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by john katsilometes | April 10, 2014 | People
The singer with 50 voices—and counting—made her US debut in a city usually reserved for stars with a mass following. But don't worry: she's building one fast.
Deep into her performance, Véronic DiCaire asks the audience to use its imagination. She wants them to envision the two most notable attributes of a certain Grand Ole Opry headliner. “Pretend they’re here,” says the wispy singer, smiling and boosting her bra, eliciting laughs from the crowd. Who needs padding when you can convince an audience to play make-believe?
DiCaire has just blown through “9 to 5,” a must for anyone summoning the song stylings of Dolly Parton. But now it’s time for a guest star in this show-within-a-show, and she gazes into the wings.
Suddenly a look of befuddlement crosses her face; her eyebrows narrow. “Oh, no,” she says unexpectedly. “Where am I?” She pauses and turns to the audience. “I’m having a brain moment here. Hold on.” The crowd giggles. DiCaire has apparently lost her way amid the 50 voices she conjures each night. After an unintended moment of suspense, she grins and calls out, “Reba McEntire!”
The crowd cheers as she scrambles across the stage to return as Reba. The shift in personalities is seamless. Even during her midshow stumble, DiCaire stayed in character. It was Dolly, not DiCaire, who momentarily lost track of the show’s script.
“How funny was that?” the singer says later during an interview, conducted only after she rearranges a sectional sofa and a love seat so she’s face-to-face with her interviewer. “There is so much going on in my head sometimes.”
Sister, you’ve got that right.
Dozens of voices populate the mind of Véronic DiCaire, many more than those she produces onstage every night. In a single performance, she does interpretations (the term she prefers over “impressions” or “impersonations” to describe her art) of Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera, and Celine Dion. And that’s just in the first five minutes.
“Crazy” by Patsy Cline leads into Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” follows Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” sung by Annie Lennox. Amy Winehouse sets up Susan Boyle; Lady Gaga is a fitting complement to Madonna. Late in the show, DiCaire takes to the piano for a remarkable stretch in which she sings as Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, and Karen Carpenter.
Many of the most difficult voices are saved for the electrifying conclusion: Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston. Except for Janis Joplin (and she may well get to that legendary singer soon), DiCaire unleashes every great female voice in the history of contemporary popular music.
“Artistically, I am very happy,” she says. “Everything is happening so fast, and I’m thinking, ‘Where did this time go in this city that has no sense of time?’ You know? But I feel I’m accepted. I feel that this is now my home, and what I do has become appreciated by fans and also my fellow entertainers.”
DiCaire’s latest contract extension will have her at Bally’s through the end of November, and in a show that’s entirely dependent on her vocal talent, her personal appeal, and her indefatigable work ethic, she seems tireless.
On the immense stage of Bally’s famed Jubilee! Theater, DiCaire is backed by half a dozen brunette dancers (in contrast to her own long blonde hair) and a number of video screens. As the theater’s name implies, this is a venue designed to host the Strip’s most lavish productions. And at times the surroundings seem close to engulfing the star. The dancers appear only for certain numbers, and the show employs not a single musician. All the music is recorded.
The audience’s attention is focused almost entirely on the lithe and sprightly woman from Quebec. But DiCaire is well-equipped to handle the scrutiny. “I don’t realize that, honestly. I don’t feel alone in the show because I have dancers and I have my little team,” she says, nodding toward her husband, Remon Boulerice, also one of the show’s producers. “And I’ve got 50 other people with me.”
The source of one of those 50 voices—among the greatest entertainers to play Las Vegas or anywhere else—has been critical to DiCaire’s arrival in the city and her growing success on the Strip. DiCaire is a protégé of Celine Dion, who helped reinvent the superstar Vegas residency when she moved into the Colosseum at Caesars in 2003.
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Immediately upon arrival, Dion began setting attendance and sales records on the Strip, and her seemingly boundless worldwide appeal makes her one of the most important performers ever to play the city. Regularly selling out the 4,100-seat theater, where ticket prices top $250, she’s the most bankable star in Vegas.
So when Dion throws her support behind an artist, Strip officials take note. She and René Angélil, her husband and manager, made the unprecedented decision to coproduce (with entertainment behemoth AEG Live) and invest in a fellow Las Vegas performer. AEG Live also books Dion’s shows at the Colosseum, and Caesars Entertainment owns Bally’s, so the partnerships were already conveniently in place to bring DiCaire to Vegas in June 2013.
