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June 03, 2008 - Vegas Happenings
17th Annual Reel Awards Honors World’s Top Celebrity Look-alikes

Judy Thorburn - Vegas HappeningsBy Judy Thorburn
Entertainment Reporter/Film Critic
Las Vegas Tribune
Owner/Editor in Chief/writer

By Judy Thorburn

 17th Annual Reel Awards Honors World’s Top Celebrity Look-alikes

If there is an event which causes heads to turn it is the Celebrity Impersonators Convention that convenes annually this time of year at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. I must say it is blast watching people’s reactions as they do a double take (and I do mean “double”) thinking they’ve just rubbed shoulders with or passed by such superstars as Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Britney Spears, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery or dozens of other celebrities from the world of entertainment and politics who happened to be strolling through the hotel/casino.

While some are dead ringers, others are, well, you will have to check out the photo gallery for yourself to decide if there is some who offer even a hint of resemblance to a famous face. But for the standouts, awards are given out annually honoring the top celebrity impersonators and tribute artists in the world who not only look like, but sound like the real thing. It’s called the Reel Awards, the only show of its kind, featuring the world’s largest gathering of performers from the celebrity impersonation and look-alike industry.

Having relocated from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 2007, this year’s 17th Annual Reel Award ceremonies, which is produced and directed by the sister team of Janna and Alana Joos, was held on May 25 in the Legends showroom at the Imperial Palace, in conjunction with the Celebrity Impersonators Convention that began the following day.

Before the evening’s live entertainment filled awards ceremonies got underway, dozens of celebrity look-alikes gathered in front of the Imperial Palace for passersby to meet, greet and have their photo taken with the celebrity doubles. Then it was on to the Red Carpet affair upstairs, near the showroom, as look-alikes posed for the cameras and granted interviews before heading into the showroom for the entertainment filled main event that opened with the stage filled with two dozen Elvis impersonators of all types and sizes including an Asian man, and Irish import, two women, and a little boy, belting out an uneven rendition of CC Rider and Jailhouse Rock.

Photo credit: Stephen and Judy Thorburn

Hosted by Bill Peterson as Rodney Dangerfield, hostess Dawn Behrens as Anna Nicole Smith, and co-host Stephen Sorrentino, the acclaimed impressionist who possesses a gamut of dead on impressions in his vocal repertoire, sixteen awards as voted on by industry members were presented at this year’s Reel Awards with such categories as “Best Actor and Actress,” “Rising Star” and “Lifetime Achievement Award” as well as live vocal (as in absolutely no lip syncing) performances by several of the best tribute artists in the field of celebrity impersonators.
You would think you were at a Hollywood Awards show with all the famous star faces that graced the stage as well as in the audience. From where I was seated, nearby, if I didn’t know better, appeared to be the likes of Mick Jagger, Drew Carey, and Dr. Phil McGraw, just to name a few of the many faux celebrities within my view.

Among the bevy of this year’s presenters were Chris Conway as Simon Cowell; Bernadottae Larson as Whoopi Goldberg; Suzanne Goulet as Liza Minelli; Donald Mincey as Chevy Chase; Lynsey Nordstrom as Jessica Simpson; Ron Rodriquez as Johnny Depp; Deborah Smith Ford as Trinity;Teresa Barnwell as Hillary Clinton, David Born as Robin Williams; Hollie Vest as Tina Turner; Neil Tudor as Paul McCartney; plus two Oprahs, Sean Connerys, and Robert deNiros (talk about seeing double).

Photo credit: Judy Thorburn and Dianne R. Davis

Performers included this year’s Comedy Award Winner Ann Kissel as Rosanne; The Swing Dolls consisting of Robin Kelly, Christina Challey and Andrea Lee Davis as The Andrew Sisters; Ikenna Beney Amaechi (in drag) as Whitney Houston; Kathy Shelby and Dean Simmons as Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks; and my personal all around dead ringer favorites: Sandra Wood, a virtual clone of present day Cher, singing “Half Breed” and “If You Could Turn Back Time”; Leonard Quenneville and Ronnie Lee Keel as Brooks and Dunn with an outstanding rendition of “I Believe”; Pavel Sfera as Bono singing “With or Without You”; and Andy Wood as a young Tom Jones belting out “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “It’s Not Unusual” with all the requisite pelvic gyrations and facial expressions. Local entertainer, Larry G. Jones left a lasting impression with his takes on Johnny Cash, George Bush, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Ricky Martin, Cher and other impersonations.

