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Grace VanderWaal’s ‘America’s Got Talent’ win could teach Vegas a thing or two

Grace VanderWaal may not be the kind of headliner Vegas wants (a 12-year-old), but she may be the kind of headliner Vegas needs:

Not another magician, not another hypnotist, not another cover singer.

Grace won “America’s Got Talent” Wednesday by singing original songs to a ukulele she didn’t start strumming until a year ago (although she’s been musical since she was 3).

VanderWaal won a million bucks and a three-night run of shows at Planet Hollywood on Oct. 27, 28 and 29.

The reasons behind her success are something Vegas powers-that-be will likely ponder.

1. VanderWaal is a kid and people like kids, sure, but she comes across as confident and authentic when talking onstage and in interviews.


Her easy genuineness is striking, probably because of her youth.


2. She won largely because she’s a better songwriter than most adults. Talent can still triumph.

3. Her old-soul vocals sound familiar but distinct. Her style is reminiscent of the run-on-sentences of Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and twenty one pilots, the young popular band VanderWaal cites as a chief influence.


4. And this is where Vegas should pay extra attention: She also won because her competition included stale old-Vegas-style acts such as The Clairvoyants, a cheesy illusionist duo.


The second-place Clairvoyants are the kind of act that get audience volunteers to rip playing cards in half only to make them reappear, ta-da; who cares, is this ye olde magic shoppe from 1890?

Now look, I have applauded a lot of fun, traditional acts in Vegas, from hypnotist Marc Savard to singer Gordie Brown and many more. I mean zero disrespect to their talents.

But there has been a large amount of teeth-gnashing around here about, “Why are traditional Vegas shows not selling like they used to and why are traditional shows closing?”

Answers you hear: “Because Vegas shows have a lot of competition, especially from clubs and restaurants”; “shows have been closing in Vegas always”; “some acts just suck”; and “hotels don’t market four-walled acts enough,” or maybe “the acts don’t market themselves well enough.”

But the reason no one dares utter: The appeal of traditional Vegas acts (covers singers, illusionists, hypnotists, etc.) is dying, slowly.

If not dying, struggling in this new world we are all familiar with, this world where everyone’s a star on YouTube and anonymous women sharing revealing photos on a daily basis are “Instagram models” with millions of followers and endorsement deals.

This new world is all about new and authentic expression. New stars, new songs, new videos, new tech, new, new, new.

VanderWaal’s ascension reflects America’s insatiable thirst for newness-by-the-second and its rejection of 20th-century traditions that Vegas clings to in various ways.

Want a shock? Check out VanderWaal’s ticket prices, astronomical compared to the usual adults who play Vegas showrooms: $55-$185.


And yet, America moves so fast online, VanderWaal’s fame could fade even before her Planet Hollywood gigs on Halloween weekend. Six weeks feel like the Mayan calendar in 2016.

So. How will hotel-casinos and skillful traditional Vegas acts contend with our supposedly scary world of new everything in order to count money in the future?

Who knows?


All entertainment writers have favorite traditional Vegas show acts. You can tell by how often we write about them.

Mine is Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine. Cheese croons familiar pop, rap and rock songs in the style of a Vegas lounge singer.

The L.A.-based Cheese doesn’t get enough gigs here. He’s funny and his song arrangements are catchy.

So Red Rock Resort just announced Richard Cheese “mini-residency” dates: Nov. 5, Feb. 4, April 1. Tickets are cheaper than VanderWaal’s: $35, $45, $60, because he’s not a 12-year-old “AGT” winner.


Singer Duddy B from pop-reggae band the Dirty Heads will play a free acoustic show from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday before playing the Life Is Beautiful festival later.

Duddy B’s novel location for the acoustic show: Beneath a canopy in front of Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, 2755 W. Cheyenne Ave.

And he’ll give away four tickets to see Dirty Heads play Life is Beautiful.


British boy band @_TheManor: “Back from Vegas, hangover’s worn off, & we’re 15 grand down…. anyone got any labouring work going?”

Comic @ItsMattRife: “Amazing birthday weekend in Vegas 🙂 Got a club table, gambled, spent times with friends, and barely anyone got an STD”


Ryan Moore must have had an easy time hitting balls at Topgolf ultra-range Tuesday evening with friends. The five-time PGA Tour winner recently won the John Deere Classic in Illinois.

Doug Elfman can be reached at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman. On Twitter: @VegasAnonymous.

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