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Holly

Dancing with the new star of Peepshow, the woman who plans to be the ultimate Miss Las Vegas

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Holly Madison.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

In real estate as in life, Holly Madison knows what she wants. In life she wants to be the next, or maybe first, universally recognized Miss Las Vegas. How she plans to fulfill that objective is sometimes clear only to Holly Madison, who is afflicted with a keen sense of knowing what she wants only when she sees it. But without question, this next level of fame is more ambitious than sashaying across red carpets with self-styled bad-boy Strip illusionists. It will require more acumen, integrity and entertainment value than starring on a reality show as one of Hugh Hefner’s staged squeezes (The Girls Next Door), or taking part in tightly choreographed TV dance contests (Dancing With the Stars).

Holly Madison’s next step up the fanciful spiral staircase of stardom will involve wearing skimpy clothes, pulling off a baby-blue Bo Peep-style costume top and shaking what God (and, in the case of her nose and boobs, cosmetic surgery) has given her. A former Playboy model whose entertainment career was essentially launched at a Hooters restaurant in Santa Monica, Madison is the new star of Peepshow at Planet Hollywood. As for star power and instant name recognition, Madison is it—Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown and Kelly Monaco, the original stars of the three-month-old show, left after their 90-day contracts expired. Replacing Brown, a born scene-stealer whose departure was far more surprising than Monaco’s, is Shoshana Bean, a highly regarded Broadway performer who played the role of Elphaba in Wicked. But ask the cast of Avenue Q, or Brad Oscar of The Producers, or Monty Python’s Spamalot creator Eric Idle, or Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa of Hairspray, about how far Broadway cred can take you on the Strip. Sometimes it’s a year, tops.

Planet Holly-Wood

A peek at Peep

But in Vegas, a topless Holly Madison could be worth a garage full of Tonys.

And on the topic of garages, and staircases and even Playboy-scaled mansions, this would-be Miss Las Vegas is on a Vegas Valley house hunt …

THE HOUSE-HUNTING TANGO

We’re in the backseat of a silver Honda Pilot, having wheeled out of Planet Hollywood’s valet and toward the far reaches of the Las Vegas Valley, north and west of even Summerlin. We later refer to this location as West Jesus—west of East Jesus. Way out in the nether regions of Centennial Hills, where the Stratosphere looks as tiny as a Monopoly token. Driving is Jeff Molitz, worth noting not only because he is a real-estate agent leading Miss Las Vegas on her search for a new home, but because he is also the personal assistant of Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson. This relationship is indicative of Madison’s closely confined universe—her PR manager, Steve Flynn, also does PR work for Carrot Top. Oh, and Flynn works for Criss Angel, too. In fact, Madison’s LA manager, Jason Verona, also manages Angel, which means Madison is not the only individual required to perform fancy footwork among her circle of confidants.

Holly on Dancing With the Stars.

Molitz has researched homes in this upper region of real estate, and has been given one primary objective: Find a mansion. Not the Playboy Mansion, no. Barbie’s mansion. A great dollhouse. Madison, dressed in a tight gray T-shirt—and all of her T-shirts fit tightly—a denim skirt and black Chuck Taylors with light blue-striped tube socks, doesn’t even own a Barbie dollhouse. She has no prototype to use as a reference point, only her mental picture of how a Barbie mansion would look if it were set 25 miles away from the Las Vegas Strip. Her other home-seeking barometer is her friend Angel Porrino, who trails in a white Toyota Prius with her 2-week-old son, Roman, in tow.

Molitz and I note that there is no “boy” version of a Barbie mansion to use as a reference point—no G.I. Joe mansion or Transformers mansion—and Holly is asked, “What are the design effects of a Barbie mansion?” She can’t say, exactly.

