If you need to hire a harpist who rewrites classic songs to address social issues, I can hook you up.
The odds aren’t friendly for anyone who showed up at Thursday’s “America’s Got Talent” auditions. But you have to think the networking alone made a long day better.
The first thing you noticed when you walked into the Bally’s ballroom Thursday was that it was set up like a maze. The chairs were clustered into dozens of little conversation pits, to encourage the estimated 1,000 acts trying out for NBC’s talent show to mingle instead of staring at their phones.
And hearing just a few of their stories? Well, you wish there weren’t nine other audition cities around the country.
“The Happy Harpist” is Denise Martin, and you can find her and her $7,000 harp five nights a week “inside the elevator, riding up and down,” at the pedestrian overpass in front of the MGM Grand. Martin moved from Portland, Oregon, three months ago for the “warm weather and tourists.”
Sometimes she wears angel wings to attract attention in the elevator. (Only in Vegas is a harp not enough.) But she says “I didn’t want to look gimmicky” for the producers when she refashions the Doris Day standard “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” into an anthem of “empowerment and finding the god in you.”
“I want my social message to be the focus,” she says, “not ‘Gee, what an interesting costume.’ ”
Martin wasn’t even the only street performer who considered Bally’s a “home-field advantage.” Zachary Isaac usually sings and plays guitar out in front of the adjacent Paris Las Vegas.
Isaac said he was “going to do something that will blow everybody in the place’s mind.” How?
“I’m going to sing like a girl … you wouldn’t expect that from me.”
But lots of guys have high voices, right?
Like Frankie Valli?
Moment of silence from the 27-year-old, who moved to Las Vegas from Texas two years ago.
What song was he going to do?
“It’s called ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.’ ”
Some people stood out from the crowd, like the woman in the pink unicorn costume twisting balloon animals. A few took the mic to be filmed pumping up the crowd, greatly increasing their odds for at least a few seconds of airtime.
One of them was drag singer Luna, aka Timothy Wells, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall without his mohawk or high heels. He’s only 19 and so he can’t perform in any nightclubs.
“That’s the one sad part about my life right now,” he says. “I was recently laid off,” from the Bombshell salon downtown. But while many drag performers just lip-sync, Luna was warming up to sing “I Lived” by OneRepublic.
I say “Break a leg,” because I’ve heard it’s superstitious to say “Good luck.”
He answers, “Hopefully not literally,” looking down at his high heels.
They also filmed an Elvis guy running around shouting, “Simon Cowell! Where’s my check? I want my million dollars!” C.J. Charlton says he’s been imitating Elvis since Elvis was still alive.
“Even if I don’t make it past the first show, I’ll have the biggest audience in the world,” says Charlton, a Las Vegan since 1992 who by day is a security manager for the asphalt and paving company J & J Enterprises.
He likes to tell people that his purpose in life is two-fold. “God put me here to love people — I got that handled — and to sing. That’s the tough part,” he says with a laugh.
In the corner, two young women not only lacked crazy costumes but skipped the orchestrated singalong to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” French fries were a higher priority at this point in the day.
But they had a story, too. They are Russian and Ukrainian and teamed up after they met and discovered one played piano, the other violin.
“Politics is politics. We create music together and that’s what brought us together,” says Olga Ivanenko, a student at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Sabina Bazarbekova — another home-fielder who works next door at U.S. Polo in the Miracle Mile Shops — planned to play piano and cajon drum at the same time.
“I’m the boring one. I just play violin,” Ivanenko said.
A not-so-well-kept secret is that you wouldn’t have seen some of the show’s big stars, such as Piff the Magic Dragon or Tape Face, at these open auditions. They get invited and audition by appointment.
But last year’s winner, 12-year-old Grace VanderWaal, showed up at an open call in New York and waited six hours for her turn. “I just remember getting goose bumps listening to her,” says Jason Raff, the show’s executive producer.
Raff says Las Vegas actually gets fewer people than some cities, but the quality makes up for it. “If you’re a variety act, you certainly have heard of ‘AGT.’ You must have. You either decided ‘That show’s not for me’ or you audition for us.”
And variety performers gravitate to Las Vegas, with or without jobs. One was Enrico Leone, who moved after a year of big change: divorce and being laid off from a North Carolina software company after 25 years. Now he’s doing “odd jobs, security and waitering.”
Leone was the rare guy who sat off by himself. And, perhaps out of courtesy to all the grade-school kids, he kept his stage partner safely inside a trunk, no matter how much camera time he might have received by parading her around.
The puppet doll, Ashley the Psychic Mindreader, is the creepy stuff of horror flicks such as “The Conjuring.”
Leone is trying to line up corporate gigs. “But sometimes they don’t want …” Leone says as he lets me peek at the doll. “It’s not very corporate.”
Stacked with variety acts as Las Vegas is, the show still went out of its way to scout Kim Webb and the young students of her Dominant Divas Elite, a dance studio open not yet a year at 1240 W. Owens Ave. “They they found us online and said ‘We like what you do,’ ” Webb says.
Maybe Webb’s students would end up meeting The Rosebuds, four singing youngsters from Staton Elementary School in Summerlin. It was that kind of day to make friends.