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September 19, 2014

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‘KWTD’: Frankie Scinta on ‘The Scintas’ trek back to town and performing without Chrissi

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Opening night of The Scintas at The D Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

Kats With the Dish

Musical family

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John Katsilometes and Tricia McCrone talk to Frank Scinta about the Scintas show at the D.

The Scintas Opening Night at The D Hotel

Opening night of The Scintas at The D Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, April 11, 2013. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Opening night of The Scintas at The D Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

Opening night of The Scintas at The D Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

“The Scintas” have been one of the city’s best-known live acts since opening more than a decade ago at Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret. During that time, the family act has featured three Scintas — Frankie, Joe and Chrissi — performing a series of high-energy comedy and musical numbers. Their drummer and music director is “adopted Scinta” Peter O’Donnell. That lineup also has headlined at The Rio and Sahara and more recently has played weekend dates at Suncoast Showroom.

The Scintas returned to a Las Vegas residency this spring, at The D Las Vegas, but Chrissi has been absent because of vocal chord surgery. As the act continues to build its audience on Fremont Street, it awaits word on when — or even if — Chrissi is to return. Stepping into the role previously occupied by Chrissi is Janien Valentine, who, like the family itself, is from Buffalo, N.Y.

Last week, Frankie Scinta was interviewed by Tricia McCrone and me on “Kats With the Dish” for the show airing at 7 a.m. Friday on KUNV 91.5-FM. Highlights of the show:

On how the new residency at The D Las Vegas came to be: “Joe Vicari, who opened up Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse at The D, had a restaurant/banquet facility in Detroit. Years ago, he brought us to his 350-seat banquet hall, and we would sell it out. We told him to build a 1,000-seat showroom, and he did. He told us he was going to get us to Vegas. You know how many Italians told us they were going to get us to Vegas? You know how many of them did it? None of them! Joe Vicari did it. He four-walled the room for us at the Hilton. He put up all the money, and then The Rio came to us.

“When Derek Stevens bought The D and the Golden Gate, he knew that there was no one else but Joe Vicari to put a restaurant in The D. Joe said that he would love to do that, but that he wanted to have us come on board. Derek came to see us in Detroit and loved the show. He said he would like to have us at The D.

“It started out with a four-wall discussion, and that ended very rapidly, then the two-wall conversation ended until Derek said, 'What do you want?' We went back and forth with the price, and he hired us with a full contract. They do all of the promo, everything. Who gets that kind of contract these days in Vegas? We are beyond blessed to have a five-night-a-week gig and get paid to perform, which is a unique concept (in Vegas). It’s a marriage between a hotel and the entertainers.”

On the status of Chrissi’s health: “Chrissi’s doing well. She's getting better. It’s going to be a long time before she can sing again. She was having vocal chord problems from when we were back at The Rio. We thought it was a sore throat, or we had to lower the key on a song. In reality, her vocal chords were hemorrhaging, but there were no visual signs of it, so it must have been happening for years. By the time we got her to the Cleveland Clinic and they realized what was going on, a lot of damage had been done. They did surgery to correct it. Now it’s a matter of the larynx being able to support the vocal chords, which is a huge problem. Yes, it will come back, but we have no idea when. It could be a year, it could be six months, it could be two years. We don’t know. Either way, with our faith, we will be OK.

“The most important thing to me is that Chrissi is hurting right now. To lose her voice, the tool that she’s been using since she was 5, has made her depressed and distraught. We pray for her every day. She has faith, and she knows that she is going to come back. We rehearsed her a couple of times, and she just cracked. The weight is off her shoulders. Janien Valentine has stepped in and will be with us at least a year or maybe more. When Chrissi is ready, she will come back. I told her that if she feels like it one night, get in the car, come to The D, and just get up onstage. She can do one song, bring the house down and walk off, with no pressure on her.”

On finding a new female singer to perform while Chrissi is out: “It is so hard to find someone who we thought could fit in because we are a family. When I thought of Janien Valentine, I said, 'Oh my god! She’s from our hometown, and she’s Sicilian.' I knew her whole family. There is a certain way people in Buffalo are brought up. You learn how to break balls. I learned this about her fast because I gave her a little thing onstage, and she gave it right back. She’s that quick. She’s also an actress and a comedian, so she’s brought a whole different dimension to the show. Her voice is amazing, and she’s beautiful, so it’s kind of Chrissi-esque.”

On the big show they did at M Resort in February: “When we did the show at The M, the deal with The D was already in motion. I handle all the family business now, so about week before the show at The M, I wanted to know how many seats were sold. I called the lady there and said I was a little concerned because it seats 1,500 to 1,800 people. She said, ‘I know it is your first time here, Mr. Scinta,’ and I wanted to throw up. She said, ‘We’re at 1,800, and we are adding chairs.’ I could not believe that. There is so much going on in Vegas, and who the hell are we? We are just another act in this town, but I know that nobody does in that 70-90 minutes what we do.”

On why the next generation of the Scintas did not take Chrissi’s place in the show: “Lisa, Joe’s daughter, was on ‘The Voice,’ and she couldn’t do it because she signed a deal with Universal Records. She’s one of the Top Three writers in the country right now. She is writing for big-name country artists. She is doing her own stuff and has over 30 or 40 million hits on YouTube. She is just amazing. Chrissi’s daughter, Deanna, did do a Christmas tour with us. Listening to her gave me chills. It was like my little sister all over again, except unlike Chrissi, Deanna’s taller than me. She was just great, but she’s got a great job in Washington, D.C., working for the government, so neither of them could do it.”

On their friendship with Wayne Newton: “When we signed at the Hilton, he invited us to his show, and he was the first to welcome us. He said, “You heard it from me first, this name (Scintas) is going to be here for a long time.”

On why he started playing the spoons and other instruments: “When I was a little boy, I used to go see this Al Jolson impersonator. He was amazing and then he pulled out the spoons. I was 9 years old, and I was, like, ‘Could you show me how to do that?’ and that was it. I just lived for music at a young age, and I was lucky because I never really took a lesson. I learned how to play by ear. Our grandfather had 27 grandchildren, and he left a mandolin and a guitar to me and a guitar to my brother, Joe. That is how this whole thing started.”

On going out and performing on his own: “I actually am doing some concerts on my own that are titled ‘Frankie Scinta and His Orchestra.’ I have a full 15-piece orchestra. I’ve written some different material, and it’s my show. Here’s the thing: Joe likes the business, Chrissi loves it, and I live for the business. I know I am going to do this until I drop dead. Not that Joe is going anywhere because he’s my partner, but if Joe may not want to do this forever, I have to position myself so I am ready. I want to die doing this. That is how much I love doing this. I’m doing the show June 1 at a place called Art Park in Buffalo, N.Y. They called me about it, and for what they offered, we couldn’t do it with the Scintas because we have to pay my brother. So they said, ‘What about you?’ and I thought about it and said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ ”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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