“It’s something you feel,” she says as we pull up to a 6,500-square-foot estate with a 1,500-square-foot guest home. The listed price is $1.4 million (a variety of lucrative projects, wise investments and the selling of a loft in a coveted area of Santa Monica have boosted Madison into this price range). But she doesn’t like the entryway, and upon entering, she quickens her pace. The two bemused agents who greet us at the door and lead the tour seem to realize this, and Madison barely breaks stride as she winds through the estate. It’s a rare moment she’s able to move at will—no fans asking for photos and autographs, no media horde shouting for her to stop and spin on a red carpet. “You know right away whether you like a house or not,” says Madison, who knows at first glance of the entryway of a home whether she likes it.

As we cruise among houses, I hand Madison a printout of her Wikipedia entry and ask: What in this biographical account is inaccurate? Her response is funny: “Is this a test?” Holly Madison does have a sense of humor, about herself and everything else.

Holly Madison and Carrot Top at the Luxor.

Holly Madison and Carrot Top at the Luxor.

Not exactly a test, no, but if there’s something wrong there, it would be interesting to know what it is. She reads along and stops at the point where she is quoted as saying she describes herself as “mistress of the Mansion pooches.”

“I would never say that!” she shouts. “What am I, British?” She slips into a British accent, narrating the passage, “Holly describes herself as ‘mistress of the pooches.’ Too funny.” She also notes, of the woman she replaced due to injury on Dancing With the Stars, “I didn’t know Jewel’s last name’s Kilcher.” Madison is fast to respond, a no-filter conversationalist prone to unexpected outbursts and quick-shot questions. During the trip we try to find a new Starbucks up in Centennial Hills, and Molitz’s Garmin has us winding through assorted under-construction streets in the new community. We end up losing Porrino for the day—Roman, now crying, has less patience for this project than the adults—and we pass a Cracked Egg restaurant. I say to no one in particular, “Wow, I didn’t know there was a Cracked Egg out here.” Madison swiftly asks, “What’s the Cracked Egg? Is it a chain? What do they serve?” I tell her I’ve had a good Greek omelet there. “What’s in it?” I don’t have the recipe. I look up at Molitz in the rearview mirror, and he’s giggling. This line of questioning is nothing new from Madison; at one point she asks a string of questions about the history of the old signs displayed in the Neon Boneyard, where she has recently shot a pictorial for her 2010 calendar.

The day’s house hunt seems fruitless. Realizing this, Madison slips into “random” and “alert” drollery. “What is this for, up here?” she says as we stand on a vast second-level space with wood flooring, a sink in the corner and sliding glass doors leading to a patio. A party space? Maybe build a shuffleboard court? “Random room!” she calls out.

Later, from the master bathroom, she shouts, “Random bidet!” Wha-a? We track Madison to the giant loo, where a bidet sits in one corner, and the commode in the other.

“Who puts a bidet all the way across the room from the toilet?” she asks.

No architect hired by Barbie, evidently.

As we leave, we stop at the entryway. Two staircases nearly meet at the marble floor, the railings built of swirling, ornately designed wrought iron. Madison points toward the railing on the walkway above, probably 20 feet high. Inlaid in the design, barely discernible, is a heart.

“That,” she says, “is a Barbie effect!”

THE CRISS ANGEL SALSA

The dinner guests have peeled off, and the table at the Peppermill Inn is dusted with crumbs and the pink, blue and white granules from the café’s trademark glass sugar dispenser. Miss Las Vegas is reclining but not entirely, seated with her slightly bronzed legs folded under her snugly fitted, salmon-colored dress.

She should be tired, having scampered through a task-filled, 12-hour stretch that took her to three mansions and a red-carpet walk at Planet Hollywood. Even when relaxed, as she appears now, she seems ready to hop off, bunny-like.

Holly Madison and Criss Angel.

Holly Madison and Criss Angel.

Madison, a hot commodity in every regard, has talked and talked all day. But we haven’t yet covered some of the dicier episodes of her brief but spirited time in Las Vegas. I ask a question she has long known is coming, about her ill-fated relationship with illusionist Criss Angel. The wording of the question itself hardly matters—it could be, “Criss Angel?” with a shrug of the shoulders, but Madison gets it, no problem, knowing that her affiliation with Angel represents her first foray into Vegas.