As prestigious as these awards are in the world of celebrity impersonators, it came as a surprise that several of the winners were a no show for unknown reasons. Not present were News Hound Award winner Natalie Reed as Paris Hilton; R & B Feeling Good Award winners Eric and Carmen Romano as the Blues Brothers; Country Hottest Hitter Award winner Sandy Anderson as Dolly Parton; Best Actor Award winner John Morgan as George Bush; and Susan Griffith as Marilyn Monroe, who was the night’s big winner with two honors, The Most Professional Impersonator Award and Best Actress Award. Griffiths close friend, Bette Midler impersonator, Sherie Rae Parker, who walked away with the Lifetime Achievement Award accepted the awards on Griffith’s behalf.

Other honorees included Johnny Depp impersonator, Ron Rodriguez who accepted his Rising Star Award; Carlene Mitchell, member of the trio The Dream Girls for Best Tribute Band Award and Pop N Rock For Reel Award Winner Samira as Tina Turner. On a sad note, beloved Austin Powers impersonator, Peter Banks, died last year. But, in his honor, the newly named Peter Banks Humanitarian Award was presented to Bea Fogelman by Banks’ close friend, John Allen as Sean Connery and Bobbie Winslow as Fran Drescher.

The Reel Awards are certainly not the Oscars, but the recipients deserve to be honored for their outstanding work as celebrity impersonators. As crowd pleasing entertainers, they are the next best thing to the real deal. And, as a tribute to tribute artists, the Reel Awards seems perfectly fitting.

 Additional recent and upcoming “happenings” in and around Las Vegas include:

Saturday May 24, as a clever publicity stunt to introduce Red Bull Cola in the United States, Red Bull Air Force members Shane McConkey, Miles Daisher, Charles Bryan and Othar Lawrence amazed onlookers at WET REPUBLIC as they performed four consecutive BASE jumps from The Signature at MGM Grand. Las Vegas is the first city in the United States where the first new product from Red Bull in 20 years will be on sale starting June 1.
Not only did they leap from the top of the 400-foot tall building, but they pushed the limits with gainers and double back flips before pulling their parachutes, adding even more excitement to the already-thrilling event.

On Sunday, May 25, in his first-ever run for national office, Las Vegas businessman and media personality, Wayne Allan Root won the Vice Presidential nomination at the Libertarian Party National Convention in Denver, Colorado. U.S. Congressman Bob Barr, a former nationally-recognized leader of the conservative political movement and one of the lead prosecutors of the Congressional impeachment of President Bill Clinton, won the Presidential nomination.

Flamingo Las Vegas has announced that the remaining dates of Toni Braxton: Revealed have been canceled due to issues concerning Ms. Braxton’s health. The production show was scheduled to run through mid-Aug. 2008. Tickets purchased to the show are fully refundable by contacting the Flamingo box office at (702) 733-3333.

On May 29 at 7 p.m., The Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino debuted its new Show in the Sky (formerly known as Masquerade Show in the Sky). As Las Vegas’s most popular free entertainment offering, Show in the Sky takes audience members on an edgy and stylish journey featuring stunning dancers in eye-popping fashions as fantasy floats glide above the crowd creating an energetic and dynamic musical celebration. Latin costume styles created by Designs To Shine, bring a high fashion style to the show featuring top name designers such as DKNY, bebe and Victoria Secret.

With three different shows, guests are encouraged to stay a while for an all new experience to see a unique show each time. The bedroom style performance features a 17 foot-long bed with high-energy performers of seduction. The bath/spa style performance will encompass a glamorous stage with sexy girls in towels. The modern-day club performance brings the feeling of old Hollywood glamour meets classic burlesque with accents of rhinestones and feathers throughout. Edgy music will allure guests with songs such as Please Don’t Stop the Music by Rihanna, Sexy Back by Justin Timberlake and Buttons by Pussycat Dolls. The music, stage elements and fantasy floats will truly display to audience members a hot and sexy show.

The exhilarating Show in the Sky performs in the Masquerade Village Thursday through Sunday from 7pm to 12midnight on the hour and is free and open to the public.

