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Host Josh Groban says 'Rising Star' distinct from other TV singing competitions

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TORONTO - Josh Groban can rhyme off a litany of persuasive reasons he decided to take on hosting duties for the new reality competition "Rising Star": he's thrived dabbling in hosting before on "Live with Kelly and Michael," the new show's trademark technology is "truly revolutionary," and he adores mentoring fledgling artists.

But above all else, the fresh-faced traditional pop singer jokes that "Rising Star" simply gave him something to do in the steamy New York summer.

"I usually have just the worst summers," said a cordial Groban in a recent telephone interview. "I'm just not much of a beach guy. Summer's always the time where I'm like, 'ugh, God, wearing this sweater is going to be so uncomfortable.'

"(I have) never been like 'Let's go hula-hooping' — I don't know, what do people do during the summer? I've always been the pale theatre geek. So having something that's going to be this fun to be a part of every week and for it to be completely live, and for me to have a chance to be weird every Sunday and work with young artists...

"It's going to be, for me, a really fun experience."

And he's pretty confident a broad audience will share in that revelry.

With a format borrowed from an Israeli singing show, "Rising Star" will air live — beginning Sunday on CTV — and allow the audience at home to vote in real time, just as the starry-eyed hopefuls are performing. If 70 per cent of the audience approves of a performance, the singer will be shuffled ahead to the next round. Viewers will thus have instant gratification, rather than waiting for a separate results show.

The audience also has the potential to see their own faces appearing on the video wall that the competitors face as they perform, which slowly rises if viewers are voting in their favour.

With a viewing landscape that features or has featured the likes of "The Voice," "American Idol," "The X-Factor" and "America's Got Talent" — not to mention their various Canadian and other international spinoffs — it's tough for viewers to conjure much enthusiasm for a new reality singing show.

And Groban is acutely aware of that.

"At this point, we're saturated with singers trying to do the greatest runs, with performers trying to have the gimmicky-est shtick," he said. "(Viewers) are not going to have tolerance for another one of these shows if it feels canned."

That's where the live voting technology comes into play, he said.

"The show has already become a huge smash because of this twist, and this is in parts of the world where they've had 'Idol' and 'The Voice' — and this is a giant-killer out there. It allows the audience to have immediate intimacy and power with the person they're watching on TV.

"When I saw preview episodes of how it had been done in Israel for instance, I thought: 'Oh man, this reminds me of the "Little Orphan Annie" days when everyone would sit around the radio,'" he added.

"Not that I remember what those days are like, but I've watched 'A Christmas Story.'"

It's that wry sense of humour — so obvious to anyone who follows Groban's witty, self-deprecating Twitter account — that he hopes beams through in his hosting gig.

Indeed, he says he's committed to "keeping it quirky."

"They are giving me a live stage — which is a horrible mistake on their part," he joked.

But Groban also hopes to be a steadying presence for contestants who will bravely face feedback in real time as they sing.

Groban himself came up young, tucked under the wing of Canadian superproducer David Foster as a 17-year-old. He suspects "Rising Star" is an even more daunting entrypoint into the music industry.

"Some of them will no doubt crumble under the pressure. I'm not sure as a singer I would have the nerves to do what these singers are signing up to do. But my hope is that as somebody who started in this business quite insecure and was pushed in front of many walls of my own, that these singers will proceed to triumph," said the 33-year-old.

"When I first started singing and David Foster pulled me up onstage to sing with people like Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand and all these people and I was 16-17 years old, I would say to David: 'I don't think I have this.' And ... he was the first person to say to me, 'There's a thousand other singers standing behind you waiting for that microphone, and if you're listening to what everyone else is going to do, you've already lost. You're the only one of you and if you do you, America will respond.'

"I think that's the key for singers who will be up there."

They can also rely on the guidance of the panel of experts "Reality Star" has assembled: pop singer Kesha, rapper Ludacris and country singer Brad Paisley.

Groban — who says he's currently working on a stage and screen album he's wanted to record since he was 13 years old, as well as writing some new original material — has had only pleasant experiences with his new colleagues.

Kesha showed up on the first day of promotion with cards and bottles of champagne for everyone ("It was like, oh my God, what a sweetheart," Groban marvelled), he had already met Paisley when they both guest-starred on the now-cancelled CBS comedy "The Crazy Ones," and he calls Chris (Ludacris) Bridges "a really nice guy."

"It's like summer camp, truly," gushed Groban. "We're all so into this, but we're all a little bit nervous and excited and we don't know what to expect. ... There's been absolutely zero diva mentality. Everyone's super into the show."

Well, it's like summer camp except for one key detail.

"Yeah, I won't be writing home to come pick me up every week," laughed Groban.

— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.

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