She easily explains how she met Angel during an appearance on the contest show Phenomenon, for which Angel was a judge. Madison also met “The Mentalist,” Gerry McCambridge, on that show. “He was a contestant, and I shot him in the balls with a paint gun,” she recalls, unleashing the fast laugh that has become commonplace over the past eight hours. Madison’s meeting with Angel was less dramatic, and she met him again when she and fellow Girls Next Door star Bridget Marquardt returned to Las Vegas to film an episode of MindFreak with the illusionist.

She says the two texted each other and forged a flirtatious cyber friendship: “I had a big crush on him, but because of his reputation I didn’t think it would be anything that would turn into something.”

What sort of reputation are we talking about here?

“Like, he dates a different person every week,” Madison says, laughing through the explanation. “So I didn’t think anything of relationship status would happen. But we would text each other, and when I would come out here to work on a photo shoot, and it was the first time I’d come out here by myself, we decided to go out together, and I thought that best-case scenario we would be friends with each other, but we just totally hit it off, and we got together.”

Fortuitously, Madison and Angel’s romantic relationship coincided with the start of Angel’s Cirque du Soleil-partnered production at the Luxor, the opening of which was met with almost universally negative reviews. But the person on his arm on opening night was a hit.

“Oh, he even admits that,” Madison says, explaining the out-of-balance media reports of his relationship as his Luxor show was launched. “He says, ‘I was getting bad reviews, but on the day of my premiere when we were walking down the red carpet together, that’s all people wanted to talk about.’ So, he admits that.” Skeptics suggest that, given Angel’s need for some form of sock puppetry to distract from his flailing show, and also given the links he and Madison share in their support staffs, the entire relationship was at least partially staged.

Madison says, no way.

“We had a lot of fun together, every day, like two little kids,” she says. “We’d race each other up the stairs at the Luxor and go to the haunted houses and roller coasters together. It was totally fun. Everyone says [it was staged], but that’s not what it was at all. We were together every day for four months. Anyone who saw us together or watched us hang out would know what it was.”

The couple announced their breakup in February. Madison has nothing to say of Angel’s escapades post-breakup, or of his occasional departures of common sense—such as threatening R-J columnist Norm Clarke and calling Perez Hilton a “douchebag” from the Luxor stage during a show. But she does explain the breakup by saying, “I think it happened because some people don’t want to be happy, and they always look for problems, even if there aren’t any. Some people don’t want to be happy, so they pick away at something until they find problems.”

I ask Madison who takes responsibility for the decision to end the relationship. She fires back quickly, “I should have. But it wasn’t me. I would have done anything to make it work. He’s the one with the problem, not me.”

Still, she defends Believe, saying, “There is no way I could ever not be biased because when I was with him I was so in love with him. I saw that show, like, 120 times. I can’t say anything except that I loved it, because I loved him.”

The two have no contact now.

“When he’s done with somebody,” she says, “he’s done with them.”

Madison’s high-pitched voice spills across several booths, and you wonder if the dinner guests seated nearby are paying attention to the conversation. She seems unconcerned. But overriding all of this is the almost inexplicable reality that Holly Madison has been dumped. “It happens, it does,” she says. And then she laughs.

