When 17-year-old Josh Groban stepped in for Andrea Bocelli to sing ‘The Prayer’ with Celine Dion

25 January 2024, 17:57 | Updated: 29 January 2024, 17:33

When 17-year-old Josh Groban stepped in for Andrea Bocelli to sing ‘The Prayer’ with Celine Dion
When 17-year-old Josh Groban stepped in for Andrea Bocelli to sing ‘The Prayer’ with Celine Dion. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

An incredible moment at a late-90s awards ceremony rehearsal – and proof that in music, a life-changing moment might just be a phone call away.

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At the 1999 Grammy Awards rehearsal, an unknown teenage singer stepped onto the stage to sing with Celine Dion, full of nerves as a last-minute sub-in for star tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Now a household name, Josh Groban was 17 years old at the time and studying in LA, at a state high school on the campus of California State University where students receive an arts conservatoire-style education.

The previous year, the young vocal student had made contact with Grammy-winning Canadian music executive David Foster, who was working with superstar singers from Whitney Houston to Barbra Streisand.

Foster also cowrote the popular classical crossover song ‘The Prayer’, most famously recorded by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. One day, Groban got a call from Foster, saying that he was at the rehearsal for the 1999 Grammy Awards, and Dion’s duet partner, the world-renowned Italian tenor, couldn’t make it – and Foster urgently needed a stand-in.

Groban was nervous. He had worked for Foster before as a rehearsal singer, but not for the Grammys, not with Celine Dion, and certainly not as a stand-in for one of the most famous tenors in the world.

“I didn’t think this was something I could really go in and do. I mean this was Celine Dion, I didn’t know what to expect. She’s a huge superstar,” Groban said, some years later.

“And it was a day that changed my life.”

Read more: When Andrea Bocelli sang ‘Con te partirò’ and the world heard his voice for the first time

Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli sing 'The Prayer' at the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony
Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli sing 'The Prayer' at the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony. Picture: Getty

After some persuasion, Groban seized the opportunity, and did it with incredible panache.

“This young man comes on stage, almost going backwards, he was so scared,” Dion told media afterwards. “So I see this young kid and I say, do you know this song?

“He took the microphone and when he started to sing, he couldn’t be any more powerful. Everybody in the audience that was watching the rehearsal, the orchestra, they were looking… this kid was incredible.”

Watch footage of the moment, filmed by Groban’s father, below.

Celine Dion & Josh Groban | The prayer (Grammy Awards Rehearsals, 1999)

Groban happened to be singing in earshot of the show’s host Rosie O’Donnell, who asked him to appear on her show the following week, leading to a regular gig for Groban with the popular TV drama, Ally McBeal.

In 2002, Groban performed ‘The Prayer’ with Charlotte Church at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah.

And in 2009, he joined together with Dion once more to sing the ballad on stage at the Wiltern Theatre in LA.

Dion introduced her duet partner to the audience, recalling: “10 years ago I was performing at the Grammys, and David Foster was conducting the big orchestra, and we were about to perform a song with Andrea Bocelli – ‘The Prayer’, of course.

“And I was extremely happy and nervous and we were all ready, waiting for Andrea Bocelli. And Andrea Bocelli could not make the rehearsal.

Read more: What are the lyrics to ‘The Prayer’ sung by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion?

Bryn Terfel and Andrea Bocelli perform the Pearl Fishers duet

“So David comes to me… and says, to do the rehearsal, I have this kid here, he’s 17 years old, but he’s great, and he’s going to do the rehearsal and sing the Andrea Bocelli song. And I’m like…

“This kid comes on stage, he looks like he’s 12 years old, the cutest thing. He’s got this curly hair, eyes big like two sunshines, he’s so nervous and shaking and he comes so sweet, to introduce [himself], and I’m like, I feel bad for this little kid. I was feeling nervous for him, you know. The kid is here tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Josh Groban…”

After high school, Groban briefly attended Carnegie Mellon University, to study musical theatre. But four months into his first term, he was offered a record deal and left college to pursue singing.

There’s proof that your big break could be closer than you think...