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Making own name can be a challenge

Let’s root for Michael Grimm on “America’s Got Talent.” He already did more to make a name for himself in one night last week than in two years in Las Vegas.

If the soulful singer had put on a wig and performed as Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart or even John Mayer, he would have come closer to the current drift of the Strip.

Look at the latest two show announcements: a John Lennon tribute called “Just Imagine” and another singing impressionist in the Danny Gans vein, Greg London. That brings the total to four celebrity impressionists and, depending on how you count them, as many as 13 costumed tribute shows.

Beyond those full-time titles, the Las Vegas Hilton offers “Bring Back the Music,” a Wednesday series of rock tributes. The new Crown Theater at the Rio has five more tributes on sale.

What about people on the Strip singing under their own handle? The scarceness makes you more sympathetic to vocal quartet Human Nature, restricted to performing only Motown classics, or the posturing of Matt Goss, who wraps himself in retro-cool, vintage Vegas trappings.

Without those visual cues on a poster, both would have to explain their own pasts, which coincidentally involve previous “boy band” stardom in other countries. Not exactly a major selling point.

“Educating people on entertainment is the hardest thing you could ever do,” says Judy Alberti, who heads entertainment for Station Casinos.

For two years, Grimm’s Memphis-soul style of rockin’ blues had a top-quality presentation in Ovation at Green Valley Ranch. But it’s easier to sell the hair-metal goof Steel Panther, which returns to Ovation June 19. “People will go with what they immediately take a liking to,” Alberti says.

Which explains why, for years, Vegas was known as an “elephant’s graveyard” for veteran performers. Now, even those acts have mostly moved off-Strip, to locals casinos or the Indian burial grounds known as tribal casinos.

Some 11 years later, a classic gag from a Vegas-based episode of “The Simpsons” has almost come true: A casino marquee reads “The Satin Knights sing The Moody Blues … Opening Act: The Moody Blues.”

In a March column, I suggested a live version of “American Idol” might give young singers a refuge to use their own names. But now Grimm must thank “America’s Got Talent,” as have several local variety performers more in tune with the show’s campy, over-the-top sensibility.

If Grimm hangs in longer than “Boy Britney” (Derrick Barry) did a couple of seasons back, it may be hope for a future of people getting to be themselves again.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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