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Josh Groban Rings in His First New York City Christmas by Surprising Hotel Guests with Carols

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Josh Groban is many things: a supremely talented vocal powerhouse, a charming comedic actor and, most recently, a leading man on the Great White Way.

But that’s not all. For all intents and purposes, he’s Mr. Christmas of the 21st century.

The release of his fourth album, 2007’s Noel, not only cemented Groban’s superstar status (it was the best-selling album in the United States that year), but it also launched him into the rarified yuletide strata occupied annually by festive legends like Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Mariah Carey.

This year, Groban’s starring role in the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 will keep him in New York City through the holidays for the very first time. The Big Apple has plenty of merriment—the Rockefeller Center tree, elaborate window displays, actual snow— but door-to-door Christmas caroling can prove to be a challenge. So Groban decided to team with Grand Hyatt to spread a little cheer, the old-fashioned way.

On Dec. 5 he offered a surprise serenade to fans and guests throughout the Manhattan hotel, decking the halls with a host of holiday classics, including his new single “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” If you weren’t lucky enough to catch the impromptu performance in person, the joy has been captured on film.

“It was seriously so much fun to shoot,” Groban tells PEOPLE. “We wanted it to have all the warmth of a great holiday video, but at the same time it’s very hard for me to do something that doesn’t have a little humor and silliness infused into it.”

The clip starts off softly and simply, with just a solitary Groban at a piano, but it soon morphs into an over-the-top production on parade, brimming with costumes, dancers, ballerinas, lights and confetti. “We wanted to have fun with it and have fun with the guests,” he says.

In case you’re wondering, their shocked expressions are absolutely genuine. “The fans were totally surprised, they had no idea,” he admits. “They knew they were there to be interviewed about something involving me, but they had no idea I was going to show up. So it was really a very spontaneous and fun day.”

The idea was for the fans to follow Groban throughout the hotel, Pied Piper-style, but the spontaneity of the shoot brought with it an element of risk.

“[The director] was saying, ‘Just knock on the doors and hug them, then tell them to come into the hallway and follow you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘What if they don’t follow me? What if they freak out and slam the door in my face? What if they call the police?’”

Fortunately, no Grinches called the authorities, and Groban continued his way throughout the Grand Hyatt flanked by young dance students from Staten Island’s P.S. 22. “They were amazing! Those kids were so sweet. They had their moves down, they had the song learned. It was important to me that we had some great young students there who could be a part of this video and show their kids someday,” he says.

Students played a major role in the genesis of the production. Grand Hyatt recently donated $50,000 to Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring arts programs remain funded in public schools. 

“I was a product of a great public arts education,” says Groban. “I’ve seen it change lives, even when it doesn’t involve turning into a professional. Sometimes it’s just needed to help a kid express themselves, to help a young person find out who they really are, or build confidence and leadership skills so that they raise their hand in class or feel like they want to do better on their tests. It’s not just drum circles—it has a huge impact on a young person’s life and on society.”

Groban credits an educator for helping him find his own light, spotting his vocal talent long before he realized it was there.

“There was a teacher in seventh grade that pulled me out from the back of the choir and gave me my first solo,” he remembers. “I’ll never forget that. It’s important that an educator is the person who gives you that push—because I was shy. So often, kids with talent or kids who have something to express the most sometimes are the ones who put themselves forward the least. I had a lot to say and I had a lot to sing, and I had a teacher that pushed me to the front and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you this song to sing. I heard you in the back and I think you’re great.’”

Though admittedly nervous (“It was an assignment, so I couldn’t say no,” he laughs), the audience’s reaction would have a profound effect on the rest of his life.

“It was like a made-for-TV movie. The kids gave me a standing ovation. My parents had never heard me sing before and they were crying. I was a shy kid—I was weird, I was introverted and I was bullied. So having that experience to get out there and be good at something and express myself though this thing that I didn’t even realize was there, it changed my whole life. I’m not sure I’d be here today if it wasn’t for experiences like those.”

Groban’s voice carried him all the way from the middle school stage in his native California to Broadway, where his proud parents will gather in the coming days.

“My family’s flown in; it’s our first time spending the holidays here,” he says of his Christmas plans. “I got a tree. And I’m going to the Imperial Theater eight times a week. So it’s a totally different kind of Christmas for me. And it’s magic. The holidays in New York—there’s really nothing like it.”