The link between Dion and DiCaire is both natural and coincidental. In 2008, Mark Dupré—an accomplished singer-songwriter who also happens to be Angélil’s son-in-law—was working in the studio with DiCaire, at the time a country/ folk artist on Canada’s Warner Music label who also happened to do a killer impression of Dion. Dupré was supposed to be the opening act on Dion’s Taking Chances tour, but his recording schedule prevented it. So he suggested DiCaire instead. DiCaire (who shares French-Canadian heritage with Dion) was asked to perform a set of singing impressions, but aside from Dion, she could do only four. So she quickly developed a 20-minute set featuring more than a dozen vocal interpretations, and suffice to say she had no trouble warming up the crowd.
“She opened 11 shows for me on that tour, in front of 22,000 people,” Dion recalls. “She immediately drew the crowd’s attention and brought them to their feet every night. And from this beginning, we have decided to get involved in not only producing her, but trying to help her and bring her to the rest of the world, because we believe that she has an amazing vocal talent.”
Dion’s support of her friend is as unwavering as her own voice when she’s belting out “My Heart Will Go On.”
“Véronic has one of the best voices in the world,” Dion says. “She doesn’t do just one style. My God, it’s like she sings one way, then she sings in another voice that’s better than the original. And then she sings one that nobody has ever touched.” Dion’s praise gains momentum as she speaks. “Listen, from a singer’s point of view, it’s unbelievable what she does. I wish I had her to help me out a little bit here and there in my show, when my voice is not in top shape. I wish she could be available to help me finish a song. I’m thinking, ‘I wish I could have Véronic come off the bench for this!’”
But even with this effusive praise and the backing of Dion and Angélil, success in Vegas is never a certainty. In the past two decades, the only resident impressionist to enjoy consistent success on the Strip was the late Danny Gans. Several highly talented impressionists have performed on the Strip briefly but either moved downtown (including another of Dion’s former opening acts, Gordie Brown, who has found a home at the Golden Nugget) or left Las Vegas entirely.
Asked about the business prospects for this entertainer she so strongly admires, Dion chuckles. “I’ve never been part of the business side,” she says. “My own interest in Véronic is strictly in her pure talent. My husband and I are together in producing Véronic to try to help her. So they’ve given me the title, businesswise, of producer. But I have to say, being sarcastic with a little smirk here, that once you are in the business for so long as a singer, when you start talking in a meeting because they want your opinion, then they kind of pay attention a little bit more.”
Dion sees herself primarily as a catalyst in DiCaire’s attempt to gain an audience in the US. “My role is for her to have a chance, to be heard in America, to make her as big a star as she is in Quebec, and in France and Belgium and anywhere there are French-speaking people. She is huge there. Huge.”
DiCaire’s rise to commercial success in Vegas and the US will undoubtedly be accompanied by artistic growth. Many of her fans, as well as her entertainment colleagues in the city, think her show would be markedly improved by a live band. Dion doesn’t dismiss the notion but suggests it might be premature.
“We want the focus to be on her voice, with a few dancers for numbers here and there,” she says. “Let’s put it this way: I think if we had tried to put her out there with a big set of musicians, there would have been even more pressure on her than there already was. I’m not talking about how much money it would cost. I am talking about pressure, and giving Véronic some room to grow the show out over time.”
Dion remembers her own early career. “I didn’t start in Vegas with a big group of dancers and a big show—I started in a shopping mall,” she says, chuckling. “That’s the way it happened for me.”
DiCaire in action, and in character, at the Thomas & Mack Center in October.
As for DiCaire, she’s far more interested in expanding her already mind-blowing vocal capacity. She likes the idea of performing as June Carter Cash in a video duet with Johnny Cash. That would recall the great walk-on appearance she made in Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s when she joined the cast for a spin through “Jackson.” She’s always considering the next voice, asking such questions as “Is Carole King good for when I’m at the piano? What about Janis Joplin? Do you think people would enjoy her?”
But mostly, DiCaire wants to perform even more frequently. “Can I say that I would love to add a fourth date or that it’s going to make some stir?” she asks with a laugh. “I would love to have a fourth day. Let’s say I would love to play on Mondays, because we figured out that we miss a lot of people. They tell us, ‘Véronic, we just got in on Saturday night and we were thinking about going to see your show Monday, but you’re not on.” It sounds like more work. “It might be,” she says, “but you know, sometimes it’s hard for me to start back in the show after four days off. So if I add a fourth show, I would actually keep that momentum going.”
As she says that, you understand that this is a woman determined to move forward, fast. Slowing down is not part of DiCaire’s master plan. Those voices need to be heard. For tickets, call 702-777-2782 or visit ballyslasvegas.com
photography by jeff gale; Styling by Stacey Kalchman; Hair and makeup by Jillian Halouska using Oribe Hair Care and Chanel cosmetics
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