I don't want to imply for a moment that any of the performers mentioned in this post weren't already rising stars before they were featured on PBS. But they hadn't hit my radar (which means they hadn't turned up on my local radio station or my Pandora playlist) until channel surfing landed me on my local Public Television station.
Andrea Bocelli , Josh Groban and Il Volo: Opera (style) music made accessible for all.
Andrea Bocelli was already a star in Europe and Latin America when A Night in Tuscany aired on PBS in 1997. I was home alone when I got a phone call from a friend who said, without preamble, “Turn on Channel 3 right now.” I hope I remembered to thank her.
I have to admit that Josh Groban's appearance on PBS wasn't actually the first time I'd heard him. It was 2001, when David E. Kelly was so impressed with the young man's voice that he created a character for him on the TV show Ally McBeal. Groban played a high school student who was suing his girlfriend for dumping him right before the prom. He went to the prom anyway (with Ally as his date), and sang a song he had composed for the girl who jilted him. Ally was transfixed, and so was I, but I had forgotten about Groban until the following year's PBS Special.
Then there's Il Volo. You must have heard about the three boys from Italy who, although they aren't old enough to drink legally in this country, are taking both record and ticket sales by a storm. I was idly thumbing through channels, annoyed that The Food Network was showing a rerun of Chopped I'd already seen, when I accidentally stopped on their PBS Special. I was instantly mesmerized.
And I'm not the only one. Barbra Streisand invited Il Volo to perform on her tour after she saw the same special that brought the finger on my remote control to a standstill. She famously joked that all three of their ages did not add up to hers. (Thanks, Barbra, you've made me feel marginally less of a dirty old cougar for my collective crush on the trio.)
The Irish Connection: Celtic Dancing, Celtic Woman, and Celtic Thunder
Now, before I'm accused of using Public Television as my own personal tastemaker, there are a few performers whose PBS-boosted fame may not induce me to sign up for a pledge drive. In fact, I'm fairly sure I would increase my support if the volunteers would promise to never, ever send me a DVD of (shudder) Lord of the Dance. This is not to say I don't like Irish dancing—I actually like it a lot. But something about Michael Flatley just gives me the willies.
And, while we're on the topic of all things entertainment and Irish, I have my doubts about both Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder. I was excited enough by the build-up to watch specials featuring each of these groups, and got comfy with my popcorn (or, possibly, a martini), ready to be blown away.
Not that the productions weren't slick and the performers incredibly talented. I just kept waiting for them to cut loose a bit. It was all too neat and tidy. The vocals were flawless—too flawless. In both cases, I wanted to toss some gravel into all that honey. I wanted someone to sweat.
Based on ticket sales, the public doesn't agree with me. Post PBS specials, Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder are box office darlings.
Finally, I must mention the one PBS-introduced group that induced me to grab my laptop and start searching for tickets while I was still watching the show. Straight, No Chaser is an a capella group which originated at Indiana University and, in under two years, ended up with a five-album record deal with Atlantic Records.
How much do I love these guys?
Well, I've subscribed to their YouTube channel, and I can't even tell you how many times I've watched The Christmas Can-Can. Luckily, their 2013 holiday tour is bringing them to a venue near my home. Do I have my Straight, No Chaser tickets? Oh, yes, indeedy, I do!