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Michael Bublé's brush with his idols

With his two most recent Grammy Award nominations, Canadian crooner Michael Bublé is the first to admit that he’s experiencing mixed emotions upon finding himself contending for the music industry’s highest honor alongside several musicians in whose footsteps he’s following.

“I grew up idolizing Bruno Mars and John Mayer,” Bublé, 35, quips from a tour stop in Oklahoma en route to Southern California for concerts Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim and Monday at Staples Center.

Actually, the question about his fellow nominees had to do with those he’s up against in the traditional pop vocal album category: Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart — not so much the ones he’s vying with for the male pop vocal Grammy: Mars, Mayer, Adam Lambert and Michael Jackson.

“All joking aside,” he quickly added, “I did grow up idolizing all those people” in the traditional pop category, “but I think the person who probably had the biggest impact on my life musically was Michael Jackson, without a doubt. It’s pretty thrilling to even be connected with him by being nominated in this category.”

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“It’s absolutely a privilege to be nominated among your peers,” he said, “but the truth is now, because of Wikipedia, no matter what happens, I can go in and change it: ‘Michael Bublé has won 27 Grammys as the best artist ever.’ Actually, it was so nice to win the first one,” he said, referring to his 2007 win for traditional pop vocal album for his “Call Me Irresponsible” collection. “Everything after that is icing on the cake.”

Beyond the old-school, Rat Pack style of classic pop singing that’s earned him two Grammys and helped him sell more than 12 million albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, perhaps the biggest asset Bublé has going for him is his sense of humor.

He’s quick with a wisecrack, and can be wittily urbane or mildly blue, self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating all in the space of a few moments. His live-wire personality has made him a favorite of daytime or late-night talk show hosts. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also magazine-cover handsome, or that he’s dated the rich and famous — for three years he was involved with British actress Emily Blunt; recently he announced his engagement to Argentine actress, singer and model Luisana Lopilato.

Still, few would probably care whom Bublé is seeing or what he has to say if it weren’t for the surprise success he’s had digging through the Great American Songbook, that body of classic songs largely built half a century before he was born in Burnaby, British Columbia, outside Vancouver.

In retrospect it can seem like a no-brainer to suggest there has always been, and will always be, an audience for someone like Bublé: a good-looking singer who has a voice with character, applied skillfully to impeccably crafted songs of romance.

“It’s not too obvious to say that,” said Rob Cavallo, the veteran rock producer who signed and produced Green Day and in September was named chairman of Warner Bros. Records, Bublé's label. “His success serves as a good reminder that great talent, traditional song sense and great personality in singing are still what matter most.”

For Bublé, it began when his grandfather, a fan of music of the Swing Era, played young Michael a recording of Vic Damone singing Gus Kahn and Isham Jones’ “It Had to Be You.”

Something clicked inside and set the boy on his retro path. But it took a while to click with the outside world. Bublé recorded several albums he financed himself — actually, with some bartered-services backing from his plumber grandfather. He was about to quit and pursue his fall-back option of journalism, when he landed a gig at a party for a former advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Impressed, the advisor passed one of Bublé's CDs to Mulroney, who subsequently hired Bublé to sing at his daughter’s wedding, kicking in motion the wheels of success.

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Bublé's latest album, “Crazy Love,” entered the national sales chart at No. 1 and has sold 1.9 million copies in a little over a year, according to SoundScan, and last week brought him the two Grammy nominations.

And for a singer who built his reputation with hip, swinging pop standards such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “All of Me” and hyper-romantic classic ballads including “Call Me Irresponsible” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” he’s also cannily delivered two bona fide hits with singles he wrote or co-wrote: “Everything,” a promise of enduring love that’s turning into a modern-day standard popular at weddings, and “Haven’t Met Her Yet,” his enumeration of the qualities of the ideal partner that he says was inspired by Lopilato.

After working in tandem on his first three albums with adult pop maestro David Foster, who also brought Josh Groban to the world’s attention, Bublé wanted to try something new as he was working on “Crazy Love.” He drafted Metallica producer Bob Rock to supervise several tracks on the album, which resulted in some rougher edges on “Crazy Love” that Bublé concedes probably turned off some older fans.

“I’ve got two thoughts about stuff like that,” he said. “The first is, if it’s not broken, why are you fixing it? At the same time, if you have this vision artistically, you’ve got to go for it. You can’t worry about hurting people’s feelings; you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

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One of the biggest breaks Bublé made from his past was to record songs essentially live in the studio. Where he’d been used to recording countless takes that were then stitched together by way of ProTools, it’s been a revelation for him to sing live while surrounded by the supporting musicians, which is the way he says he wants to continue to work in the studio from now on.

“If the audience wants to follow the artist’s journey and the evolution of what they do, then I don’t think it’s too big a risk [to branch out],” Cavallo said. “What’s great about Michael is, he can try something new, and if it feels good, he knows it. He’s also talented enough to know that if it’s not working, he’s not going to put it out….

“He’s still really young,” Cavallo said. “In some ways, he’s just getting going. I think he’s going to be around for a really long time.”

randy.lewis@latimes.com


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