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Showroom Appeal

Michael Bolton says he felt guilty that Celine Dion was wasting her voice on him.

Oh, the two were old friends and all that. When she was on the verge of superstardom, Dion was Bolton’s opening act on a tour that came to the Thomas & Mack Center in June 1994.

When he caught up to her show at Caesars Palace, Dion gave him a complete backstage tour, showing off her custom humidifier and all the stage mechanics. “I just kept saying, ‘Please, save your voice.’ But she just wouldn’t have it,” Bolton recalls.

She must have done some persuasive talking about Las Vegas. Bolton says the idea of him spending more time here “definitely is something being explored” as he performs this weekend at The Orleans, his first Las Vegas shows since 2002.

“I haven’t heard an artist whining about a commitment to it,” the 55-year-old says of friends such as Barry Manilow and Cher (he co-wrote her 1987 hit “I Found Someone”).

In the pre-Cirque du Soleil era, the dusty-voiced balladeer would have been a shoo-in on the Strip. He has the square jaw, the loosely buttoned shirts, the solid body of adult-contemporary hits — “everything that happened from ’87 to ’97 was so blinding nonstop” — and the fact that some of them (“When a Man Loves a Woman”) already were hits to begin with.

By the time one of his shows ends, “We’re going to have taken people from R&B to pop to rock ‘n’ roll to classical to big band and say goodnight at some point,” he says. “We get to basically enjoy the depth and breadth of the musical experience throughout the evening.”

And, though you wouldn’t expect this one to be talked up in a casino’s executive suite, there’s even a certain comfort in Bolton being a point of derision in many circles. After all, Dion, Manilow and many a Vegas star before them has laughed that off all the way to the bank.

But Bolton says what most fires him up about the possibility of Las Vegas was watching Frank Sinatra concert footage while getting ready to record his “Bolton Swings Sinatra” album in 2006.

“I loved his conversation with his audience. It was like being in his living room. He just owned the stage,” he says. Watching that is a reminder “to engage your audience, rather than stay in a locked routine every night.”

“In Vegas, it may be an audience that’s built into the venue,” he says. “They’re not people who drove down from the corners of each state. I’m mindful of that. Our set list is big enough for me to turn around to my music director and say, let’s go right into (whatever song).”

Devoting an actual section of the show to Sinatra standards doesn’t hurt one’s showroom appeal either. Not only do the songs have “infinite life,” but “a visit to that music is very powerful to me,” he says. “It allows you to just pour yourself into your work as a singer, your art as a singer.”

Sinatra songs are one kind of challenge, he says, but not the same as the operatic arias he recorded for his 1998 album “My Secret Passion.”

“Holding the high B — it’s not a high C, it’s only a half-step lower — but it’s fairly demanding, and you have to always be in good voice to have that B resonating. That takes quite a bit kind of different discipline than singing pop music,” he explains.

“In pop music, you can change melodies if you’re tired that night or your voice is a little raspy. … There are ways around that to still deliver the song. You can’t do that with the arias. You have to treat the arias with a different kind of respect.”

Bolton is working on a new album for next fall, with “some young writer-producers who have a great sense of what contemporary production feels like, but also are aware of my core audience and body of music they need to be respectful of.”

He had a head start when Kanye West sampled “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” for his 2004 track “Never Let Me Down.” Bolton says he had to ask his daughters who West was.

That’s the kind of information his detractors will thrive on, but Bolton likens himself to a baseball player who gets booed in an away game.

“You cannot please everyone; it’s impossible,” he says. “If you don’t like what I do, kindly remove yourself from Row 12 and take yourself to a show where you’ll enjoy yourself.”

Chances are the haters don’t buy tickets anyway. “The people who matter are the ones who are sitting in those seats,” he agrees.

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

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