On Thursday, June 5, The Springs Preserve will host its June Untold Stories lecture, “Viva Las Vegas Neon” with legendary neon sign designers, Betty Willis and Brian “Buzz” Leming, and neon photographer William Hanapple sharing stories about the evolution and importance of neon signs in Las Vegas. Visitors will not only learn about the history of Las Vegas, but also talk to the renowned designers who created neon signs such as the “Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, original Aladdin sign, and Moulin Rouge sign. The cost is $12 for non-members, $10 for members, $6.50 for children ages 5-17, and children 5 and under are free.

Beginning June 5, Company American Bistro introduces BlackBerry Thursdays. Every Thursday at 6 p.m. Company lounge features good drinks, eats and conversation for local Las Vegas business men and women as they mingle with fellow Las Vegas movers and shakers. Each week guests will be able to sample an array of Company appetizers and enjoy superb cocktails on the house in addition to entering a drawing for the chance to win a complimentary dinner for two. The inaugural Blackberry Thursday will offer drink specials from Ketel One Vodka including “The Ultimate” – Ketel One Lemonade, the perfect cocktail to keep cool as the temperatures rise.

The Fremont Street Experience will host their annual Vegas Cruise event Friday, June 6 to Sunday, June 8. The weekend will feature free live concerts, a free car show and plenty of ‘50’s-themed fun. Entertainment will include performances by Jimmy Bond, The Temptation Review, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Cornell Gunter’s Coasters. For classic car enthusiasts, a free car show stretching over the five blocks of the Fremont Street Experience featuring over 200 classic cars, will take place all weekend long from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sunday. The Fremont Street Experience can be found online at

Monday, June 9th, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino invites patrons to enter in the $10,000 Double Your Stimulus drawing. Participants may cash their stimulus check at the Bank of Hard Rock and receive fifty free entries. Players will receive an additional entry for every 100 points earned while playing their favorite slot and table games and for each sports bet valued at $100 or more. The big drawing will be held Monday, June 9th at 7pm.

For additional information and complete rules visit the Rockstar Players Club or visit .

House of Blues at Mandalay Bay presents An Evening with Erykah Badu Friday, June 13, 2008 @ 8:00pm. Tickets start at just $45.

Singer/parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic returns to Henderson to open his Straight Outta Lynwood 2008 Summer Tour .at the Henderson Pavilion, located at 200 S. Green Valley Parkway, on Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m. The new action-packed show is filled with a medley of comedy and music. Ticket prices for this all ages show range from $26 to $50.

 Celebrity Sightings:

Tuesday (May 27) actor and WWE superstar "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson) enjoyed dinner once again at Strip House inside Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Also on Tuesday night actor Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds and Young & The Restless) was spotted trying his luck at a blackjack table. Meanwhile, Mindfreak illusionist Criss Angel and a female friend enjoyed dinner at Pink Taco restaurant.

Last Friday (May 30) actress Shannon Elizabeth was spotted in various locations inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for a photo shoot. La Toya Jackson was seen enjoying dinner at Strip House inside Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino

Lauren Conrad, Lauren “Lo” Bosworth, Brody Jenner, Frankie Delgado and Stephanie Pratt of the MTV hit series The Hills along with Lindsay Schoneweis and Doug Reinhardt gathered at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, located inside The Palazzo on Friday evening (5.30.08) for a late dinner to celebrate Frankie Delgado’s birthday. The group was spotted sitting in the center of the main dining room sipping cocktails and wine following a champagne toast for Delgado. Onlookers said the group was energetic and laughing during the course of the meal. The dinner came to a close when the group sang "Happy Birthday" to Delgado while Jenner presented him with a large chocolate birthday cake.

On Saturday night Lauren Conrad, Lauren “Lo” Bosworth and another cast member of The Hills, Stephen Colletti were spotted partying at Body English inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The group sat at a private VIP table on the dance floor where they sipped cocktails and danced all night at the nightclub’s weekly SmashTime party hosted by the Daily 10’s Ben Lyons and Sal Maskekela with DJ Clinton Sparks. Three 6 Mafia was also in the house at a table near the dance floor. They took the stage for a surprise performance and were joined by Bosworth and Lyons. The SmashTime hosts were also joined by E! President Ted Harbert at their table. Later in the evening Khloe Kardashian from E!’s series Keeping Up with the Kardashians joined Conrad, Bosworth and Colletti at their table. Also at Body English was boxer Zab Judah.

Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso was spotted enjoying lunch at Hawaiian Tropic Zone inside Miracle Mile Shops on Saturday, May 31.

I’ll be back next week with more of what’s “happening” in and around Las Vegas.




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