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Gambler still holds 'em

Young local singers join Kenny Rogers as country star stays in the game

Who: Kenny Rogers

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $85. 50, $55.50

(tel. 250 220-7777)

Country singer Kenny Rogers went under the knife again this year. But this time it was a knee replacement, not cosmetic surgery, says his manager.

Rogers -- touring his annual Christmas show to Victoria on Sunday -- sparked widespread comment two years ago after undergoing cosmetic surgery around his eyes to eliminate wrinkles. It altered his appearance to a surprising degree. Rogers was reportedly unhappy with the results.

Kelly Junkermann, his longtime tour producer, said that in January the 70-year-old singer had knee replacement surgery, leaving him with a slight limp. Rogers also recently had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders.

As for the eye surgery, Junkermann said the whole deal was unfairly blown out of proportion. Soon after the operation, photographers snapped unflattering pictures of Rogers that went global.

"If someone's running an article on Kenny and his eye-job, what are they gonna do? They're gonna take the worst possible shot that they have of him and run that one. People got used to seeing that horrid shot."

Junkermann said Rogers looks better now that full healing has occurred.

"You have the photos now. It's not the freak show that you see when they run the bad picture and go, 'Oh man, botched plastic surgery.'

"If you walked up to him and saw him now, you'd say, 'Yeah ... you look a little'... He doesn't look .... I mean, he looks great."

In Victoria, as well as Christmas carols, Rogers will deliver many of his greatest hits, which include The Gambler, Lucille, Reuben James and Islands in the Stream. The easy-listening king ranks as one of country music's most popular singers, having charted more than 70 hit singles.

Young singers from Victoria High School and Reynolds Secondary School will join Rogers onstage to perform Christmas carols. Local participation is a longtime tradition with the Kenny Rogers Christmas tour, said Junkermann, who has produced it for more than 25 years.

While Vic High students were happy to be invited to perform, few knew much about Rogers beforehand.

"I didn't actually recognize the name before," said Sioned Seely-Cavers, 16. "It's more my dad's generation, it's not the kind of music I grew up with."

Oliver McKee-Reid, 17, is also singing as part of the choir. "I've heard of him," he said. "That's about it. I just know we're opening for him or something on Sunday. It's pretty big, because it's in front of quite a few people."

Chloe Lampman, 15, was one of the few interviewed who was familiar with Rogers's music. It's mostly due to the influence of her father, a country music lover.

"It's really exciting," she said. "I've never done anything like that."

So will her dad attend the show?

"I doubt he's coming. I doubt he's a big fan. Kenny Rogers is pretty shmaltzy and cheesy."

Junkermann said the students will be on stage for the last 25 minutes of the concert, although they won't sing in every number. Music teachers in every town on the tour are contacted in advance by a talent co-ordinator working with local promoters. Sheet music is sent out days before the show. Although they don't meet Rogers until the concert, the choir will rehearse with Rogers's band during sound-check.

Junkermann said Victoria is the first city in this year's Christmas tour. That being the case, audiences might notice a technical glitch or two as band and crew fine-tunes the act. Adding young people to the show adds another element of chance.

In past years, youngsters have stumbled over stage props and somersaulted backward, although no one's fallen off the stage so far.

"Who knows what could happen," Junkermann said. "When they're out there, they look at that audience out there, and go, 'Whoa!'"

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