the door hey, this is my son Josh. He's supposed sing a duet with Celine Dion in 20 minutes.


GROBAN: And he's like sure he is. Yeah, sure. And I sang my face off. And that was kind of...

FAITH SALIE: Were you nervous?

GROBAN: Oh, I was absolutely terrified - terrified because, you know, that was when the Grammys were still in a theater. Like, now it's this arena spectacle...

SAGAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GROBAN: ...Where it's just this abyss when you look out from the stage. But when it was at the Shrine Auditorium, you could see, like there - Steven Tyler was chatting with Madonna waiting to go on stage. Like, they're just sitting out there waiting for rehearsals. So it was - it was terrifying, but it made for a great story when I had to postpone that history test.

SAGAL: Yeah.



SAGAL: Did you get Celine Dion to give you a note? (Speaking French).

GROBAN: (Imitating French accent) Postpone, postponement.

SAGAL: Yes, yes.


SAGAL: And then - I mean, it's just like - and then Rosie O'Donnell had you on her show, right?

GROBAN: Well, she was the host that year. And then after I was done singing, I was like - I was sitting in the audience, and I was like dad, you know, was that OK? And Rosie just goes hey – hey, opera kid...


GROBAN: ...I want you on my talk show. You've got 90 seconds. I want you to sing a song.

SAGAL: You're on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," and that got you a part on "Ally McBeal."

GROBAN: That's right, yes.

SAGAL: Is there a single touchstone of '90s culture you did not participate in?


GROBAN: I don't think so, no. I never guested on "Friends."

SAGAL: Yeah.

GROBAN: But no, that was - it really was serendipity because Robert Downy Jr. was going to get married to Calista Flockhart on that episode of "Ally McBeal." And I was going to be, like, the 22nd wedding singer.

SAGAL: Yeah.

GROBAN: And then Robert Downey Jr. - who is one of the greats of all time and one of the kindest people I've ever met - he had a little bit of trouble at that point in his life. And so he was arrested and - and could not make it to set. And so again, it was like hey kid, can you act?


MO ROCCA: This is sort of mysterious.

GROBAN: I know, it's so weird.

SAGAL: Yeah, this is weird. So wait, wait...

ROCCA: Andrea Bocelli stuck on the tarmac...

SAGAL: Andrea Bocelli gets stuck on a plane...



SAGAL: ...Robert Downey gets arrested...


SAGAL: I mean, Robert Downey, Jr. gets arrested...


SAGAL: ...And all of a sudden, you benefit.

GROBAN: Well...

SAGAL: Hmmm...


GROBAN: I had just become a junior member of the Illuminati. So it was...


GROBAN: It was really just kind of, like, things just started to happen for me.

ROCCA: You need to do Broadway.

GROBAN: Well, I am going to be doing Broadway.

SAGAL: Well, that's...

GROBAN: I'm actually making my debut in the fall with a brilliant new show written by Dave Malloy called "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812."

ROCCA: Can I say - you were Tevye in high school.

GROBAN: I certainly was, Mo, yes. I was a 16-year-old Tevye. And - and actually, that was one of the things I said to David E. Kelly when he asked me if I can act on "Ally McBeal." I said...


GROBAN: ...Oh - without any irony in my answer...


GROBAN: I was just like, well, you know, if it matters, I was just Tevye at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts...


GROBAN: ...Which I had to...

SAGAL: My notices were quite good.

GROBAN: Yes, yes - yes, they were. We had...

SAGAL: My aunt Sylvia thought I was excellent.


POUNDSTONE: Josh, this could - you know, in terms of the different kind of music you want to sing and the way that you've come into your jobs, I happen to have read that one of the singers from AC/DC has been - has to leave his tour because he was told that he's going to go deaf...

GROBAN: Oh, no.

POUNDSTONE: ...If he continues to play.

GROBAN: Yeah, yeah.

POUNDSTONE: And so you might want to just check in with AC/DC.


GROBAN: I will. Thank you for that.


GROBAN: Thank you. Thank you.

SAGAL: You can take over. It's going to be awesome,

GROBAN: Yes. AC stands for adult contemporary, right?

