Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 | 8:06 p.m.
Sir Elton John was the headliner, and man he was terrific, knocking out hits like “Your Song” and “Philadelphia Freedom” with nothing but his husky voice and resonant piano.
But at Saturday's 15th annual "Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children" at Wynn Las Vegas, I’ll remember most fondly a kid named A.J. Green, a living example of Andre Agassi’s dedication to education. Green had just finished a note-perfect version of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” when, with music director David Foster onstage with him, he told the audience that he had planned to sing “I Am Changing,” the Jennifer Hudson show-stopper from “Dreamgirls.”
As Foster and Green both noted from the stage, the song was selected by Green before he even knew Hudson would be on the program. That she would be there to witness him sing it would be a singular experience.
But the Academy Award-winning Hudson is no sideline attendee.
Midway through the song, Hudson joined the young vocalist onstage, and the result was an uproarious and harmonic merger of education, celebrity and music. Just what Agassi has been delivering since the first Grand Slam 15 years ago, and Saturday’s program (featuring a dinner and live auction hosted by Christian Kolberg) netted $8.5 million, a half-million higher than last year’s take as the total amount raised for the organization swelled to $91 million.
Joining Sir Elton and Hudson were surprise guest Bill Cosby, The Canadian Tenors, Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas and Peter Cincotti. It was an eventful night brimming with dignitaries and all variety of unexpected episodes. It was a night to be honored, too, and I’ll do that now with the highly unofficial and occasionally flippant Agassi Grand Slam Awards presentation.
Red Carpet Near-Miss Award: Steve and Elaine Wynn. Of the two, Elaine Wynn was the first to walk along the regal crimson, with daughter Gillian at her side. As she moved slowly along the rope line, Steve Wynn turned up with his girlfriend Andrea Hissom, his granddaughter Marlow Early and her friend Casey Glasser. The two parties could well have merged, harmonically or dramatically, but Wynn stopped short before making his appearance.
Best Impression of The Mirage Volcano: Steve Wynn, who reportedly went all Pompei as piercing feedback from the show’s sound system cut through The Canadian Tenors’ set. A longtime Wynn observer said it was as angry as Wynn has ever been in public, flailing his arms, shouting at the technicians, demanding to see the hotel owner … OK, that last part is a joke.
Best Recovery: To Agassi, who underwent a painful cortisone injection Tuesday morning but bounded around the ballroom like a teenage version of himself during the live auction.
Best Tease to a New Stage Prop: Ventriloquist/vocalist Terry Fator, who disclosed, “We have a new, interesting puppet. … Should I give it away? No, I don’t think I should. … But we’ve got a great idea. So the next puppet is going to be something I think everyone will enjoy. It’s a boy puppet.”
Best Coincidental Plug: Fator, who said the favorite show of he and his girlfriend, Taylor Makakoa, was Carrot Top’s -- as Carrot Top stood just a few feet away on the red carpet. They also like Frank Caliendo, who was not present.
Change-in-Weight-Division Award: To Carrot Top, who has dropped 25 pounds. “I don’t want to be Carrot Top the freak bodybuilder,” he says, so he’s dropped the amount of weight he’s pumping at 24 Hour Fitness on West Sahara. He’s down to about 165, which is a super-middleweight for boxers. Not sure what it is for prop comics.
Change-in-Weight Division Award, Runner-Up: Sen. John Ensign. He looks about 15 to 20 pounds lighter than a year ago. I spotted him walking out of the ballroom, stepping lively and toting the event’s gift box (a set of Adidas headphones, good for quelling the voices in your head).
Best Endorsement From a Vocalist on the New Santana CD “Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time,” for a Song He Didn’t Sing: To Thomas, who said of the new Santana release, “The India.Arie ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ just blows me away. It’s the best song on the record.”
Quizzical Look Award: To Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, when I asked him if hanging around celebs at these types of events at all helped him in recruiting. “No, no (laughs). Most kids care about playing time, what offense we’re running. It’s a cool thing, but it’s not going to get a kid. You have to talk about more substantive things than that. This is more for enjoyment. We’re very close friends with the Wynn family.”
