SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Groban remembers performing at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics like it was yesterday.
For starters, the closing ceremony came just three days shy of his 21st birthday. While waiting for his shining moment backstage at the Rice-Eccles Stadium, the 20-year-old Groban ran into the rock band Kiss. The young, curly-haired baritone watched as Gene Simmons and Co. paraded around in full costume — complete with their iconic white-and-black makeup — because, as Groban joked, “Nothing says Salt Lake like Kiss.”
But the 2002 Winter Olympics gave Groban more than a run-in with a legendary glam metal band. Those few minutes singing "The Prayer" with then-young opera phenom Charlotte Church while ice dancers Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur skated around them was something of a special, early birthday gift.
“It actually wasn’t until after the Winter Olympics that my (debut) album started to blow up,” Groban told the Deseret News. “I was still relatively unknown. In fact, I remember when NBC announced Charlotte Church and I, they said, ‘And now, for the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, we’re going to see a beautiful duet called ‘The Prayer’ — one half of which is sung by the superstar Charlotte Church.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Noooo! They didn't even mention the other half! They didn’t even mention the guy that was standing next to her.’”
The TV network didn’t mention his name, but Groban went on to make a name for himself. By the end of 2002, he had his own PBS special. Since then, he’s released seven more albums — his latest, “Bridges,” came out just last month — made his Broadway debut and picked up his first lead acting role in the Netflix show “The Good Cop.” The way Groban sees it, Salt Lake City has been with him through it all, which is why he’s especially looking forward to performing at Vivint Arena on Monday, Oct. 29.
Gratitude for Utah
Aside from tremendous support, Utah is home to something else that has helped Groban’s career: The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Well aware of the choir’s recent name change, Groban had nothing but praise for the group, who accompanied him on “O Come All Ye Faithful” for his 2007 album “Noel.”
“I have always loved that choir,” Groban said. “I have always thought they produce a sound that just transcends — it absolutely just reaches your soul, your bones, in the best possible way. … It was on (my) bucket list to have them perform on a song.”
So it’ll be with a lot of gratitude that Groban steps onto Salt Lake’s Vivint Arena stage. And he’s quick to do what NBC failed to do 16 years ago: acknowledge the person who will be singing with him. Broadway star and “Let it Go” singer Idina Menzel will join Groban for a few duets during the concert.
”Making (the album ‘Bridges’) and planning this tour has been the most fluid and inspirational time I’ve ever had making music,” he said. “This is going to be the … best tour that I’ve ever done.”
After his Salt Lake City stop, Groban’s tour will move east before traveling overseas to the U.K., Ireland and Poland. While he’s fully engaged in filling arenas with his rich, baritone voice, the singer has recently returned to something he gave up when his singing career took off: acting.
“I (was) plucked out of college and … given a record deal. I missed my college friends, my college experience and everything I would’ve learned from this great school at Carnegie Mellon,” said Groban, who had been studying musical theater. “I knew that I would miss acting a lot, that it was something that I enjoyed doing — as much as I enjoyed music. But David Foster (record producer, composer of “The Prayer”) discovered me. I wasn’t expecting to be discovered. … So when you get an opportunity like that and somebody sees something in you, you take it — at least I did. It felt like an educated risk.”
But recently, things have come full circle for Groban. As he puts it, the music happened instantly, while the acting has been 20 years in the making. After appearing in shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” over the years, and in the film “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” Groban has finally landed his first lead acting role.
It all started with an out-of-the-blue email from Andy Breckman — creator-writer of the TV mystery series “Monk” — offering Groban a title role in his new Netflix series, “The Good Cop.” Groban thought it was a joke, but eating pancakes with Breckman at a New York diner proved the TV writer was completely serious. At the diner, Breckman walked Groban through his role as the “squeaky-clean,” “pathologically honest” detective T.J. Caruso and all of the mysteries he would solve.
Groban loved the character and Breckman’s writing — and the fact that his father, a disgraced cop, would be played by “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” star Tony Danza (Interestingly, it’s Danza who occasionally sings in the show). He also appreciated “The Good Cop’s” family-friendly nature — although it’s a Netflix original series, the show is rated PG.
“To not be able to use the crutch of really dirty humor and bad words and things that automatically get a gut laugh from people … you have to think about interesting stories and interesting characters and interesting dialogue,” Groban said. "(On ‘The Good Cop’ set), we were thinking to ourselves, 'Could the whole family be watching this right now?' So our joke is, other than the grisly murders, it’s really family-friendly.”
Netflix premiered “The Good Cop” on Sept. 21 — the same day Groban released his album “Bridges.” And while the show meant temporarily putting music to the side, Groban was willing to take the risk — just like trading in his college books for a record deal.
“It felt worth it to me to take this jump, to be able to do my first lead role in a show and work with a company like Netflix,” he said. “I thought to myself, 'At the very least, I would have an incredible time and would learn an incredible amount.' (I) hope to do it for many years. But we’ll see.”
While the future of his acting career may be uncertain, Groban can count on one sure thing: His operatic-pop vocals will fill arenas throughout the world — Salt Lake City included.
“(It) feels like its own kind of homecoming for me,” he said. “Salt Lake City has been such a city of great memories for me, going back to the Winter Olympics, to filming my ‘Awake’ television special there — it’s been a city that’s really embraced me from day one.”
If you go …
What: Josh Groban with Idina Menzel
When: Monday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple
How much: $32-$196+