- When Wayne Newton was 4 years old, like most kids his age, he didn't know his A, B, Cs. But he already displayed a keen interest in performing. His parents sent him to a piano teacher who was incensed when she learned he didn't know the alphabet. She sat him on her porch, waiting for his parents to pick him up with a sign around his neck. It read, "How dare you send this child to study music when he doesn't know his A, B, Cs?"
That could have marked the end of an astonishing career. But Newton's parents took him to a guitar teacher instead, who didn't care that the 4-year-old didn't know his alphabet, as long as he could count.
"So for three years he taught me by numbers," says Newton, who will host the reality series "The Entertainer," which premieres on E! Entertainment Jan. 23.
"It took him three years to realize I was playing by ear. So that ended my formal education in music. When I was 6, I had my own local radio show, singing and playing steel guitar. It all came so easy for me; it wasn't ever something I had to work at. And I always loved it. My parents never pushed me, but were very supportive. All they said was, 'If you don't want to do this, please let us know because we can't afford it if it's a passing interest.'"
Needless to say, it was no passing interest. That precocious little boy grew up to orchestrate a phenomenal career with evergreen hits like "Danke Schoen," "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife," a permanent berth as a top liner in Las Vegas and concert tours all over the world.
Now Newton is trying something new. With the reality show role, hopes to spur the careers of fledgling professionals who find few outlets for their talents.
Ten performers (not just singers) will vie for a position as a Vegas headliner and a chance to share a stage with Newton during the grand finale.
While performers of his day found nightclubs in which to polish their acts, that has all changed, he says.
"The whole world has moved into 'I want it now and tomorrow, and after that, I'm not interested.' Well the truth is that a career couldn't be further from that ideology. You can have your records, we can name people who've had legions of hit records or a hit movie or a hit television show, but as far as building that career, it has to be your ability to connect with the people you're entertaining. And that is the one thing that the youth of our country has no place to learn," he says.
Newton started as a duo with his older brother. They began playing the lounge shows in Las Vegas when Wayne was 15.
Later, Jackie Gleason heard Newton perform at a luncheon in Phoenix and urged him to appear on the comic's show.
"So I ended up doing about 12 Jackie Gleason shows over the next two years and from that came Bobby Darin who produced all my early hits including 'Danke Schoen' and (there was) Mr. (Jack) Benny who took me back to Nevada and into the main shows."
Still all of it hasn't been an easy ride. Newton and his first wife divorced.
"My daughter was 4 when her mother and I separated and it took me two years to get a divorce. When she was about 5 she said, 'I want to live with you.' So I ended up taking her to school every morning and I'd sleep while she was in school and would go pick her up in the after school and perform at night. And that went on until she could drive at 16."
He was still the custodial dad when he met his second wife, Kathleen.
"I'd met her parents three or four times and never met her. When we met I was engaged to someone else and so was she. We both knew there was an immediate attraction. I broke my engagement about four months after I met her, though it had nothing to do with her. I just knew it was wrong," says Newton.
Kathleen is an attorney who helped Newton when he filed for bankruptcy in the early '90s. "I let her talk to the attorneys and stayed out of that," he sighs.
Together they have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter. Though first he was reluctant to be a father again at 59, now he says, "I'm just the luckiest man because my second daughter is just the sweetest thing that ever took a breath of air."