Hockey-loving crooner Michael Bublé goes wild for Minnesota.
He's got a hockey player's hairdo, a crooner's voice and the first back-to-back No. 1 albums in the United States ever by a male Canadian solo artist.
Not surprisingly, our State of Hockey was among wthe first places in the States to embrace Michael Bublé, an NHL wannabe who became a global pop star.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Minneapolis has got to be one of my favorite places in America to play. From the first time, it was just a different experience from playing anywhere else in the U.S. I can't explain it. I really felt like I'd been welcomed," said Bublé, who will perform at Xcel Energy Center next Sunday on his tour of U.S. hockey and basketball arenas. "Maybe it just seems a little Canadian to me. Maybe I seem Minnesotan to them.
"You don't have to put that in [the article] because then they'll think I'm just kissing butt. They'll think I say that about everywhere: 'Dallas is my favorite place to play.'"
Sound cheesy? It could come across as pat show-biz platitudes, but whether he's onstage or on the telephone, Bublé, 34, exudes the kind of genuineness and earnestness that makes you feel like you're the only one that matters -- even if there are 12,000 other people in the room.
Like world-class charmers Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton and Bono, he has that special combination of charisma and sincerity that has helped make this unabashed throwback an unlikely success in an era dominated by pop stars with "American Idol" pedigrees or trendy hip-hop and R&B flavoring.
Take it from Minnesota's biggest Bublé groupie: Lou Nanne, the loquacious hockey booster who befriended Bublé after a show one summer's night in 2004 when he spotted the singer hitting a tennis ball with a hockey stick outside Orchestra Hall. Having heard Bublé mention his love of hockey onstage, Nanne just had to meet the guy.
"He's got a charismatic personality," said Nanne, who has seen several Bublé concerts here and elsewhere. "He really exudes enthusiasm and warmth. When you get to spend some time with him, he's really like that. He's got a very engaging personality. He just seems to like people."
Bublé liked meeting Nanne so much that he instantly called his grandfather in Vancouver, who admired Nanne with the old Minnesota North Stars, and put Nanne on the phone with Gramps.
Even though Bublé has since become a chart-topping, Winter Olympics-performing star, he hasn't lost that one-on-one charm. He turned it on in January on "Saturday Night Live," duetting with underground R&B star Sharon Jones. Performing "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" from his recent No. 1 album "Crazy Love," he didn't sing to the cameras or the studio audience; he delivered the entire song to Jones. That strategy made his words more believable, his romanticism more enchanting and his performance downright magical.
"Right before we started, I held her hand," Bublé recalled this month from his Vancouver home. "I'm sure she was a bit nervous and I said, 'You look great. You deserve this moment, so enjoy it.' "
She wanted to give a birthday shout-out to her mom on national TV so Bublé came up with an instant solution: "'I know we have six seconds afterward, so I'll introduce you.' It was so cute, she walked up to the mike and said, 'Happy birthday, Mom.'"
"Crazy Love," Bublé's sixth studio album, debuted at No. 1 in October.
Which was more exciting: Scoring a No. 1 album or seeing his Canadian national hockey team win the Olympic gold medal (of course, he attended the game)?
"Oh, boy! I've got to go for the No. 1 album. Because in four years from now, I think we can get that gold medal again. But, in four years from now, I don't know if I'll have another No. 1 record. They were both amazing."
With his sharp suits, skinny ties and Rat Pack panache, Bublé seems hip and traditional at the same time. His albums deliver a mix of Sinatra-sung standards (which pull in baby boomers), jazzed-up covers of pop and rock hits (which pull in Gen X and Y hipsters) and schmaltzy pop originals (which get him adult-contemporary radio play and lots of TV talk-show exposure).
But don't think Bublé is trying to compete with Harry Connick Jr. The New Orleans piano man is obsessed with his jazz credibility, but Bublé just wants to entertain you. Don't think of Bublé as a rival of Josh Groban. Where the Los Angeles pop-opera vocalist is hopelessly middle-of-the-road, Bublé is retro cool.
He's business-savvy, too. He has the same producer as Celine Dion, the same manager as Bryan Adams and the same publicist as Madonna. In fact, with Madonna having left Warner Bros. Records for Live Nation, Bublé is now the biggest solo star in the Warners music family. He has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide. His 2005 CD, "It's Time," spent 80 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's traditional jazz chart. His Oprah-endorsed, Grammy-winning album "Call Me Irresponsible" went to No. 1 on the pop chart in 15 countries in 2007, and "Crazy Love" is enjoying similar success.
Breakup with Blunt, and a new love
Some of the new songs seem to address Bublé's breakup with actress Emily Blunt, but he won't expound on it. He feels both of them talked too much to the media about their relationship, which ended in the summer of '08.
"We were naive, I think," he said. "We were both excited about the relationship, and we talked openly about it, and I think we both learned that when you give away even little things, they're not yours anymore. So I've learned just to keep my private life private."
Still, he featured his fiancée, Luisana Lopilato, 22, an Argentinian actress, in the video for his current hit "Haven't Met You Yet," a bouncy, original piano ditty.
"That was one of the best decisions I made," said Bublé, who developed the idea for the video, set in a supermarket where he locks eyes with a female shopper. "I told the director I wanted her in the video with me because it gave me great comfort, and I felt like I could be really real. Making videos aren't my favorite thing to do in the world. But this one, I would have been happy to make it for a month."
'I connect with people'
Why is Bublé so popular?
"That's a tough question, isn't it? I'd like to be more popular. Hopefully, I make good music. Hopefully, I write good songs that connect with people. I think maybe I just answered the question. I connect with people. What I do is a completely emotional thing. I never learned to read and write music. It's not mathematical for me, it's emotional."
Besides emotional, what other adjectives describe him?
"Content. Warm. Generous. Stubborn. Egotistical. I'm just a guy, I'm a failed Canadian hockey player. I was never good enough to play hockey, so I ended up as a singer."
His parents made their living from salmon fishing. While they were out to sea, 7-year-old Michael got hooked on standards in his grandfather's record collection. A few years later when the family discovered that Michael could sing, Grandpa, a plumber, would go to bars and offer to fix toilets in exchange for letting the kid perform.
After years of singing in Canadian clubs and on cruise ships, Bublé got his break in 2000 when he sang at the wedding of the Canadian prime minister's daughter. Super-producer David Foster (Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand) was there, and Bublé asked for a recording opportunity. The producer suggested the singer raise $500,000, which he did and landed in 2003 at Reprise Records, the label that Sinatra founded.
Despite winning five Grammys and worldwide fame, Bublé is still preoccupied with hockey. He co-owns the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants, his concert contracts require "a local team hockey puck" in his dressing room, and he often rents arenas so he and his touring crew can skate a bit.
He's looking forward to performing at Xcel Energy Center because he's heard about the arena's tradition of presenting a personalized Minnesota Wild jersey to performers. Will this diehard Vancouver Canucks fan wear a Wild sweater?
"I will. I will be wearing it under my suit when I come out."
After a pause, he admitted he was just kidding.
"I might wear it, I might not," he continued, with an earnest tone. "It could show disloyalty to my hockey team and I never want to do that."
He may love Minnesota but it won't trump his hometown.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719