STARS SPILL SECRETS AS AGASSI SERVES ANOTHER WINNER WITH GRAND SLAM FOR CHILDREN SHOW
Posted October 13, 2008 • 12:50 p.m.
Steve and Elaine Wynn with granddaughter Marlow.
Photo: Scott Doctor
It may well have been the best lineup of superstar talent that Andre Agassi has served up in his 13 years of running his Grand Slam for Children’s charity. “It was a night full of heart,” the tennis champ agreed at the after-party in the SW Steakhouse at the Wynn Las Vegas resort.
Star performers who donated their time to the cause were Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow, The Killers, Ray Romano, David Spade, Natasha Bedingfield, Lifehouse and Oprah Winfrey’s amazing discovery, 16-year-old Charice Pempengco, who sang with Celine Dion just two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden.
Flamingo headliners Donny Osmond, George Wallace and Mosaic, along with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who has been on Andre’s board for 11 years, Britain’s Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and Olympic gold medal basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski also attended. Newlyweds Mariah Carey and husband Nick Cannon were Steve Wynn’s guests at his table.
It was also a night of spilled secrets -– and we’ll get to the remaining jottings from my notebook in a moment. Meantime you can CLICK HERE for our full Luxe Life coverage yesterday of our red carpet video interviews with all the VIPs, including Andre and Wynn. Today we have new photo albums from celebrity photographers Scott Doctor and Tom Donoghue of the talent turnout that’s hard to top!
It includes the never-before duet of Rod Stewart and Sheryl crow performing her hit, “The First Cut is the Deepest.”
“We put on an amazing party,” said Andre. “It was to celebrate many successful years of raising money for underserved children hand-in-hand with our generous supporters and sponsors. At the same time it was a party to look to the future and what can be accomplished with the Foundation’s new mission –- dedicated to transforming U.S. public-education to underserved youth. “We will drive that reform,” said Andre. During the 12 previous years of the Grand Slam -- all held at MGM -- Andre has raised over $70 million for his Preparatory Charter Academy which this year will see its very first graduating class. “If we continue to give 600 Las Vegas children a quality education each year at Agassi Prep, we will have made a difference. But if we can do that and make a difference in public education for children nationwide through policy and partnerships then all the better,” he added.
Most of this year’s auction items were handled on a “silent” basis but a lunch with Oprah Winfrey and a trip to South African big-game reserves sold for $200,000 and famous artist James Renquist saw his Hole in the Center of the Clock painting he’d donated go for $275,000. Some 1900 dinner guests in the Lafite Ballroom at the Wynn paid up to $100,000 a table of ten in the front platinum section!
But in the midst of a devastating Wall Street week and the dark economic storm clouds Andre wanted his supporters to escape worries about diminishing retirement funds -– and celebrate.
“These are different times and we are in a different environment,” Andre told me. “The state of the economy is not lost on any of us. So this year, which is a tough, one we decided not to set a financial goal, no target and no announcement of monies raised. We’re not counting the dollars but its more about looking after our past, present and future donors. In a sense its similar to 9/11 -– we had a Grand Slam set for three weeks right after that and we almost pulled it then. We didn’t think the spirit was there. But two weeks after 9/11 we said we’re coming out of this and we must get on with our lives. So again now we use it as an opportunity to be together we’ll come out of this economic downtown stronger together. Tonight is an opportunity to escape and get on with it.”
I asked Andre if, after 13 years, the yearlong planning of the star-studded event gets any easier. “ It’s a well-oiled machine on some levels,” he said. “We’re pretty sophisticated at it by now, but the pressure and stakes get higher -- and because it all comes down to the money that makes a real difference, the real hard dollars the pressure grows. You spend your whole year worrying if they will donate their time to appear here. We ask them not to headline solo but just to do 20-minutes with some of the other great stars. Sometimes I think I’m the one who will be up there playing spoons. I still get nervous and excited at the same time but I live my life to do this now – and it is the best thing I have ever achieved in my life.”
Here’s what the other headline names told me:
DONNY OSMOND: “I admire Andre for what he’s done. He had a dream and he made it a beautiful dream come true. It’s wonderful to be a celebrity and have a platform and give back. He has magic. He enamored the world with his and now is using that platform to give back. Some celebrities keep everything to themselves but I really like that he’s given back in a big way.
EMERIL LAGASSE: I’ve been doing this for 13 years and each year we kick it up a notch. I’ve been on Andre’s board for 11 years and he and his team are just not going to take any standard evening. They wont settle for the same so his team always makes it better. Andre is on a mission and he’s not going to let it go. We know its extra tough this year because of the economy so we overcome those challenges and he’s going to succeed. It all comes down to the children. We’re in a smaller venue now with a new hotel. You regroup as we did last year after the event and made the decision to come to Wynn. We knew the venue would be smaller, and that we would lose $500,000 to 600,000 without an arena audience for the concert acts. We are facing tough times so this is a well thought out evening with a different approach to charitable giving. It’ll be interesting to see if it works out. We are delighted to be in Steve’s place that’s phenomenal in its own way and what I’ve experienced has been incredible.
Photo: Tom Donoghue
Sarah Ferguson, Dutchess of York.
DUCHESS OF YORK: “It’s good to be able to add a little royalty to this wonderful event. I have been involved in education for 16 years and helped build schools all over the world such as Afghanistan with Children in Crisis. This fits in really well. I wanted to learn from him. He’s done an amazing job and I wanted to see how he did it. I can now duplicate a lot of what he does in the schools I have. Andre is so famous-he is magic. He’s one of the most extraordinary people. You cant quite put your finger on it but he has the most humility and self-discipline, he’s a superstar and with his wife they are great inspirational examples that its possible to achieve whatever you set as your goals.
