Michael Grimm is just about a half-dozen songs into his first set when he mentions the album he did with producer Don Was.
The album that, Grimm notes, "came out right after I was on the show."
The crowd applauds, and a few in the packed Ovation showroom at Green Valley Ranch Resort utter lusty hoots. Grimm doesn't even have to name the show he's talking about.
Which, of course, would be "America's Got Talent," the popular NBC talent competition that Grimm won in 2010 and which exposed him to an appreciative and still-growing national audience.
But count Grimm among that select group of performers about whom Southern Nevadans can say, "We knew him when." Years before he became a household name, Grimm regularly played Hank's, the steakhouse at Green Valley Ranch, and the resort's Ovation showroom.
In May, with his commitments to the show concluded, Grimm returned to Ovation, where he plays a weekly Saturday night show to audiences that, he admits with a bit of amazement, are just a bit larger than they were the first time around.
For a mere $5 apiece, those audiences can enjoy a few hours of bluesy, R&B-flavored songs delivered by a self-effacing, charismatic guy in faded jeans and a vest packing a throaty but supple voice who's as surprised as anybody about how the past few years have gone down.
Speaking in his modest dressing room before last weekend's show, Grimm says that while all of the "America's Got Talent" hoopla was fun, what he still enjoys most is simply playing music in front of a crowd.
Funny thing is: He sounds totally sincere in saying it.
Fans of the show know the basics of Grimm's back story. Raised by his grandparents in Mississippi. Started singing in clubs as a teenager. Played guitar and sang backup for "Legends in Concert" shows. Rejected once by "America's Got Talent" producers before finally landing a spot as a contestant in the show's fifth season.
Judy Alberti, vice president of entertainment for Station Casinos, first discovered Grimm about 2003 when his then-manager sent along a promotional packet.
At the time, Alberti was looking for someone to play Hank's, and Grimm was living in Arizona.
After checking out the materials, "I immediately phoned his manager and said we wanted him," Alberti recalls. "Just off of his promotional material. And we never do that."
Grimm played Hank's for a few years, then moved to Ovation with a 14-piece band. And then came the TV show.
Even before the show, Grimm "was extremely successful," Alberti notes. "Even when we had him before 'America's Got Talent,' he did very well."
Now, with the TV win in his pocket and the massive exposure the show gave Grimm, Ovation is filled every Saturday night, Alberti says. And with the $5 cover, she adds, Grimm's show is "the deal of the century."
Take last week, when the line to get in started forming almost an hour and a half before showtime. Hearing that floors Grimm, who just smiles and shakes his head in disbelief.
"That just shows the power of that television show," he says, deftly deflecting the credit.
But that same sense of humble gratitude and self-effacement continues later, during the show, where Grimm proves himself to be both a talented and charismatic performer.
He's generous in showcasing band members, features one of his backup singers in a soulful duet, and at one point, apparently after deciding that he'd become a bit too loquacious, offers an apologetic "I sing. I don't talk."
What did "America's Got Talent" judges, and what do fans, see in Grimm?
"As he sings his first note, you just go, 'Wow. Where in the world is that voice coming from?' " Alberti says. "He simply has one of the best voices."
In fact, even if Grimm's blues/R&B leanings aren't your own musical cup of tea, "you cannot hear him sing and not be impressed," Alberti says.
"The tone of his voice, the ease of the way he sings, that light raspiness he has with that tone. It's just a God-given gift."
Grimm says his whole TV experience - which included that album with Don Was - was great. Yet, he also admits that he's "relieved" that all the hubbub has subsided.
What was it all like? He thinks for a moment, searching for a word.
"It's hard to explain," he answers.
Most performers try to imagine what sudden, overnight success might be like. But, Grimm says, "you don't know until you're in those shoes. All my years of trying to prepare for something like that, you can't prepare. You don't know until you're in those shoes."
Going in, Grimm hoped appearing on the show would just give him a bit more exposure and, maybe, help him land a record deal.
But, he says, "I didn't plan on winning the show. I didn't think I was going to win, especially when I got next to Jackie."
"Jackie" is Jackie Evancho, the then-11-year-old classical singer with the powerhouse voice who ended up finishing runner-up to Grimm.
Grimm both likes and respects Evancho. And, given her talent, he says, laughing, "the worst nightmare is to be onstage next to Jackie Evancho."
"I was so surprised when they said my name. I thought they were mentioning the person that lost, I really did. That's why it took me so long."
Then, in a gesture that was just as memorable for viewers as Grimm's actual win, once Grimm did grasp what had just happened, he immediately reached out to console Evancho.
"Once I realized I won, I immediately wanted to make sure she was all right," he explains. "She's young, and that's a lot to go through."
The win was life-changing in ways Grimm couldn't have imagined. Take, for instance, the call from a DreamWorks executive that came the day after the show.
"She asked me if I acted," Grimm recalls. "She saw me on the show and wanted to know if I was an actor, and would I be interested in it.
"I told her I'm a one-trick pony and I'm still trying to get that trick down," he adds with a laugh. "I told her: 'I'm not an actor. I never really thought of it. But if you guys need me for a bar mitzvah, please call me.' "
There were "a lot of things coming from everywhere," Grimm says. "It was very humbling."
He used his "America's Got Talent" winnings to buy a house for his grandparents, who lost theirs to Hurricane Katrina. He got married. And, oh, he bought a truck.
Now, with his TV commitments complete - "I'm now a free agent," he says - he's happy to just continue playing his weekly gigs at Green Valley Ranch Resort on Saturdays and elsewhere throughout the week.
"I'm back here playing Vegas," he says, "but this is sort of what I'd been planning on doing anyway."
Grimm continues to write and record. His most recent CD, "Gumbo," features - true to its name - both Grimm's own compositions and an eclectic roster of songs from the likes of John Fogerty, Van Morrison and Bob Marley. Grimm hopes to release his next CD, a still-untitled collection of originals, in September.
Grimm feels no frustration about not having joined that handful of performers who have parlayed a victory on a TV competition into a high-profile performing gig. He admits some have suggested to him that not having done so somehow is a mark of failure.
But, Grimm says, "I've spent years playing behind people, stars and celebrities of all kinds, and doing shows like this, and I don't feel like a failure. I feel like I'm successful.
"Success to me is to be happy doing what I love. I consider myself successful to do what I love to do. That's successful to me."
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.