David Foster discusses how he discovers future music superstars

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Jackie Evancho rehearses for David Foster & Friends at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Oct. 15, 2010.

Thu, Nov 24, 2011 (2:01 a.m.)

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When hit-maker David Foster presents the second of his three monthly Mandalay Bay concerts Friday night, he’s going to introduce two unknown singers he believes will be America’s next superstars, just as he did when he ran a talent contest in Pennsylvania in 2008 and discovered tiny Jackie Evancho. She has become such a recording giant that she will co-star with him at his third concert here in December.

With David, you always get surprise guests on top of the announced lineup. This Friday, he presents “Glee” favorite Charice, Chaka Khan, Paul Anka and Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire, plus the two he believes will deliver knockout performances.

In an exclusive interview, David told me: “This is actually now my fifth time at Mandalay Bay. I’m loving it. Philip has the voice of Earth, Wind & Fire and my favorite band of all time. We just toured Asia together, and he just knocked it out of the park every night, so I’m so excited. And when you look at their songs and their hits, Philip has had so many, it’s just phenomenal. Chaka Khan has the voice that I always wanted to write songs for. Charice has the voice of the next everybody.

“We’ve done this ‘Born to Sing USA’ competition, and we’ll have a couple of great winners come out and sing. I’m going to add some video to this show, which I haven’t done before -- highlights of my career and all the different stars that will be kind of unique. I just talked to my friend Paul Anka, I think he’s going to make a guest appearance, and maybe a couple people like that, so it’s always exciting. I think the people honestly always get their money’s worth. I like the notion of giving people something that they just couldn’t buy in a show that has all this diversity of entertainment.

“That’s my goal. My ultimate goal is that it will be ‘David Foster and Friends,’ and you won’t even have to ask who’s there. You’ll just go ‘well, it’s David Foster and Friends,’ that means it will be really good and packed with solid singers and musicians.”

When David appeared here six weeks ago, he stepped out from the background for the first time of just being the piano player and music arranger to star as himself. “It went great. I cut my teeth sort of on the Andre Agassi events I did all those years that I hosted in Vegas, and that prompted ‘David Foster and Friends.’ It feels very natural to me, and I’m out front for all time now.”

“However, for the third show next month, which is Christmas, with Jackie she’s going to carry a lot of the show. People just love her. She’s carrying the whole show herself, she’s so professional, she’s so adult, so mature, so seasoned. For me, it’s just going to be basically playing her album, and we might do some Christmas songs. I’ll do a little Christmas stuff maybe, in Friday’s show, that would be fun. I don’t want to say I’m riding her coattails, but she’s very comfortable doing it on her own, too. She is absolutely amazing, so we’ll have fun out there. I’ve never seen anything like it ever, Robin, nothing. She’s phenomenal.

“The first time I met her was when I held a singing contest, on my last American tour, she was 8. I had two singers in every city come up, and she was one of the two in Pennsylvania. She got up on stage and blew everybody’s mind. Unfortunately, she was up against a 19-year-old big, big singer, like a(n) (Andrea) Bocelli kind of singer, and Jackie at that time was doing a pop song, not her opera stuff, or her popera stuff, and he came out with a big song and won. But you know, that only made her better.

“I knew then that she was going to go onto something huge. I was blown away with her then. I remember meeting her family, I remember meeting her on the stage, she was 8 years old. She’s already amazing, and yet she’s still developing vocally. From the time we started making her record, there was a 4-month span, and at the end, it’s almost like I wanted her to re-sing everything because the one thing you can’t have when you’re 10 years old is you don’t have the lung capacity, the power, to do the money notes, hang on them and get louder with them. And by the end of the 4 months, her lungs had developed, and she’d really become amazing. Wait till you hear her next month. Beyond belief -- a megastar! “

David is currently enjoying not only Jackie’s album success but also his pal Michael Buble’s Christmas album he produced. New Caesars Palace headliner Shania Twain sang a “White Christmas” duet on it. When David starts as the senior A&R executive at Universal Records in December, he plans to dig deeper with Shania’s talents.

“To the extent that she would want to do something with me, I’d love to do it with her, but I’m not exactly the perfect person for her, but we have a great mutual respect,” said David, pouring water on speculation he could be tapped to produce part of her 2012 Caesars show. “But we are doing a show together in April, so we see what happens,” he laughed as I pointed out all three of them are Canadians!

“Michael’s Christmas album was just released, and it’s just flying. It sold 143,000 copies in the first week. I think it’s going to do 5 million worldwide. Just huge. He’s owning it these days, I don’t know anybody else that can take that slot from him. I don’t think anybody in our lifetime is going to take that away. He’s all on his own.”

I had to ask David, who is known for his uncanny knack in finding extraordinary unknown talent, if he worried about not finding more because so many are being discovered by “X Factor,” “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice.”

“That’s actually a great, great question, but I think the shows probably encourage more people to get out there and enter anything they can. But ‘X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’ can’t be right all the time, so they’re going to miss some great ones. That means they’re going to let some great ones go in the Top 10 that shouldn’t have, so I think there is a plethora out there. I think there’s great talent in every nook and cranny of this Earth.

“I just did ‘Born to Sing Asia’ on our Asian tour, and we had some phenomenal singers, one of whom was a 15-year-old Indonesian girl who sang like Sarah Brightman, and I’m actually thinking of bringing her back here to the States -- she was amazing. The two kids who entered in ‘Born to Sing USA’ will perform Friday, and they are just as amazing. The future superstars are out there just waiting for their shot.

“I can’t tell instantaneously that they’ve got ‘it,’ but what I can tell instantaneously is whether they can really sing or not. It’s the only thing I know. I don’t know if they’re a star, I don’t know if they are going to have hit records, I don’t know if they can, all I know is whether they can definitively sing or not. Being just a singer doesn’t make them a star or sell records. Being a singer does not guarantee anything other than you’re good.

“I could have never known that Michael Buble was a great songwriter. The first night when I saw him, and dragged him back to L.A., I could have never known. When I first saw Celine (Dion), all those years ago, I could have never known that she would become the polished superstar -- all I knew was that I was seeing greatness. It’s a fascinating process. I think Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid have great eyes for talent -- they have it figured out.”

After David’s show here Friday night, he gets ready to take part in the Dec. 8 opening at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles of “Story of a Voice,” a one-of-a-kind, limited-time exhibit of his friend and recording artist Andrea Bocelli. The exhibit runs through Feb. 12. On Dec. 9, the tenor operatic sensation launches his Andrea Bocelli Foundation with a gala dinner and performance at the Beverly Hilton Hotel starring David along with Tony Award winner Heather Headley, soprano Anna Maria Martinez and, as usual, some of David’s “Friends.” On Dec. 10, Andrea flies here for his third consecutive holiday appearance at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

David summed up: “I really enjoy playing Las Vegas. It’s always a great time, and for our next two shows, we’ve really got the best in store for our fans.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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