THE NAPOLEON FOXTROT

IT has already been decided that an outing with Miss Las Vegas will include a walk with her new dog, a year-old Pekinese mix she’s named Napoleon. Madison purchased Napoleon during an adoption event at the Petco on North Rainbow Boulevard a couple of weeks ago. And it has been decided that this dog walk is to require Madison to record a quick message to her fans for her Web site, and this dog walk will take place near Planet Hollywood’s valet, at a landscaped spot where Napoleon can poop and Madison can talk into Verona’s Flip camera about her upcoming role in Peepshow. Inevitably, Napoleon poops, and Madison, still in her heels and pinkish dress, gingerly stoops to pick up the mess with a plastic bag. She then tosses Napoleon’s bag of poop toward a nearby Dumpster, but a gust of wind catches the bag and sends it off-course. So sex symbol Holly Madison, moments removed from posing for dozens of paparazzi on the red carpet on the Las Vegas Strip, ducks behind a giant Dumpster to retrieve an errantly tossed bag of dog poop. “I loooove my dog!” she says. Verona and Madison’s close friend Laura Croft, the July 2008 Playboy Playmate, are busting up, and later Verona reinforces what anyone who is close to Madison today—whether it’s a buddy or casino president—says: “What makes her great is that she’s real.”

Holly and her adopted pooch, Napoleon.

An avowed animal lover, Madison is real enough to pose for an ad for PETA that shows her tastefully unclothed under the message, “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” but remain a meat-eater. “I’m not a hardcore PETA person. When they approached me to do the ad, I made it clear to them that I’m not a vegetarian, and I’ve got leather seats in my car. I said I would support that ad campaign, but I wasn’t their model citizen, and they were fine with that.”

The walk from the suite to the Planet Hollywood parking garage is more of an odyssey than for any commoner, because to walk over distance in public with Holly Madison is to understand it will take at least 10 minutes longer than it should. It just takes one person, or in the instance of the episode outside the ABC Store at the Miracle Mile Shops, a trio of guys probably in their mid-20s with Dane Cook-inspired social skills. “Holly fucking Madison! High fucking five!” That’s all it takes. The stream of fans starts. The guys want the high five, and, turning to Verona, need a photo taken with the bombshell. Verona would be a great reviewer of point-and-shoot cameras if he had the time to actually chart all the makes and models he’s been handed. We joke that he should carry strobes and a backdrop with him because of all the photos he shoots of Madison and assorted strangers.

And she never says “no,” no matter how much her accessibility taxes her schedule. She smiles, poses as if each shot is, in fact, a national magazine cover, smiling in a way that exudes accessibility.

Madison remembers being on the other side of fame, is the reason. She remembers, years ago, approaching former Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets star Clyde Drexler for an autograph and being hastily dismissed. “He was so rude,” she says. “I can’t be that.” Of course, to shoot down even one fan could mean Madison would gain an undeserved reputation as a total bitch.

“It just takes that one time, and it’s out there,” Flynn says. “It’s a tough reputation to recover from.” So she stops, even when it takes 10 minutes to walk 10 feet.

THE LA TWO-STEP

Miss Las Vegas’ real name is Hollin Sue Cullen. She came up with “Madison” because she thought it sounded cool, not by throwing a dart at a map of Wisconsin. She was born in Astoria, Oregon. Her father, Steve, has long been employed in the maritime shipping industry and today works as a manager for Jones Stevedoring Company in Portland.

Patsy Cullen, Madison’s mom, speaks of her daughter’s distinctive fashion sense, how she wore tube socks on her forearms and cowboy boots to the prom, but was not a particularly rebellious kid compared to her friends. She was a varsity cheerleader at St. Helen’s High who relished the spotlight.

Born Hollin Sue Cullen, Madison is pictured in her seventh-grade school portrait.

“It wasn’t a surprise at all when she decided to move to LA,” Steve Cullen says. “She always had a little bit of a left-handed attitude that was more suited for Hollywood, that culture.” When asked if he and his wife would see Peepshow when they visit Vegas in August, Steve chuckles and says, “I don’t know about the topless part. We might have to have a talk about that. It’s acting, though, and I’ve never had a problem with it before.”

Patsy Cullen says she has not offered much in the way of motherly advice for her daughter in business or in her personal life. She says she approves of her famous boyfriends, answering a question about Hefner and Angel by saying, “They seem like nice people, honestly. A little different, but nice. We did meet [Criss’] family, and they were very nice. He’s really attached to his family, which I think is a good thing.” We don’t bother with discussions of other rumored romances, the brief night on the town in Vegas with Russell Brand that was exaggerated to the point where low-level celebrity pubs erroneously had the duo performing wild sex in a suite at the Venetian.

