Local entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs has risen to the top, but not without a few bumps and bruises along the way
Thu, May 13, 2010 (midnight)
Photo: Jerry Metellus
The artist leans in slowly, delicately gripping a thin MAC Cosmetics lip brush in his right hand while holding his subject's face still with his left. Alicia Jacobs doesn't typically let a person in so close, but now she is almost face-to-face with her longtime friend and trusted photographer, Jerry Metellus.
Metellus is brushing Jacobs' face with the same care a painter takes when sweeping colors over a blank canvas. As a young photographer, Metellus was often called "Jerry Meticulous," and he's showing why now. He dabs at Jacobs' mouth, slowly shading it crimson. Between dabs, she says through pursed lips, "He makes it look like I've had a lip job — a good one."
As Jacobs' face is lightly covered with a healthy sheen, you notice a crevice on her forehead. You have to look closely, and move in almost as tightly as the artist. But as the light from the setting sun catches Jacobs' forehead, you see a faint mark. It's a thread of a scar running a few inches on her high brow and disappearing into her highlighted blond hair.
What happened there?
What happened is the result of the moment, brief but violent, that changed Alicia Jacobs' life.
It has been colorful life, without question. Jacobs has for 15 years been one of the city's omnipresent entertainment reporters. She has risen from a quirky start as a two-time beauty queen who hosted her own ragtag local entertainment show to prominent roles on two Las Vegas network affiliates, and, today, a contributing role on the nationally syndicated celeb news show, Extra.
Along the way, Jacobs has forged invaluable contacts on the Las Vegas entertainment scene, including newsmakers Siegfried & Roy, Wayne Newton and the late Danny Gans. Her role with Extra has provided her a national audience to report juicy stories from Las Vegas. But it hasn't always been an easy sashay across the spotlit stage for the former Miss Nevada USA.
For all her success in Las Vegas, Jacobs has been chided by media watchdogs who have criticized her for throwing herself personally into her on-air reports. Her practice of bringing her pet pooch Star with her to events and show openings, the dog ensconced in a high-end doggie carrier, has not always been appreciated or understood by those on the scene and has prompted one national figure, former talk-show host Bonnie Hunt, to call her out on the air.
Jacobs has fired back in each instance, not apologizing for the genuine friendships she has formed over the course of her career — or in the reporting of those friendships. She cried after Hunt's criticism, reminding her Channel 3 audience of her long involvement with the station's pet-adoption program.
For Jacobs, those professional scars are well-concealed today, like that mark atop her forehead.
When she was 16, a sophomore cheerleader at Valley High School, Jacobs and a friend were T-boned in a Toyota Celica while driving from a Vikings basketball game. The person who crashed into the car had driven through a stop sign.
Seated in the passenger's seat, Jacobs was thrown hard to one side and knocked unconscious. She also suffered cuts to the left side of her posterior and knee. Nearly 200 stitches were needed to mend her head wound. Jacobs was unconscious for hours. Blood had caked her face at the scene. When Jacobs' mother, Brenda Berger, first saw her in the Sunrise Hospital emergency room, she passed out.
Yet, out of this episode, a pair of pageant victories were achieved, and a career in celebrity broadcast news was launched.
Feeling she looked "like a monster," Jacobs wore a bandage over her head for several weeks, far longer than needed to protect the wound. But her mother saw only slightly tarnished beauty, and convinced her daughter — who loved beauty pageants and had dreamt of competing in one since she was a little girl — to enter the Miss Nevada USA competition scheduled for the Holiday Casino, which today is Harrah's on the Strip.
In what was considered a highly unlikely result in the culture of beauty pageants, where paying your dues is often a requirement to wear the tiara, young Alicia Berger won the pageant as a first-time contestant.
Stunned to have won, Jacobs says she developed the confidence in her appearance to recover from the crash and move toward a college degree. Jacobs enrolled at UNLV and majored in English. Still a college student, she married Las Vegas internist Dr. Loring Jacobs — they have been separated for about five years but are still legally married. While at UNLV, she won the Mrs. USA pageant and became locally famous as a beauty queen.
To employ the vernacular of a gambler, Jacobs parlayed those wins into something a bit more tangible — a job hosting the local entertainment program Eye On Vegas on independently owned Channel 21. Straight out of UNLV, she was the host, producer, writer and booked all the guests.
This with no on-camera experience.
Jacobs says today she would not be hired in today's Las Vegas with her scant post-UNLV experience.
"I was so bad," she says, laughing. "But it truly was the best training ground for me. I learned a lot about TV production on that show." Even so, footage of Jacobs in her first on-air role is often used as entertainment at parties at Jacobs' house, especially when wine is served.
She worked feverishly to become more comfortable on the air, and soon landed a job as entertainment reporter — when the city had no other such broadcast journalism position anywhere in the market — at KTNV Channel 13. In 2003 she moved on to KVBC Channel 3.
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Jacobs' role with Extra is complicated: In September the show moves from Channel 13, where it airs today, to Fox 5, which already has a strong local entertainment presence with its weekday More programs. In effect, Jacobs will be appearing on a Fox affiliate station while employed by an NBC affiliate in the same market.
