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Catching up with Michael Grimm as he drops a new album and starts Hard Rock residency

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Not long after winning America’s Got Talent, Michael Grimm spoke of feeling like a cork in the ocean. Asked once more, five years after winning that title, if the metaphor still holds true, Grimm is swift to respond: “You put it right. That is about the way I feel, since that show. A cork in the ocean, drifting with the current, wherever it takes me.”

In September 2010, Grimm vaulted from the lounges of Las Vegas to the top of the NBC talent contest. In the finals he famously topped Jackie Evancho, the then-10-year-old phenom producer David Foster said would have a 60-year career. The look of abject shock on Grimm’s face told the whole story.

Now 36, Grimm is experiencing the latest shift of tide in a remarkably topsy-turvy career. The singer-songwriter/musician splashes down at Vinyl on May 23 for a show celebrating the release of his new album, Grimm, and to kick off an extended residency at the Hard Rock Hotel’s rock club that runs through the end of August. Grimm will be the room’s primary music headliner Fridays through Sundays, for four shows a week (8:30 p.m. nightly, plus 6:30 p.m. Saturdays) from May 29 thought the end of August.

It’s the latest of several venues in which Grimm has performed over the past several months. He has played regular Saturday night shows at Ron DeCar’s Event Center, the supper club and entertainment venue on Las Vegas Boulevard just south of Charleston Boulevard operated by former Folies singer and current Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel proprietor Ron DeCar. He performed a pair of shows at Veil at the Silverton, an autobiographical showcase also titled Grimm. And, stealthily, Grimm popped up for informal, intimate performances at Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York and Mizuya Lounge at Mandalay Bay.

These are the very types of venues Grimm played before he auditioned for AGT. Back then, he was a favorite at the since-closed Ovation at Green Valley Ranch and also at Hank’s steakhouse in that same resort.

If Grimm’s fairly-tale story of beating incalculable odds to win that show’s championship were conveniently laid out, by now he would be one of the music industry’s top recording and touring artists. Maybe he would have become the Daughtry of AGT, or even the musical version of Terry Fator, who parlayed his championship on the show into an extended headlining residency in a theater named for him at the Mirage.

But life has not always been convenient for Michael Grimm. His fellow entertainers have watched his post-AGT career unfold with great curiosity, wondering just where this cork will land. Musicians love playing behind him, but are then maddened that he’s not at the level of commercial success of, say, Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith, those in his talent class.

Grimm is acutely aware of such concerns, and answers: “If I am playing music, I am in a good place.” He remains satisfied that he consistently delivered performances every week on AGT worthy of a championship. But for a long while, Grimm has said he was not prepared mentally to win that title, nor was he interested in all the purported benefits.

The $1 million prize has been spent, as Grimm built a house for his grandmother in Louisiana that went way beyond budget. The recording contract with Epic Records was long ago fulfilled. The initial buzz of fame from winning the show—like the appearance he made on Good Morning America the following morning, where he proposed to his wife, Lucie—has ebbed away.

Lucie now manages Grimm’s career and brokered the deal at Vinyl. This residency represents yet another tidal shift. “I’m a simple guy, when it comes down to it, and I am also my own worst critic,” he says. “There are two ways of looking at this: If I’d known back then what I know now, I don’t know if I would have actually done the show, because of the lack of experience I had at the time. … I don’t think anyone really knows what it means to win a show like that, and I had no clue how that was going to affect me and those around me.”

Winning the championship meant that Grimm was contractually bound to the show for a year. He recorded an album with Don Was and opened for Stevie Nicks on tour, but a limited engagement at Flamingo Las Vegas underperformed and Grimm was soon back to playing the bar-and-lounge circuit.

“If I could go back in time,” he continues, as if still working out the course of events from five years ago, “I would rather have taken fifth, actually. I was up there with Jackie [Evancho], who is a superstar now. I guess if you look at it one way, I was honored to be next to her at the beginning of her career.”

Grimm pauses for a moment, then adds, “I do feel very fortunate and happy to be where I am now. If it weren’t for the show, I’d just be another guy trying to find a place in this world. It gave me a place, at least, even though I am not sure where it is sometimes (laughs). It’s an honor to play music for people, and I always feel that way.”

Some might ask for more, but not Michael Grimm, still riding the currents, staying afloat and singing to his heart’s content.

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