Best Reason for Ditching a Career as a Film Star: Carrot Top, who said after starring in “Chairman of the Board” in 1999, he realized that he’d have to memorize lines, look his co-stars in their eyes and actually respond to their dialogue. “I realized I had to listen to what they were saying. I said, ‘Screw that.’ ”
Best Endorsement of Las Vegas as an NBA City: From Coach K, who said, “I think an NBA team would be electric here. I think it would be fantastic. I’m not an expert, but I do know that you have to have an amazing arena because that’s how they fund all the salaries, but getting people to come to games -- the team would be part of the scene, really quick. Las Vegas loves sports. There is a basketball jones here, an undercurrent of love for the game that goes back to all the success the Rebels have had in their history.”
Remaining Hep Award: Steve Wynn, who told Hollywood.com TV that he was not familiar with Jason Mraz but would educate himself so he wouldn’t be such a “square date.”
Heartfelt Tribute Award:To Agassi, who, motioning toward Kirk Kerkorian at stage left, spoke at length about Kerkorian’s influence on Agassi’s life. Agassi’s father, Mike, worked for Kerkorian for 40 years, and Agassi’s middle name -- Kirk -- is a lifelong tribute to the Father of the Mega Resort.
Best Return-to-Vegas Tease: From Elton John, who said the show was his first in Vegas since he ended his “Red Piano” run at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace last year. “I love Vegas and hope to come back someday,” he said. Someday, Sunday, whenever you like, Elton. “Red Piano” was fantastic. Captain Fantastic, actually.
Best Trial-and-Error Advice About Las Vegas From a Singer-Songwriter: To Jason Mraz, who says, “I have learned to pace myself in Vegas. I’ve learned to pace myself. I don’t need to do it all at once for the 48 hours that I’m here. I just walk around and look at things. This weekend, I’m in The Observer Phase.”
Best Meeting Centering on Education Held Last Week: To Agassi and new Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones. “I was on the phone with him for a while this week,” Agassi said. “I’ve had the luxury of just dealing with my school, a charter school, which works independently and does things on its own terms. But the whole state of Nevada is in trouble. We know we need higher accountability, we know we need better transparency. … I’m going to be as helpful as I can possibly be to Dwight Jones and figure out just what it is we need to do and how I can best help him accomplish his goals.
“But I like the process we went through to come to terms with who we need. We’ve reached outside of ourselves, we’re starting to think a bit outside of the box, and that is not a detriment. … Seeing that I’m a ninth-grade dropout, it must have been kind of surreal for him to be talking to me.”
Most Instantaneous Booking of a Guest: To Agassi, who attended Elton John’s final “Red Piano” performance at The Colosseum at Caesars and said “Yes, yes, yes!” when a tearful John asked Agassi if he could return to the show. Elton had played the first seven Grand Slams.
Best Offer From a Fellow Las Vegas Sports Superstar: To Greg Maddux, who is unique among Vegas athletes whose achievements rival Agassi's. The 1995 World Series champ (as an Atlanta Brave) and four-time Cy Young Award winner sponsored two students at Andre Agassi Prep and tossed in free pitching lessons to a silent auction package with Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
Best Answer to The Question, “Who is Your Favorite Team?”: From Agassi, “I’m from Vegas. Whoever I’m betting on is my favorite team.”
Major League Baseball “Freak” Fan Award: To Jaden Gil Agassi, whose favorite baseball team is the S.F. Giants because he finds Tim Lincecum really cool. “That’s his guy,” Stefanie Graf said from the carpet.
The Acute Attention to Proper Diction and Grammar Award: Bill Cosby, who during his brief set was asked (via shout) “What up? What up?” He responded, “Don’t ask me, ‘What up?’ What up? Get an English book.”
Best Mistaken Wager:To Mraz, who in his first visit to Vegas in 1999 picked up $1,000 after a quick spin at the roulette wheel. “It was actually a mistake,” he said. “I accidentally put a $25 chip on a number and she said, ‘No more bets,’ and I went, ‘Ooooh! Wrong chip!’ And I thought I lost it and the number hit, came up, cashed out, and said, ‘All right, no more spending. I’m going to go get my life on track. The number was black 29. It sustained me for a few weeks. I went down and set up, started playing coffee shops in San Diego only a few weeks later.”
Best Election Strategy Stated in a Deadpan Delivery: Asked what he needed to achieve to overtake Brian Sandoval and become the state’s next governor, Rory Reid said, “I need to get more votes than Brian Sandoval.”
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.