That's fine with Bob Stoldal, executive vice-president of news, who has been a Vegas newsman for 37 years.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for her, but her place is Channel 3," Stoldal says. "The more exposure she gets nationally is better for her, and she will be associated with us. It doesn't bother me at all."
Jacobs' first story was a whopper — an interview with one Jason Pfeiffer, assistant to Jackson's dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein, who claims he and Jackson shared a homosexual relationship from 2008 until Jackson's death in June 2009.
Jacobs began reporting that story in September. It aired in April.
"Nobody will criticize Alicia for not working hard," Stoldal says of a reporter who often works until 2 or 3 a.m. at KVBC finishing her stories. "She works very, very hard."
Jacobs is not a Las Vegas native, though even some of her friends assume that she is. Jacobs was born in Boise, Idaho, in a home for unwed mothers, to a 19-year-old single woman. Jacobs was adopted by Ralph and Brenda Berger and brought to Las Vegas when she was 6 days old.
Jacobs had for years wanted to connect with her birth mother, and in an only-in-Las Vegas turn of events, confided in female impressionist (and, of course, longtime friend) Frank Marino about how to locate adoptive parents. Marino, too, was adopted and hired an agency to locate his birth mother. He told Jacobs this, and in 1999 she called an agency to find her birth mother.
"I gave them the bare minimum, what they call non-identifying information," Jacobs says. "They came back four weeks later with everything — address, employment, a phone number."
The woman lived in Reno. Through a friend who was an adoptive mother (Jacobs did not want to be the one to make the first phone call, fearing a quick hang-up from the person on the other end), Jacobs arranged a meeting in a suite at the Reno Hilton.
A photo fanatic, Jacobs compiled a book of photos chronicling her life from infancy to that very week. "I just wanted to thank her for my life," says Jacobs, who remembers her birth mother recognizing her from a photo taken when Jacobs hosted the Miss Nevada pageant. "I was obsessed with (thanking her). I had a chance to do that, and we spent three or four hours talking." That was the extent of the relationship. The two do not keep in regular contact. "I wanted to make it clear that I wanted to meet her, know her, thank her, but my parents are my parents."
Jacobs defends her reporting of Gans' death last year. The two were genuinely close. They dined together and, sharing an interest in physical fitness, worked out together. Jacobs was the first journalist contacted by Gans' manager, Chip Lightman, after he learned of Gans' death.
Jacobs sobbed through her segment announcing Gans had died and spoke emotionally of their friendship. It was a unique moment in broadcast news for the emotion displayed on-air by the reporter. Local media critics pounced.
"I have thought about that and re-lived it many, many times in my head. Honest to God, I would not have done anything differently," says Jacobs. "I thought I could get through the story. But I remember seeing b-roll of Danny on one of the monitors, singing and dancing, and losing it. To this day I don't believe he is gone ... So, yes, I got a little emotional on the air. You know what? It was real. We are real. Sometimes it's okay to be real on the air. People cry, hurt and feel pain. I wouldn't change it."
Jacobs loves her animals and flaunts that affection in public. This is particularly true of her dog, Star, the 15-month-old Cavalier King Charles who was purchased for Jacobs by American Idol producer and So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lythgoe at the Nevada Ballet Theatre's Black & White gala in January 2009. The dog was snapped up for $10,000 at the event's live auction, and has been to any number of fabulous Vegas events, including Gans' opener at Encore in February 2009 and Terry Fator's opener at the Mirage later that year.
Star has also enjoyed the beaches of Cabo, and is often included on formal VIP invitation lists, her name next to Jacobs'. So is Sparkle, the other of her four dogs she sometimes brings into public settings. Animal-behavior experts have said there is no danger in a pet parent bringing a small dog into public in a large doggie carrier (and Jacobs' is ventilated and lined with fur); as long as the animal's bathroom schedule is managed, it is fine.
"If my dogs didn't behave, I would never take them out. That's crazy. It's not fair to other people, to the dog or to me. But it's a selfish thing — I am happier when I am with them. I really am. I am passionate about animals. Anytime I am out with one of my dogs, it makes people very comfortable to come up and talk to me about the pets they have, the pets they'd like to have, about illnesses their dogs have, whatever."
The Extra gig has, by definition, made Jacobs a national figure among entertainment reporters. She's already been recognized at such mundane locales as the Burbank airport, after her Jackson-Pfeiffer report aired. Fifteen years after she appeared as a too-green host of Eye On Vegas, Jacobs is still surveying her career path.
"To leave Las Vegas would be really difficult," she says. "I'd like to have a wonderful gig on a national, syndicated entertainment show, absolutely."
The photo shoot has long been over. Star has been yipping for several minutes, eager to leave, scrambling around the studio. Finally, she leaps toward her mommy, and one of her paws scrapes along Jacobs' right arm.
Unconsciously, while still talking, Jacobs she rubs at the mark. It's just a little scratch, hardly detectable. She's had worse.