Move over, Russell Watson. Josh Groban is the latest singer to find commercial success with a blend of pop and operatic music. Groban's eponymous debut album on 143/Warner Bros. Records is catching on

Move over, Russell Watson. Josh Groban is the latest singer to find commercial success with a blend of pop and operatic music. Groban's eponymous debut album on 143/Warner Bros. Records is catching on with the American public, due in large part to recent key TV appearances made by the Los Angeles native.

His big break came when Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer David Foster (Celine Dion) heard Groban's demo and invited the singer to fill in for Andrea Bocelli at the 1999 Grammy rehearsals. Soon afterward, Groban was signed to Foster's 143 label.

"Here I was, a guy from college studying theater," 20-year-old Groban says. "When someone like David Foster calls you up and says, 'Let's make a CD,' you're not going to say no."

Groban, who was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University's musical theater program, had to put his college plans on hold when the music business came calling. The singer considers Foster to be his mentor. "I was shy in the recording studio at first," he says. "But I would watch David do his thing, and I learned so much."

Released last November, "Josh Groban" entered has already reached No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart and last week rocketed up The Billboard 200, jumping from No. 103 to No. 41. This week the set, which has also been a top five hit on Billboard's Top Internet Album Sales chart, fell slightly to No. 50.

The album includes tracks sung in Italian and guest appearances by Charlotte Church, Lili Hayden, and the Corrs. "I have really eclectic taste in music, and I wanted to show that on this CD," says Groban.

Even before his album was released, Groban guest-starred in the 2001 season finale of the Fox series "Ally McBeal," in which he played an awkward young man and sang album track "You're Still You" at the end of the episode. Groban was invited to appear on the series after "Ally McBeal" executive producer David E. Kelley and other members of the show heard Groban sing at a charity concert. The results of the cameo were immediate: As Groban remembers, "I woke up the day after that episode aired, and my manager called and said I had to do three interviews. I'd never done an interview in my life."

Warner Bros. creative director Jeff Ayeroff says, "[Groban] has a natural gift that inspires people."

"People are coming in specifically for [the] album," reports Darren Halliwell, pop/rock buyer at Tower Records' Clark Street location in Chicago. "The comment I hear most is, 'I just love his voice.'"