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Sammy Davis Jr. Elvis. Liberace. They’re among the biggest entertainers in Las Vegas history.
What they didn’t do is usher in a billion-dollar concert industry in Las Vegas. That happened years later, thanks to a Canadian singer with a big idea.
Caesars Palace signed Celine Dion to a three-year deal in 2003. The company even built a 4,000-seat stadium for her shows. Over 13 years, the show sold more than 4 million tickets.
More importantly, countless other superstars followed in her footsteps and established resident shows up and down the Strip.
On Saturday, Celine Dion’s run at the Colosseum ended. Did she really change Las Vegas entertainment from a place where entertainers came to end their careers, to a place where fresh stars want to perform?
"Certainly, the conversation was this is a person who is in her creative and commercial and artistic peak at the time that she played here, and that was new," said John Katsilometes, a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Katsilometes said that before Dion opened her show, most of the Strip performers were known as legacy performers -- people who could fill a showroom but had stopped putting out hit songs.
Chris Willman, a reporter for Variety, agreed that Dion helped launch a new era, but he also credits Elton John and Shania Twain.
All three of those performers did big production shows that you could only see on the Strip, but he said that concept is also changing.
"The other artists that are coming in since then are not doing the huge-scale, completely-reinvented, only-in-Vegas type of shows that those three did," he said.
Some acts that play here also tour, but Dion didn't. She told her fans that if they wanted to see her, they would have to come to Las Vegas -- and they did.
"She came in with a really, really deep fan base," Katsilometes said, "They said that when they went into this residency that her French fans, French-Canadian fans especially, could have carried the run themselves for two years."
After Dion came John, then Bette Midler and Cher, and Santana, the latter one of the first rock 'n' roll acts to have a residency, and then Britney Spears, who brought an even younger audience to her shows, Katsilometes noted.
Now, Lady Gaga, who is one of the most popular and successful performers in the world, is playing the Las Vegas Strip. According to Billboard magazine, her opening run last winter outgrossed the opening runs of every other previous Vegas resident -- including Dion's.
Willman believes Las Vegas is really the only place where entertainers could have a residency.
"I think Las Vegas, people still want to come," he said, "The audience for [Wynn resident performer] Robbie Willaims was almost all from overseas. They sold out those tickets immediately. If you did that in LA, would people fly over from England? It wouldn't be quite as special."
John Katsilometes, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Chris Willman, reporter, Variety
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