Madison, 29, comes from a family of five, the oldest of three children. Her sister, Stephanie, teaches second grade in LA. Her brother, Joseph, is 18 and just graduated from high school. Pretty common folk, these Cullens, except that Holly has always sought fame. Well, not only sought fame, but expected it. She attended Portland State University, double-majoring in theater and psychology, before transferring to Loyola Marymount University in 1999, prior to her junior year.

Why move to LA?

“Have you ever been to Oregon?” she asks, laughing. “The climate can be pretty depressing. My family had always vacationed in LA, I liked the weather there, I thought there would be a lot more opportunity there for me than in Oregon.”

Madison took up work at Hooters and became a Hawaiian Tropic model. In LA, this sort of employ was tantamount to gaining guaranteed access to the Playboy Mansion. The judges for the Hawaiian Tropic contests also served as scouts of sorts for parties at the Playboy Mansion. “If you’re a pretty girl in LA, you’ve probably been to a party at the Mansion,” Madison says.

Reaching Hugh Hefner himself requires a bit of inventive networking, getting to know the girls who know the girls in his inner circle. But Madison, whose beauty is matched by her drive and enormous personality, got to know the girls who were close to Hefner and became one of his seven girlfriends. This, just two years after she moved to LA. The girlfriends melted away until there were just three, a now-iconic (at least in the world of cable reality shows) trio of Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. Soon there was talk of filming the goings-on at the Mansion for a reality show, but Madison is quick to remind that the three were in place before the reality show was in production.

“We’d talked about doing a show for a long time, but they didn’t know who they were going to focus on more—the girlfriends or Hef’s kids and his family, or on the staff—nobody really knew, and it wasn’t until it was me, Bridget and Kendra that it worked. … With some of the girls who were there before—there’s a difference between raunchy sexy, like somebody who just came out of a strip club, and funny-sexy. I think Bridget, Kendra and I were all goofballs who were all funny-sexy and could make a joke out of it, where the others were girls who looked like they’d been around the block a few times.”

The Girls Next Door.

Madison laughs and adds, “I was making jokes about the situation all the time. It was the most absurd situation. It was just supposed to be fun.”

But how real was her affection for Hefner? I put forth the circumstance that if Holly Madison were to go on Match.com, her match would likely not be Hugh Hefner. “Well, I don’t know if you come up with anybody when you do that [laughs], but it’s not normal. It’s not like you’re dating somebody and it’s normal.” She declines to indicate how much of the relationship was staged, how much of her affection—and her comments about someday wanting to start a family with the 83-year-old publishing icon—was staged. “I think that’s part of the beauty of the show, which still reruns a lot and probably will rerun in some capacity. I think one of the reasons that it works is that you don’t know. It’s like a Rorschach test. It’s like whatever’s palatable to you, if there’s a real relationship or not. If you spelled it out in either one of the two ways, maybe some of the audience wouldn’t buy the situation. To answer that question ruins the show, you know? It does.”

Madison says she and Hefner do share “an approach to sexuality that’s fun and more tongue-in-cheek, not raunchy and in-your-face.” She also says that one of the more grating misconceptions about her career was that her job as photo editor for Playboy was fabricated for the cameras, that she really performed those tasks and engaged in several heated arguments with Hefner about content. It is also clear that Madison is eager to move beyond her affiliation with the Playboy Mansion and her relationship with Hefner. Flynn says that the only time he has seen Madison truly angry was when Jimmy Kimmel introduced her, post-Girls Next Door, as one of Hefner’s ex-girlfriends on his late-night talk show.

To move out of the shadow of the Mansion, Madison had to leave LA. It hasn’t been an entirely benign experience.

