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“America’s Got Talent” winner, hometown hero and soulful singer-songwriter Michael Grimm still hasn’t come to grips that in the year since winning Season 5, he’s now a bona-fide star with a bestselling album. Now as he gets ready to celebrate his 32nd birthday Dec. 30, he realizes that he’s about to walk the toughest tightrope of his life as he steps onto the Strip on Tuesday as a headliner with his own show at the Flamingo.
He’ll take Donny & Marie Osmond’s stage for two weeks through Dec. 11 and feature his original Americana meets blue-eyed soul sound, plus some holiday favorites and his new song “It Must Be Christmastime.” A Southern crooner and guitarist, Michael describes himself as just a boy from Mississippi who was raised from poverty by his grandparents who encouraged his music talents.
He used a portion of his prize money to give them a new home after they lost one in Hurricane Katrina. He moved to Las Vegas after writing and playing his own music blending country and soul after he started performing at age 12.
His new Epic Records album features a fiery duet, “Gasoline and Matches,” with Heart’s Ann Wilson; guitar great Waddy Wachtel, best known for his work with Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards and James Taylor; and ace drummer Kenny Aronoff. Also adding their talents are Ian McLagan from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Tand, Davey Faragher from Elvis Costello’s group and Greg Leisz from Avenged Sevenfold and the Eagles.
On the first day of rehearsals, I chatted with Michael one-on-one. I told him that I’d seen him only once before, at Green Valley Ranch in a stripped-down show where he played to a handful of supporters on a bleak Sunday night long before his “America’s Got Talent” success. I asked him if jumping onto the Strip as a solo headliner unsheltered by hosts Nick Cannon and Jerry Springer and other winners was going to be tough. His only other appearances were two one-nighters at Caesars Palace with the Seasons 5 and 6 winners and contestants.
“If I stop and think about it, it does. I’m trying to not think about it that way too much, but it’s a lot to put on my shoulders,” he told me. “But it’s something I’ve been ready to carry for a while. It’s going to be an exciting two weeks in town with NASCAR and the NFR. I’m just trying to get it in line. I do know I’m a singer. This is what I’ve always done, and I’m just most comfortable being onstage and entertaining. It’s definitely going to be an experience. I can’t wait to just get onstage and do it.
“A starring role on the Strip is the ultimate theater. It is exciting, it’s a lot to carry, and this is a surreal moment talking to you about me. It throws me off! I’m just going to be truthful with the show. I’m just going to be honest, to show my soul, to sing to the people, connect with the audience, interact with them a little more in this show. … I’m just going to bare my soul up there. That’s all I can do. You know that’s all I know how to do, Robin.”
Michael’s voice is remarkable. His lyrics are emotionally stunning. His music instincts and timing are extraordinary.
Michael gave me a preview of what we’ll see and hear starting Tuesday: “I have my basic rhythm section, adding a beat to the band, along with a few backup vocalists, great singers. I want to get a good wall of vocals there, make sure the music is covered on that end, but nothing overdone on the musical end. It’s more about the vocals, it’s more about singing to the people, but it’s going to be a lot of Southern music, also. A lot of Southern rock, too. I have to say it’s a big show and a big pressure, but it’s also something that I can’t wait to do, and I’ve been waiting to do for a long time.
“It’s all a tad terrifying. I’ve walked around the Flamingo and seen all my photographs up everywhere, and it’s really hard to grab hold of the fact everybody thinks I’m a star. I haven’t grasped that one yet, and I’m always amazed when I go out and people still recognize me a year and more after ‘America’s Got Talent.’ It’s a different feeling and hard to explain.
“I do like it that people know who I am, that’s a good thing, it’s nice to be known. But I haven’t really fully put my hands around what stardom really means. I don’t believe I’ve fully grasped that yet. I’m getting to know who I am now at this point, and this has really only been a little over a year, so I’m still not used to it yet.
“There have been a lot of blessings with this, but there are a few curses that come along with it. There are more blessings than there are curses, but it’s been really wonderful getting to do this finally on this level. Television is a very powerful instrument to use in a career like this. They call it overnight success, but it’s not overnight success to me. It’s definitely been many years in the making -- to try to do something in the business.
“It’s hard to even explain, Robin, how in one year so much has happened. Right before I went on ‘America’s Got Talent’ was my lowest moment. I was pretty down on myself. I was really depressed. I didn’t know where to go. I’d auditioned for ‘America’s Got Talent’ a year earlier and didn’t even get picked to go on the show. Then just out of blue they called while I was playing lead guitar at the time for Bill Medley. He knew I was depressed. He was a big support at that time of my life.
“I flew out from Florida, doing a gig with Bill, to Hollywood, and next thing you know I was onstage in front of the judges. I was pretty depressed right before that, so it came in the nick of time. I’d done music all my life whether playing in a little bar just to make a few tips. For me it was never about the money, but I’d begun giving up on my dream ever coming true.
“ ‘America’s Got Talent’ became the steppingstone. I had no clue first that I would even get the chance to be on it, let alone winning. I definitely didn’t have that in mind. Now I want to go from being a reality TV person into the music, be known on the radio and respected for that if I could. My goal at this point is just to keep singing and writing songs.”
During the “AGT” finals in June 2010, he revealed that his girlfriend, Lucie Zolcerova, was the inspiration for his performance of “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
So he kept his promise to her for standing by him through tough times and proposed to her on bended knee on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September last year. Lucie accepted and will be at the Flamingo on opening night. They wed on a beach in Maui in June with Bill among the 30 friends and family attending.
As Michael starts the next steps of his journey to the top, he said of Donny and Marie: “They have a wonderful show. It’s honestly one of my favorites, if not the best, hands down. So this is a big one for me to come into their showroom. I’ve heard the history of that room, and I’m overwhelmed but ready to be a part of that history.
“I’m very blessed with a lot of good friends and really good loyal fans who have stuck by me over the years. It was once just two’s and three’s out at Green Valley, and now they’ll be there in the hundreds. It’s all a little frightening, but it’s what I’ve been waiting for all my life -- and now it comes true. I will give my best!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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