POUNDSTONE: That's exactly right.

GROBAN: OK, good.


SAGAL: Well, Josh Groban, we are delighted...


SAGAL: ...To talk to you.


SAGAL: But we have asked you here to play a game that this we're calling...

KURTIS: You Bring Me Down.

SAGAL: So you had a big hit with "You Raise Me Up," so we thought we'd ask you three questions about things that actually lift you up and bring you down - namely elevators and escalators. Answer two of these questions correctly and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on your voicemail. Bill, who is Josh Groban playing for?

KURTIS: Ellen Lee from New York, N.Y.

SAGAL: All right, you ready to do this?



SAGAL: The first escalator was installed at Harrod's department store in London in 1889, but it was not entirely automatic. It had an attendant on duty at all times to do what? A, to quickly cut away the clothing of any passenger caught in the escalator before they were dragged into the gears and crushed...


SAGAL: ...B, to stand back 30 feet from the top of the escalator and catch any passengers thrown into the air, as happened when the thing suddenly sped up from time to time, or C, to provide alcohol to any passengers traumatized by the experience?

GROBAN: Oh, man. I'm going to go with alcohol.

SAGAL: You're right. It was...

GROBAN: Well, good.

SAGAL: ...A guy...


SAGAL: ...Who stood there.


SAGAL: Apparently people were so freaked out by this moving stairway that sometimes they became faint. And he had smelling salts and medicinal brandy for them...


SAGAL: ...To provide their spirit.

GROBAN: Born in the wrong time, I was.

SAGAL: Exactly.


SAGAL: Here in the United States, we are used to your basic escalator - you get in, you push a button, it takes you to where you want to go. But some elevators around the world have some special features, such as which of these?

A, in Romania, many elevators have little coffee shops to get a snack and a drink while you go up and down, B, in Chile, there is a tradition of live elevator musicians, or C, in Singapore, urine detectors will lock the elevator and alert police if anyone chooses to use that elevator as a toilet?

GROBAN: Ooh, I'm going to go with that one.

SAGAL: You're right again.



SAGAL: And that is, in fact, the case.


SAGAL: They're very, very committed to public hygiene.



SAGAL: So don't be doing that in Singapore.

GROBAN: Don't do that.

SAGAL: All right, last question - you're going for perfect here. Elevators - like everything else, I guess - have their enthusiasts. Which of these is a real elevator-related hobby?

A, homebrew elevation - people who build full-size elevators without a building, B, elevator filmers - people who go around the world and film elevators in operation from the inside, or C, elevator racers, people who compete to see who can ride an elevator faster from the lobby to the top floor?

GROBAN: I still do that with my little brother at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.


GROBAN: God, oh man. I'm going to say people who build elevators without the building.

ROCCA: It's so interesting an idea.

SAGAL: It's a great idea...


SAGAL: ...But it's not true.

ROCCA: It's not true.

SAGAL: It's elevator filmers.

GROBAN: Oh, an elevator filmer, OK - oh, darn it.

SAGAL: And if you go into YouTube, you can see these guys. They go - it's amazing - they go into elevators, say listen, I'm in the Park Hyatt. This is a new elevator...


SAGAL: And they press the button, and then you hear them going well, this is great.

GROBAN: And they're documenting it.

SAGAL: They're documenting the elevator journey.

GROBAN: They've live-videoing their experience in the elevator.

SAGAL: Yes, yes.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Josh Groban do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of 3 - you're still a winner.

GROBAN: I'm still a winner. Thank you.

SAGAL: Absolutely...

KURTIS: Big winner.

SAGAL: ...And that's all that matters.

GROBAN: Thank you - that truly.


SAGAL: Josh Groban's album "Stages" is out now. You can see him on tour this summer starting July 15. Josh Groban, thank you so much...

GROBAN: Thank you so much for having me.

SAGAL: ...For being on our show. Josh Groban, ladies and gentlemen.


GROBAN: (Singing) You raise me up so I can stand on mountains.

SAGAL: When we come back, we reunite Jewel with the man who discovered her – sort of. And Max Weinberg, the drummer for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band talks about his view from back there. We'll be back in a minute with more WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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