Standing backstage waiting for my very first headline show in Vegas at the Las Vegas Hilton I felt the excitement mounting and heard the crowd tittering eagerly, excited about the show starting. I walked out on stage and did what I had done thousands of times before at every type of venue imaginable for small crowds -- of as little as one person -- to huge crowds of as many as 100,000, but something about being on stage in the one and only Las Vegas was different.
The energy felt different somehow. It is very hard to explain, but it is just dissimilar. Maybe it’s the sense of history. The fact that almost every legendary performer of the past century in every genre of entertainment has graced the stages of this amazing city -- from the Rat Pack to Dean and Jerry to Elvis -- might have something to do with my feeling of awe every time I step on stage here.
Even though I had performed in Vegas many times since that first evening in October 2007, I still get that same feeling of wonder I experienced that night every single time I step out on stage. I can’t help but reflect on the history of the place. During the days of Vaudeville, the greatest accomplishment of those on that circuit was playing Carnegie Hall, a worthy goal to say the least. But something had changed during the decades following the heyday of those performers, and being a headliner in Las Vegas became the new dream of the entertainment world.
I had been caught in that dream since I was about 14 years old when I saw a television show that had a marquee with Frank Sinatra’s name shining above the Strip, announcing to the world that he had arrived. From that moment I began to dream of the day when I would be able to accomplish the same thing.
I had no idea at that age just what kind of an impact Sinatra had on the entertainment world, but my goal was never to be as important as he -- only to have my name over the bright lights of Vegas like him, proclaiming my entrance into the big time.
Any entertainer has one goal, and that is to bring their craft to as many people as possible, some through the film world, longing to be on the silver screen and hobnobbing with the brightest stars of Hollywood in Beverly Hills. Others want to be recording artists, bringing their music into the lives of millions through the magic of radio and other sources of distribution.
They dream of playing huge venues with tens of thousands of screaming fans egging them on. While I have had the occasional flirtations with those forms of the entertainment field throughout my career, I never lost that burning desire to see my name in the bright lights of Las Vegas. No matter what I accomplished in my life as a performer I could never shake that feeling that this was where I belonged.
I would visualize myself here, closing my eyes and dreaming of what it must be like to fly into Vegas and see myself on a billboard, then to drive up to the casino I would be playing and see myself on its marquee. For decades it felt like a pipe dream. When you dedicate yourself to a goal and work toward it for more than 20 years it can certainly seem like it will never happen.
I never gave it all up, though.
I spent the next several years polishing my act, working as hard as I could to be the best, always seeing that final goal in my mind. I might have been performing for a room full of first-graders or 20 people at a fair on a stage near the midway trying to be heard over the noise of the rides and arcade games, but I treated every show as one more step to my ultimate objective of being a Las Vegas headliner. During my many trips to Vegas throughout those long years of dreaming I would stare for minutes at billboards announcing the headliners all over the city, all the while continuing aching for it to be me.
My wife and I would vacation here a couple of times a year and would walk the Strip, going from casino to casino, eating the fine food and seeing the shows that have made this city famous. Of course, there was also the occasional bet. It wouldn’t be Vegas without that, now, would it?
But at the end of our vacations I had to pack it all up and move on, performing at the small venues, honing my craft and continuing to long for my Vegas debut.
A few years ago I began to have thoughts like “Well, I guess that kind of thing happens to other people, not the Terry Fators of the world.” Wonderfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Through my hard work and dedication, as well as never giving up that dream, I have accomplished my goal of being right here as a major headliner in the greatest entertainment city on Earth.
After all the shows I have done here as a headliner, I still get that wonderful feeling of awe every time I step out on that stage. I’ll continue to do it three days a month through the rest of 2008 at the Las Vegas Hilton, and in February 2009 I’ll be doing it five times a week for five, possibly 10, years as the new headliner for the Mirage.
But regardless of how many shows I do in Vegas it just feels different here for some reason. I know that in some respects the shows I do here are just like any others, but it feels so much more special, at least to me. I hope I never lose that feeling!