Living

People plan their vacations around Dian Diaz

It’s a Wednesday night in Eight75, just off the Beau Rivage’s promenade.

What should be a slow night in the small bar becomes busier as showtime, about 8:20 p.m., nears. Some of the people might be here for just a few drinks, but others, it’s clear, are here to see the spot’s longstanding star, Dian Diaz.

Diaz enters in enviably skinny skinny jeans, impressive bejeweled platform sandals, soft ripples in her long hair and a genuine smile for her audience. There’s a serenity around her, but all that gets tucked away as she starts belting her first song, an Etta James classic.

Her band — Trevor Ciongoli on keys, Chris Gavin on guitar, Brentt Arcemonte on drums and Clark Sutter on bass — also gets the spotlight. Ciongoli, for instance, gets to sing John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane,” and Gavin stars in Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.” When Diaz grabs the mic with Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder & Lead,” millennial girls run from the bar out to the small dance area.

Consistent performer

Diaz regularly performs at Eight75, Wednesdays through Saturdays.

“She’s like this every night,” Eight75 manager Melanie Callaway said. “I’ve never seen her have an off night. She’s such a professional.”

Passersby stop and rest their elbows on the back of the seating near the casino floor. Diaz smiles and waves them in.

“Hi there! Come in, have a seat!” she said. Some do. Others are content just enjoying the show from where they are.

Diaz has been performing at MGM Resort International properties for 15 years, 12 and a half of those in the Fontana Room of the Bellagio in Las Vegas and about three at the Beau.

About an hour before showtime, Diaz took time to talk with the Sun Herald about her career and her life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Performing since childhood

Diaz began performing publicly around the age of 9.

“I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and by the age of 9 I was singing in the pavilion in Old Town in Albuquerque,” she said.

Old Town is about a 10-block area of the city, which features historic adobe buildings.

“I always wanted to sing,” she said.

Years later, after a short-lived attempt at being a flight attendant, Diaz’s mother, Elizabeth, got her in a talent show. She didn’t win, but the experience benefited her. The winner had a lounge act in Albuquerque, and when she got pregnant and had to leave the act, it opened the door for Diaz to take her place.

Her big break came when she went on a world tour with international singer Luis Miguel.

“He’s probably one of my favorite L.A. artists,” she said, adding softly, “I met my husband on that tour.”

Husband is her manager

Her husband, Alex Norbert, is also her manager. The two met in 1994 and were married in 2000.

“He’s been my number one supporter,” she said. “He’s not only my manager but my best friend.”

The tour gave Diaz a taste of performing on a big stage.

“It kept my dream alive, and I got to see a lot of Latin America,” she said.

It also got her noticed by Miguel himself, who featured her in his show singing a duet, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.”

Her invitation to perform in the Fontana Room came when the Bellagio opened in 1998. In 2006, while she was there, she released a self-titled CD. Its first single, “Color Everywhere,” reached No. 26 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. The second single, “No More Tears,” reached No. 38.

Memories of stars

She also met and saw several stars while in Vegas.

“I saw Julia Roberts and George Clooney,” she said. “One night, Whitney Houston came in. She came three nights in a row to see the show. She sent me a little note, and I have that locked away. I remember Beyoncé one night. And Bill Murray jumped on stage and started dancing with my mom. It happened to be my birthday. Mom didn’t know who he was.”

After her contract with the Bellagio ended, Diaz and Norbert moved to Orlando, Florida, where they bought a house and started settling in. That’s when they got the call from Anthony Gibson, executive director of entertainment with the Beau. She had performed a few times on the Coast and was familiar with Biloxi. Husband and wife discussed the offer and chose the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a difficult decision.

“We’re Mickey Mouse fanatics. We love Disney World,” she said with a grin. “We got married on a Disney cruise. We could see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom at night from our house in Orlando.”

Happy on the Coast

But the Coast is a place that is dear to Diaz’s heart.

“The Coast has been good to me,” she said. “I always felt at home when we came here, and it does feel like home. There’s something about Biloxi. The Gulf Coast has the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I have regulars here. People come, and they feel like family. That’s what I love about this room (Eight75), too. I used to perform on big stages. The thing about this room is, people walk by and say ‘hey’ and I can give them a hug, in the middle of a song. It’s different. With the room size, performance and audience, I can get much more personal with the audience.”

Gibson agreed.

“People literally take their vacation to see her,” he said. “They did that in Vegas, too.”

Songbook

Diaz’s songbook in Vegas exceeded 500 songs. For Eight75, she’s cut that back a bit.

“I did a lot of jazz and Latin in Vegas,” she said. “It’s around 350 to 400 here.”

Her repertoire hops around genres. In one night she might do Top 40, retro rock, disco, R&B soul and country.

“I might break into Cyndi Lauper,” she said. “The guys like to rock — Journey, AC/DC, G ’n’ R.”

Diaz’s reputation has spread to New Orleans. The Krewe of Endymion recently announced she will join KISS, Flo Rida, KC and the Sunshine Band, Groovy 7 and The Wise Guys as performers for Endymion’s 2017 end of parade extravaganza at the Superdome.

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