Chuck Rite had been unemployed for about a year. He was playing guitar under one of the escalators on the Las Vegas Strip and hanging out at pools. But he said he “put it out into the universe” that he wanted to perform on stage one day.
Rite describes him self as a spiritual person. His unbridled enthusiasm for life shone as he told his story of hope and discovery.
Nine months ago, things weren’t great. But Rite is an unyielding optimist.
He beamed as he recounted how a group of tourists stopped to dance to his music but left without leaving a tip. Another group came along shortly and requested a song he happened to know.
“They left $25!” Rite said, as though it could have been $25 million.
Rite always has a spring in his step, and that may just be what got him his break.
A friend was helping him move out of his old place, and Rite was singing while he worked.
It was nothing serious — just an old Maroon 5 song that had been playing on the radio. But the friend took notice and asked what Rite was doing with his voice.
The friend was a dancer with Las Vegas’ production of Legends in Concert — a show at the Flamingo that features some of the world’s best impersonators. Legends is its celebrating 30th anniversary this year. In three decades of re-creating stars, it’s discovered some amazing voices.
Rite’s friend introduced him to Katy Steele, who plays Lady Gaga in the Vegas version of the show. A veteran of the production, she climbs around the stage in bubble dresses and other crazy costumes, singing in Gaga’s voice and playing her quirky character with impressive accuracy.
Steele heard Rite sing, and she thought he might have something special.
Soon enough, the street performer with the un-erasable smile was on his way to becoming a legend.
“They just said, ‘Be here at 3 o’clock on this day,’” Rite remembers. No instructions. No required repertoire. Just a time and a location.
Rite picked two of the biggest hits by the singer he hoped to play and showed up to the tryout ready to make a go at being Adam Levine.
“Moves Like Jagger” was an obvious choice, Rite said. He sang the tune for a small panel of show executives, but he said the performance attracted others’ attention, too.
“Just in my sound check I had everyone in the office standing outside the door waiting to see who I was,” he said. “It was nuts!”
Rite recalls that he offered to sing a second number. When he asked if his judges would like to hear “Payphone,” he said, “They were like, ‘I do!’ ‘I do!’ ‘I do!’”
The Legends executives had already auditioned an Adam Levine impersonator, who, Rite said, “looked exactly like” the Maroon 5 frontman.
But creating a legend is about a lot more than appearance.
“With makeup and contouring, there’s so much you can do to a face,” Rite said. “But you can’t make up a voice.”
Though backing tracks are sometimes used in the show to give the live band and background singers some extra oomph, there’s nothing to ‘cover up’ the star’s voice.
“Never never ever ever are there lead vocal tracks,” Rite said. “I’m not doubling anything.”
The impersonators are so convincing that Rite has a hunch people often think the singers are faking. He uses Victor Trevino, Jr., who plays Elvis, as an example.
“I would think he was lip-syncing!” Rite exclaims. “I would!” Trevino is that good.
Rite is thrilled to be singing Levine’s music in his own voice.
“I love Adam Levine and I love his voice,” he said. “High notes to me are just joy.”
Rite said that the hardest part about impersonation — and one of the most important — is moving and acting like his character.
“I can’t go in there as Chuck Rite, and I can’t go in there as ‘Chuck Rite as Adam Levine.’ I go in there as Adam Levine,” Rite said. “I really have to become him.”
Most artists come to the show with acts already prepared — costumes made, sets constructed and performances polished. But Rite has been thankful to receive a lot of help from the show that plucked him off the street and placed him under lights.
Rite has done some acting, but the bulk of his experience as a performer comes from singing and playing guitar and piano. So he has watched Levine on the NBC talent competition “The Voice” and tried to memorize the ‘real’ artist’s speech and mannerisms.
The costume is easy — jeans, a T-shirt and boots — and Rite was relieved that he wouldn’t have to dance. But the Legends crew is building Rite a set, and he enlisted the help of some drag queen friends and a buddy who works for Mac to teach him how to create Levine’s face.
“I had to sit in front of the mirror and try a few things, then wipe it off and try a few more things,” Rite said.
His pre-show prep routine takes between 30 minutes and an hour. He darkens the sides of his face to create the illusion that it is thinner than it is, then lightens parts of his face — like the end of his nose — that he wants to stand out like they do on Levine’s.
Rite began working with a performance coach last week.
“The first day was a little rough,” he said. He explained that there is a lot to think about all at once — the technical aspects of singing as well as the theatrical parts of his performance.
Rite said there were “a lot of concerns” in his first practice but that he went home and practiced in preparation for the next day, and things started to improve.
His first rehearsal with the Legends band was this morning.
“It was so much better,” he said. “It felt so much greater. The notes were really positive … I came in feeling more prepared and like I wasn’t wasting anybody’s time.”
The Legends staff gave him a lot of pointers: advice on how to warm up and how to breathe that will help him build up his voice for the show. One coach recommended he practice singing while running on a treadmill.
The biggest piece of advice Rite received: Chill out.
“When you get out on stage, the adrenaline that rushes elevates you to another level, so you really have to be able to pull yourself back and not … allow that adrenaline to overrun you,” he explained.
But off-stage, Rite’s enthusiasm is still sky-high.
He described looking in on a rehearsal where the Legends dancers were practicing for his act.
“It’s doooope!” he said. “It’s so good! It’s really high-energy, and it’s on point. It’s so amazing!”
Rite’s first on-stage run-through is June 28. He expects to have three such rehearsals before he officially joins the cast on July 1.
Rite still plays guitar under the escalator at the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. And he says he still never turns down a pool party. But he has become a professional musician in the blink of an eye, and stepping into the shoes of a star has fulfilled one of his life goals — and made way for many dreams to come.
After he gets his feet wet in the show at the Flamingo, he said, Legends might send him on tour.
As he has been through every step of his journey, he’s infectiously delighted with the idea.
“I want to go to Thailand,” he said. “That would be so dope. And Spain! I want to see Spain!”
“This is amazing!” he said. “There are so many possibilities.”