Bublé on the boil

The Canadian crooner's meteoric rise has the pundits groping for an explanation.

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"So who is this Michael Bublé? And how did he come to rule us?" That was the question the Manhattan gossip website Gawker was asking its millions of readers, after the Canadian crooner beat off challenges from Kiss and the eagerly-awaited soundtrack to the vampire film Twilight to sit atop the US billboard charts last week. How did Bublé (pronounced Boo-blay), a besuited, 34-year-old singer warbling big-band standards become Warner Brothers' biggest artist and outsell those entertainment behemoths, the closest things to surefire commercial hits, by a ratio of almost 2:1? It seemed he had risen without trace. It was inexplicable. Gawker grappled for answers and blamed it on age.

"Bublé speaks to an older demographic, who are still tied to that quaint tradition of buying albums instead of just stealing them off the internet," it said. It may have had a point. Certainly Bublé's record company didn't miss the value of the singer's appearance on Oprah, the daytime television show hugely popular with middle-American soccer moms. It brought forward the release of his album Crazy Love by four days to capitalise on the singer's well-turned performance on the show.

The tactic paid off and now Michael Bublé, number one on the Billboard chart for two weeks and counting, is more than just a Harry Connick Jr soundalike. He is certifiably a musical phenomenon. He has won a Grammy, sold 22 million CDs worldwide and was recently granted an Italian passport, for services to a country the Vancouver-based singer has rarely visited. His first three CDs have gone gold, platinum and triple-platinum; his latest could be the biggest-selling album of the year.

According to the Los Angeles Times, his appeal is straightforward. It lies in the "pleasant but vanilla" nature of his versions of a variety of musical styles, carefully selected by the veteran producer David Foster (Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Seal). His latest hit album features soft, adult-oriented rock (the title song was originally by Van Morrison), Sinatra-style orchestral numbers (Cry Me a River), sentimental slowies (All of Me) and the occasional curveball (he duets on Whatever It Takes with the ageing alt-rock hero Ron Sexsmith).

Alongside the winning way with a tune, Bublé's road to glory is almost as twisty as that of the Britain's Got Talent star Susan Boyle. For years, he would sleep with his Bible, praying every night to become famous, and would play any gig, no matter how small, in the hope of catching a break. "I'd turn up in restaurants, sing Happy Birthday or a love song, dressed in a suit, get 40 bucks," he told The Daily Telegraph. "But a lot of the time people wouldn't pay - 'cause my voice isn't very loud and they'd want me to embarrass the person and that's not what I did."

In the end, it was a run-of-the-mill corporate engagement that led to a career-making performance at the wedding of the Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney's daughter. One of the guests was David Foster - Bublé's Simon Cowell - who has expertly handled the singer's career ever since. But there the similarities with Boyle end. Since his first success, Bublé has indulged himself like a rock star. Mad about sport, he owns a golf course as well as a share in the Vancouver Giants ice hockey team. He has a $5 million (Dh18m) home in Vancouver as well as a house in Los Angeles. He recently returned a soft-topped BMW after it made him a target for abuse from other motorists.

He used to date English actress Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) who described him as "a bit of rough". But Blunt ditched him in July last year after a woman called Tiffany Bromley claimed that she was having a relationship with Bublé behind Blunt's back (and had been doing so for a decade). But if he's no saint, he's hardly a gangster rapper either. He recently admitted to a fondness for Neil Diamond. It doesn't take a pyschologist to see why Bublé identifies with the singer songwriter.

"He didn't try to be what he wasn't," said Bublé. "He just did what he did. He made great music, was a good entertainer and a nice enough guy." And that, for Bublé and millions of his fans, is all you need.