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November 22, 2014

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Grand Slam photos: An $18 million donation, a marriage proposal, Train

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011. Steffi Graf, Agassi and Carrot Top are pictured here on the red carpet.

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2011 Andre Agassi Grand Slam: Red Carpet and Show

The Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children red carpet and benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011. Performers included Jimmy Kimmel, Smokey Robinson, Martina McBride, Jeffrey Ross, Train, Signature and Michael Buble. Launch slideshow »
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Smokey Robinson performs during the Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011.

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Andre Agassi addresses the audience at his Grand Slam for Children benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011.

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Michael Buble performs during the Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011.

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Train, with fans onstage, performs during the Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children benefit gala at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2011.

2011 Andre Agassi Grand Slam Red Carpet

2011 Andre Agassi Grand Slam Red Carpet

Oh, what a night! The 16th Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children benefit gala and concert Saturday night at Wynn Las Vegas was memorable for a number of reasons: an unprecedented gift of $18 million from mega-resort mogul Kirk Kerkorian that served as an unofficial end to a longtime fundraising effort; an energetic performance by San Francisco band Train led by charismatic frontman Pat Monahan; and a marriage proposal by former tennis pro Justin Gimelstob.

A Grand Slam highlight every year, though, is when the high-roller, well-heeled and refreshingly well-dressed guests pledge on the spot to pay for students’ tuition at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which is $11,000 a year. The state pays for $6,000, and Las Vegas’ philanthropic Engelstad family matches $2,500 from the evening’s $2,500 contributors.

Last year, tennis legend and Las Vegas resident Agassi ran throughout the large Lafite Ballroom in his tuxedo to garner donations, but this year he had help from Olympian Lindsey Vonn, his tennis legend wife Steffi Graff, actress Elisabeth Shue and her Oscar-winning director husband Davis Guggenheim. Top individual donations included 40 students (that’s $100,000) and 15 students for five years, or $125,000. Evening headliner Michael Buble (jokingly?) offered to pay for half a student for three months.

During the live auctions, Gimelstob proposed to Cary Sinnott, his girlfriend of two years (she said yes), after telling the audience of 1,000 that he had told her for the first time at the Grand Slam two years ago that he loved her. Agassi’s drum lime from his charter school performed, as did recent graduate A.J. Green in a stunning, pitch-perfect, a cappella of Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.”

Before the headliner concert and entertainment, the winning bids for nine live actions were astounding: $170,000 for a portrait of Michael Jackson by Annie Leibovitz, plus a family portrait shot by her; $90,000 for a Kentucky Derby weekend with Agassi and Graf, plus a Longines watch (Wynn Las Vegas and the Swiss watchmaker were Grand Slam’s two presenting sponsors); and a VIP package to the U.S. Open for four people, $190,000.

Also, dinner at three of Chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in New Orleans, with the “Bam!” culinary king in attendance, $50,000; four tickets apiece to the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA and golf’s Masters from Viagogo, $100,000; studio time with producer David Foster, $60,000; a VIP sports and outdoor weekend that includes Lance Armstrong, Agassi and others, $80,000; an ultimate design service, $30,000; and Wimbledon for two, $80,000.

The evening’s headliner entertainers were ABC talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Motown legend Smokey Robinson, country star Martina McBride (who performed at Green Valley Ranch the night before), comedian Jeffrey Ross, Train and Buble. Kimmel talked about growing up in Las Vegas, attending high school and UNLV, seeing Liberace, Siegfried & Roy and Sammy Davis Jr. perform and losing his virginity in the parking lot of the Continental.

Robinson, whose Australian quartet Human Nature sings many of his Motown hits at Imperial Palace, was stylin’ in a white satin suit and knocked off “Being With You,” “Tears of a Clown,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “My Girl,” “Just to See Her” and “Tracks of My Tears.” After Robinson exited the stage, Agassi announced the biggest moment of the night: Grand Slam had raised $8.1 million, a great achievement any year.

And Kerkorian, a longtime family friend -- Agassi’s father worked many years for Kerkorian, and Agassi’s middle name is Kirk -- added an $18 million donation. This meant, after 16 Grand Slams, that Agassi’s charter school was funded in perpetuity. Through tears, Agassi said, “We have so much to celebrate tonight.”

McBride, one of the best female voices in music (Monahan would later say the same thing), performed “This One’s for the Girls,” “Whatcha Gonna Do” and “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” Her set was an unfortunately short 15 minutes, most likely because Robinson’s was 45 minutes. Ross, unknown to this journalist, was hi-larious. Much of what he joked about is unprintable, as nothing was off-limits.

Train performed “Calling All Angels,” “Hey Soul Sister,” “Save Me San Francisco,” a touching duet of “Marry Me” with McBride (hooray!), “Drops of Jupiter” and then a show-stopping cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” Train, who headlined the first L.A. Food & Wine Festival last month, allowed female fans -- and a few males -- to rush the stage during “Hey Soul Sister.” Train set the bar high for Buble.

Before Buble, Britain’s Got Talent winner Signature performed a high-energy dance tribute to the late Michael Jackson, and Ross returned onstage to share an unrepeatable Jackson anecdote that included, “What happens at the top of the Ferris wheel [at Neverland] stays at the top of the Ferris wheel.” Buble, whose smooth crooner vocals, good looks and (drunken) frat boy charm has earned him a loyal following, ended on a good note with quips, a catwalk and “Everything,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Home” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.”

Senior Editor John Katsilometes covered the pre-Grand Slam red carpet, and his The Kats Report, which included Adidas tuxedo fashion and Luxor headliner comic Carrot Top’s drag experience, was posted yesterday. Thanks to Tom Donoghue for his photo gallery of the night to remember and to Richard Corey for his videos posted on YouTube.

Will there be another Grand Slam? Who knows? What is certain is that the 16 Grand Slams have been exactly that, and Las Vegas will be forever grateful.

Don Chareunsy is editor of VegasDeLuxe.com and arts and entertainment editor of LasVegasSun.com.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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