THE POOL DECK DO-SI-DO

Angel factored peripherally into one of the stranger media dustups in recent memory, over Memorial Day weekend at the pool at Palms Place. Miss Las Vegas was setting up to be interviewed by longtime KVBC entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs (who dated Angel for a time), and Madison made an offhanded comment about Jacobs’ dress. “Oh my God!” Madison says at the mention of Jacobs. “I honestly did not mean to take a dig at her. I was making small talk, ‘Oh, that’s a cute dress, nice for a pool party like today.’ I was making a reference to the weather. It was so windy. I was freezing my butt off in a bikini, trying to look cute, and she was wearing this cute sundress, which was a better choice.” It wound up that Jacobs took umbrage at the comment, and the two had a public back-and-forth that made for some juicy gossip-column coverage—Madison laughs at Perez Hilton’s headline about the incident, “Holly Madison and some old lady fight over an ex.”

Madison says, “I’d been warned ahead of time by Steve [Flynn] that [Jacobs] was the only reporter there who was going to ask me a question about Criss, and she asked me the question about Criss, and I didn’t have anything to say about it. So Norm calls me and says, ‘I heard you insulted Alicia Jacobs,’ and I’m like, ‘Who is Alicia Jacobs? Is that the female reporter at the party? Oh my God, I didn’t mean to insult her dress.’” When she was told that Angel once dated Jacobs, Madison’s rapid response was, “She doesn’t seem like his type.” She also took after Jacobs in a blog on her MySpace page, accusing Jacobs of using the incident to boost her ratings at Channel 3. The two met again during the Miss USA pageant in May, where, fatefully, both were judges.

“I was so unprepared for someone to turn this into a catty thing,” Madison says. “At the Miss USA pageant, after this whole thing went down, and I said, ‘I didn’t mean to insult your dress,’ and she said, ‘What do you think of what I am wearing now?’ And I go, ‘It looks great,’ and she says, ‘Oh good, because I’d be so unhappy if you didn’t like it.’ You know, I’m trying to make peace here, and it’s like she just loves the drama.”

Jacobs still says that Madison used a curious choice of words to pay a compliment: “It’s not the way I would compliment someone.” Jacobs says she was not the one to make the compliment public, as those nearby who overheard the conversation were responsible for informing the gossips. Jacobs says she was trying to get information about Angel as part of her job, “and I was getting two- or three-word answers. It wasn’t a good interview.” At the Miss USA encounter, Jacobs was goosed into asking Madison about the incident by Perez Hilton, also a judge who was positioned on the carpet. “It was tongue-in-cheek. I was just having some fun with it.”

Regardless, Jacobs says she wishes the show and Madison success. “I hope she can succeed in that show, because there are a lot of shows that are not doing well, and I’d like to see it do well.” As an epilogue to the sundress saga, Angel actually asked Jacobs about the incident outside the Encore Theatre during Danny Gans’ tribute event. “He started asking me about it, ‘That was wild. What happened there?’ I thought he was talking about Danny’s death, but he was talking about this thing with Holly. Really, now, it’s just a blip on the radar.”

THE PLANET HOLLYWOOD MOONWALK

Nick Kenkel is the co-choreographer of Peepshow and the man assigned to the former contestant on Dancing With the Stars (where Madison and partner Dmitry Chaplin were voted off the show in a double-elimination episode) during rehearsals at a rehearsal room just off the Phantom Theatre at the Venetian. Amid a series of full-size mirrors and a hardwood floor, Miss Las Vegas shows that she has some big-stage tools with which to work: Her naturally appealing disposition, expressively beautiful face and stunning figure. She’ll go topless, no problem, as she’s always wanted to be a funny-sexy performer since modeling her career after Jenny McCarthy when she was a teenager. “I wanted to be Jenny McCarthy,” she says. “I wanted her exact career. When I first saw her I couldn’t believe they made girls that beautiful, and she’s grown into such an inspirational figure with her work for autism. I love her.” It’s not necessarily a career as a dancer, though. Madison is starting to find the steps and moves well, saying that her rehearsals for DWTS have given her confidence in this form of art. But these rehearsals are lengthy, often inglorious and, frankly, boring.

