Thursday, May 8, 2014 | 9 p.m.
Back in November, Strip headliner Veronic DiCaire watched as Michelle Desrochers performed sign language to “America the Beautiful” at the annual Opportunity Village Camelot Gala at the Magical Forest.
As the night’s featured performer, Veronic was so touched at the rendition that she rushed over to Michelle after the song and said, “Oh my goodness! That was wonderful! I’d like you to do my show with me!”
The master of more than 50 vocal impressions was not kidding.
“I literally jumped into her arms,” Veronic says. “I told everyone around me that she needed to be in my show.”
On Friday and Saturday, Michelle will join Veronic onstage at Bally’s during the “Veronic Voices” performances at 7 p.m. Michelle will sign as Veronic sings The Carpenters’ classic “Close to You.” The event is the first in a series of nights dedicated to Veronic’s new fundraising campaign “Lend Your Voice.”
This monthly awareness and fundraising series shines a light on Las Vegas area nonprofit organizations. Each month during her shows at Jubilee Theater, Veronic partners with a charity and asks the audience to join in support by furnishing information about the organizations and their missions.
“When I was a teenager, I worked with kids who had Down syndrome, so this is a subject close to my heart,” Veronic says. “We had this beautiful idea, after being in Las Vegas for 11 months, to be involved in this community, to help a lot of charities, to get to know them and introduce them to people who come to the show.”
The first organization selected by Veronic is one of Las Vegas’ longest-running charity centers, Opportunity Village. Michelle, who has Down syndrome, is representing all special-needs organizations in her appearance at Bally’s.
Naturally, Michelle is thrilled at the opportunity.
“To me, it’s amazing that she asked me to perform,” she says. “Oh my gosh, it is amazing.”
Michelle, who is 25, has been a member of the Las Vegas chapter of Best Buddies for the past several years. She is the Best Buddy of Fox 5 More show co-anchor Rachel Smith, who has been a spokeswoman for that charity for seven years, and met Michelle when airing a report about the organization.
And anyone who knows Rachel knows about Michelle, who is not only her Best Buddy in the organization, but a best buddy, for real.
“For me, getting to spend time with Michelle puts life into perspective and reminds me of what's truly important,” Rachel says. “She's absolutely pure joy to be around and takes your mind off any silly or trivial problems. She can actually change your mood or ease your worries with a simple hug. I am way, way more blessed to have her in my life than the other way around. She always sees the good in life and in people.”
Michelle is a “natural signer,” as her mother, Barbara, says. But she was taught the method out of need. Michelle was late in developing her ability to talk, not speaking until after her fourth birthday. Needing a way to communicate with her daughter, Barbara learned sign language and taught her daughter how to communicate nonverbally. Michelle has since mastered verbal communication quite well (her mom says words began “gushing from her” when she started to talk) and later became an A student at Coronado High School.
Michelle and her mother also have taken sign-language courses at College of Southern Nevada.
“We had to find a way to communicate, at first,” Barbara says. “But we didn’t want that to just go away. I wanted to continue to learn, and for her to learn, because it really is like learning a second language.”
In effect, Michelle has been the city’s “go-to” signer for major events. She has signed for members of “Jersey Boys,” Matt Goss and Garth Brooks during their renditions of the national anthem. She has performed sign language during events leading to the Miss America and Miss USA pageants when they were held at Planet Hollywood. She also works at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the District, where it is likely she will be something of a star herself after her appearances with Veronic.
“I told Veronic it’s an honor to be onstage with her to sign that song,” Michelle says. “She is an inspirational person, and I love her.”