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Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 | 6 a.m.
We’ve reach a rarefied circumstance in Las Vegas when one of the city’s master entertainers breaks from a performance at the city’s new performing arts center to call out to a new friend -- who happens to be a champion of “American Idol.”
On Sunday afternoon, Clint Holmes, dazzling a couple hundred fans at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, threw the spotlight over to Taylor Hicks, who became famous for winning “Idol” by earning the adoration of millions of TV viewers.
But today, Holmes has what Hicks wants: a suitable room in which to headline in Vegas.
A monthly performer at Cabaret Jazz, Holmes became a supporter of Hicks after catching Hicks’ fiery show at Indigo at Bally’s. This is actually Indigo Lounge, with "Lounge" lopped after Hicks was booked for an eight-week summertime run at the Caesars Entertainment hotel. The venue name was changed as black drapes were hung, closing off the makeshift “showroom” to the casino crowd.
Some might refer to this process as “polishing a turd,” a term often used in Hicks' hometown of Birmingham, Ala. But that’s not quite fair. As a lounge, Indigo is fine. Easy access off the Promenade connecting Bally’s to Paris. The sound is certainly good enough to facilitate any lounge band, and the seating is comfortable.
And in defense of Caesars Entertainment officials, Hicks' show needs to blossom from a smaller room, and a curtained-off Indigo was likely the best option for him among the available Caesars venues. Better there than, say, the open lounge at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, which also is cloaked in a curtain (of smoke).
But Hicks is no lounge act, and he’s too big for this venue, sound-wise and otherwise. The Season 5 “American Idol” champ and his five-piece Soul Patrol backing band power out originals and covers (including nod-to-Vegas Elvis classics “In the Ghetto” and “Viva Las Vegas,” which closes each show). As he roars through his roadhouse-tinged set, those seated in black conference-room chairs in the venue’s cramped confines (dozens of seats have been added for his shows) are nearly blown away by the sound coming from the stage.
Twice I’ve seen Hicks at Indigo. I liked each show. Torn-up cocktail napkins stuffed into my ears helped make it so. Hotel officials and Hicks are aware that accounts of the performances (published and otherwise) invariably take into account the so-so quality of the venue. I spoke to an official about the show after Hicks’ VIP opening last month and noted that the Hicks residency is a classic case of endorsing the artist over the venue. For those interested in letter grades for shows, you have an “A” act in a “C” room. The result: It can’t be an “A” experience.
Those who venture to Indigo are happy to see Hicks perform anywhere. Most of them remember his championship “Idol” run, no question. But Hicks has had something of an uneasy relationship with his status as an “Idol” champ. He’s complained of the contractual restrictions such a televised championship presents, but nonetheless knows the need to warm up to his “Idol” victory to sell tickets (they go for $30 a shot, $60 for a meet-and-greet with the star, at the Indigo).
Bally's has tagged four dates to Hicks' Indigo foray: Aug. 21 and 23-25. But Hicks wants more out of Vegas. He sees himself as a showroom star and a Southern-fried member of whatever new-era Vegas Rat Pack configuration you can conjure. He has taken to the city well enough to visit the Smith Center to visit his new buddy Holmes on a Sunday afternoon and would love to make Vegas his home.
To do that, he needs to find a nice home. Whether it is a further polishing of Indigo or a venue elsewhere is left to him, and his new partners at Caesars Entertainment, to sort out.
Palsha and Sanchez at the Trop
• The “Show Off Sundays” industry night performances hosted by Skye Dee Miles and her Skye5 band at the Tropicana’s Ambhar Lounge are quickly becoming one of the week’s highlights. At least on my calendar. They started July 15 and have swiftly grown to one of the fun late-night hangs in the city. On Sunday night, Skye5 briefly ceded the stage to the Tenors (slowly shedding the Canadian Tenors title) for a version of “Hallelujah.” Earlier in the day, the Tenors were filmed by seven video cameras at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for a live concert, scheduled to air this fall on PBS and also be released as a DVD. A highlight on this night, a fine way to close the weekend, was Stephanie Sanchez’s rendition of “Lady Dancer” to the sinewy movements of “Vegas! the Show” principal dancer Tara Palsha. Skye’s show is great any night, and the “Show Off Sundays” are something of an unscripted treat. They run from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. and are worth a check-in.
• Absent the Playboy brand and any sort of celebrity host, Saturday's sixth annual Midsummer Lingerie Masquerade party at the Palms Pool & Bungalows played out like … a lingerie party with no Playboy brand or celebrity host. It was fun, in a lacy-racy and milling-about sort of way, with hundreds of guests ringing the pool and snapping photos of one another in various stages of disrobe and costumed splendor. One hint: You can find a nice, cheap mask in a hurry in the souvenir shop in the dollar store on Fremont Street.
I ran into a few favorites, chiefly Palms founder George Maloof. He reports that most of his spring was chewed up in negotiations between his family’s NBA franchise, the Sacramento Kings, and Sacramento elected officials in pursuit of an arena deal (which never happened, as the Maloofs backed out of a deal in April and asked to pursue renovations of the Kings’ current home, Power Balance Pavilion). Also in the fray were former N9Ne Group exec and current Linq General Manager Jon Gray and producer of “Gigolos” on Showtime Marklen Kennedy. Gray is adjusting to his new role as the overlord of an under-development property -- for years he was a familiar figure at such N9Ne Group parties as the Midsummer Lingerie event. Kennedy is looking forward to the upcoming season of “Gigolos” and is toying with the idea of some sort of viewing party for the Season 3 premiere Aug. 30. He began toying with this idea when I said, “Hey, what about a ‘Gigolos’ viewing party?” Kennedy is thinking of an adult club, possibly Vince Neil’s Girls, Girls, Girls.
The Playboy-absent party did open the question of what might or might not come of the Hugh Hefner Way sign leading into the Palms from Flamingo Road. It was, um, erected around the time that the Playboy Club opened at the hotel. The club is gone and the partnership over, but the sign remains. For now, anyway.
• The official verbiage announcing the closing of “Surf the Musical” at Planet Hollywood was issued by the show’s producers (through spokesman Steve Flynn) on Wednesday afternoon. The statement is tinged with pride and regret and a vague promise to return the Beach Boys-inspired musical to the stage at some point.
In full, the statement read: “After careful consideration, the producers of 'Surf the Musical' have decided that the current run of their show will end on Aug. 15. Although we remain proud of our current show, we are looking into options at making the show even better. This truly has been a labor of love for all of us. The cast, crew and production team have been spectacular to work with, and we thank Base Entertainment and Planet Hollywood for their support.”