Holly Madison, Guinness Book of World Records executive Danny Girton and the world record proclamation.

Holly Madison, Guinness Book of World Records executive Danny Girton and the world record proclamation.

“You getting this?” Kenkel says of a particularly complex set of steps, attempted near the end of the four-hour session. Madison, dressed in a pink Nike sports bra, matching drawstring shorts, white tube socks with pink striping and leather heels, seems lost in thought, maybe considering that random bidet. “Kinda-sorta?” Kenkel says. “Let’s do it again. Next time, we’re doing this at the beginning, not at the end. We have a tough time keeping focused near the end of these days when she has photo shoots or something going on.” The fact that Melanie Brown did not renew her contract with the show means Madison is the show’s top draw. She says she relishes the role, as performing in an adult show has been such a tantalizing goal that she was willing to work the Crazy Horse Paris at MGM Grand for free—to fold the experience into a Girls Next Door plot line—before “artistic concerns” unplugged that concept.

Madison has also visited Jubilee!, the Strip show that most resembles the original spirit of what is now the more contemporary Peepshow. She laughed and applauded throughout the campy production, at one point saying the male dancers in G-strings “really need to get a tan,” and loving the lavish costumes, some of which look like big, fur-and-sequin-bedazzled canary cages.

“It’s so Vegas,” says Madison, whose favorite Vegas show is still Superstars of Magic at the Las Vegas Club. “I love characters. I love over-the-top stuff.”

In a business sense, Madison has been a model of cooperation for Planet Hollywood execs, who hope her nationwide star power can fill 1,500 seats nightly. “Holly recognizes what celebrity awareness means, and she has done everything we’ve asked her. The bikini parade [the Madison-led Strip attempt to set a world record for women parading in bikinis] is an example,” Planet Hollywood President Tom McCartney says. “She was really eager to do that, where a lot of people might have hesitated. I won’t discuss others, but she has surrounded herself with good, positive people. She’s a good self-promoter, and I mean that in the most positive way.”

As McCartney speaks, Madison is talking up a pink streak on the Planet Hollywood red carpet. The concept has just been finalized to drop “Wood” from Planet Hollywood’s marquee to shoot “Planet Holly,” which at this moment seems all too fitting.

THE OLD SOFT SHOE

The event is the Taste of the Nation event at the Hard Rock Hotel, which features the work of the city’s top chefs and is a fundraiser for Three Square, Chef for Kids, Project Mana and Catholic Charities. Miss Las Vegas is one host. Local weatherman Nate Tannenbaum, always in the bow tie, is the other. Madison and Verona walk slowly through the crowd and, as always, endure the dozens of photo requests. How Madison’s eyes don’t suffer permanent damage from the flashes is something of a medical miracle, actually. At the bar we ask the bartender if he’s heard of a “Skinny Bitch,” which is her name for a vodka-soda over ice. He hasn’t, but makes one anyway and pushes it to Madison.

She turns, and a half-dozen people have assembled to gawk and fire off photos. One avuncular gentleman approaches with a seemingly rehearsed message for Madison: “I saw you a few months ago at the Disneyland Hotel, and my daughter actually saw you in the bathroom first, and she was putting on her makeup even though she’s just 8 years old, and when she came out she said she saw you and said you were the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen, and she never says that about anyone even though she’s really pretty herself.”

Madison jumps in and says, “That’s so sweet,” and the guy continues, “You were with that guy, too! We saw you with him! The magic guy—the magician. Oh, heck. What’s his name?”

The group is silent as the man’s thought process pinwheels like a locked-up Mac. “Oh man. Who was that?” He’s the only one who doesn’t know. Finally, I say, “David Copperfield?” and Verona shouts, “David Blaine!”

Madison throws her hands up for high fives, and cuts loose with that high-pitched laugh. When you’re the new Miss Las Vegas, how can you not?

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