Photo: Denise Truscello
David Foster accompanies Charice Pempengco.
DAVID FOSTER: “Every year we sweat it. Most of the extraordinary star talent comes for Andre. He pulls the big strings. He was there for so many of us for so many years. When I introduced him to Barbra Streisand she later said, half joking, that he is a Zen master. She wasn’t that far off. There’s a spirituality about him that’s outside of any other man I’ve known. Even when h e was a wild man, a rebel, he was charismatic but he became this ‘see-all, know-all be-all’ person. You’ve never seen him raise his voice, never shout an angry world. He’s a gentleman’s gentleman. He maybe off the court but he’s still serving.”
Photo: Tom Donoghue
SHERYL CROW: “I’d wanted to do this last year because I was so excited about what he is accomplishing. This year is great because it’s the first graduating class. Andre makes us all think we can do it too. He makes us all achieve. He pulls something out from all of us that represents our divinity. He’s been all the way to the top -- up and down -– and experienced highs and lows but he’s so committed to the children he remains the winner all the time.
DAVID SPADE: “I really respect Andre for what he does. He’s professional, talented and a nice good guy always at the top of his game. He even called me directly to get involved and he makes a good cause work really well. If we raise money then we’re having a good time.”
Photo: David Spade
THOSE SECRETS? Now to the jottings from my notebook:
*Steve Wynn revealed that he and Andre go so far back that he went to school with Steve’s youngest daughter, Gillian.” They even dated,” Steve told me. “Andre was in the house three days a week like my own children. He became the son-in-law without a marriage. They still tease each other.
“Now Gillian’s daughter, my grand-daughter, Marlowe Early, who celebrated her 10th birthday yesterday, gets to sit at our table with her favorite singer Mariah Carey as a birthday surprise! Yes – - it’s a long relationship with Andre that goes back to when he was in school here. That’s a long story.” Said Andre: “I grew up at Steve and Elaine’s house and now we are in his new hotel for our event I feel we have come home.”
Photo: Tom Donoghue
*Donny Osmond let slip that he and sister Marie maybe headlining at the Flamingo for as long as four years! “We agreed on two and that may well grow to four,” he confided! “Everybody has their eye on Vegas because it is the entertainment capitol of the world. Marie and I decided we wanted to be here for a long, long time. Word of mouth on our new show is great. Marie and I love the room. We wanted that old traditional feel back in Sinatra’s day with the booths, the tables. It’s close to what we grew up with. I love Vegas. I’ve worked here for a long time. It feels like I am home again. Its going so well its looking good for four years -– two more than we thought. That’s big great news for you. By the time I’ve finished, I’ll be 55 and be a grandfather again and again.”
Photo: Tom Donoghue
Emeril Lagasse and his wife, Alden.
*Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse told me that he’s agreed to open a third new restaurant at the Venetian/Palazzo complex -– his fourth in Vegas. He promises a New Orleans-themed sports bar to take over the 40/40 Club that was previously owned by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. He may name it EJ’s Sports Bar, after his young son, Emeril John Jr., but says he’ll run it, “as-is until the end of the current football season and then give it a major makeover to be ready with a whole new look next spring. “I’ll tell you all the scoop when we’ve decided what we’re going to do with it -- but we have some great ideas and it has the full support of the Venetian and Palazzo executives,” he said. Emeril already runs Delmonico's Steak House and Table 10 there.
*For 16-year-old Charice Pepengco, who brought the house down with her extraordinary vocal talents, it was her second big concert in Vegas. “They’re getting to know me a little more than the last time I was here. I used to watch Andre on the Internet, so I was shocked when they called for me to come and entertain here. I am very happy, though,” she told me. Charice, who was discovered from the Philippines by Oprah Winfrey, told me that Celine Dion had featured her two weeks ago in her Madison Square Garden concert tour.
Photo: Tom Donoghue
*Said her conductor David Foster: “Charice is well on her way to superstardom. Oprah is determined she will be a superstar, so we hope to announce her debut record deal very soon. In a sense, in my world it feels like it was Barbra Streisand to Celine Dion and now to Charice. You can just tell she will be that big of a star. Celine was 18, so Charice at 16 is not far off.”
Incidentally, congratulations to David and his steady galpal, Yolanda, celebrating their second anniversary together at the event. “He’s pure genius,” she raved to me about him.
Photo: Scott Doctor
Denise Truscello fulfills a lifelong dream with some sugar from Donny Osmond.
*Celebrity photographer Denise Truscello admitted that when a teenager, Donny was her first imaginary boyfriend. She told him she’d actually worn the lips off of his album jacket from kissing his picture! Denise said that she still gets “real nervous” around him. Our Luxe Life photographer Scott Doctor told the gossipy gem to Donny, at which point Donny hightailed it over to Denise and gave her a smooch.
*Fashion queen Nicole Miller is now involved with Andre’s Grand Slam charity thanks to Doug Correll, general manager of Robb and Srucky Interiors in Town Square. He donated $50,000 worth of furniture to Andre’s event thanks to a meeting he organized between Nicole, Andre and Steffi- and Nicole then created an incredible silent auction package for the event.
Summing up the Friday night reception at Springs Preserve, where James Taylor entertained and the huge night held for the first time at the Wynn, Andre simply said: “Let’s face the future and make it that much brighter. I believe we can make it happen.”