IT'S NOT unusual for Steve McCoy to earn rousing ovations from audiences around the globe. What is unusual is how the 53-year-old Barrington, Camden County, native came to be generally acknowledged as the world's leading Tom Jones impersonator.
In the summer of 1989, McCoy - who appears through Nov. 17 in the "Legends in Concert" mimic-fest at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City - was a landscaper who, despite a physical resemblance to the Welsh pop icon, never considered a show-business career. He did, however, entertain his friends and co-workers with a pretty accurate Jones impression.
When he was the WMMR-FM "Morning Zoo" host, John DeBella would spend a week every August broadcasting his show live from Trump Plaza in Atlantic City which, at the time, would book headliners for Tuesday-through-Sunday engagements. In '89, Jones was the week's attraction at the casino. To mark the occasion, DeBella conducted a Tom Jones impersonation contest on his show, which McCoy's buddies insisted he enter.
McCoy won the competition, which was covered by a Philly TV newscast. Among those who saw the report was producer Greg Thompson, who had an impersonation revue running at the old Lily Langtry's dinner theater in King of Prussia. Impressed, Thompson hired McCoy, launching a career that more than two decades later continues to thrive.
How strong is McCoy's portrayal? Strong enough that Jones figures directly in what McCoy described as the greatest moment of his professional life.
"Him bringing me up onstage at MGM Grand during one of his performances is the highlight for me," offered McCoy before a recent "Legends" set.
At one point in the show, he recalled, Jones said, " 'There's a celebrity in the house.' I looked around and said to my wife, 'I don't see anybody.' Then Jones said, 'Steve McCoy.' My jaw fell. I couldn't believe it.
"He said, 'That guy does me better than me. It's the best I've ever seen, and I hate him - he's younger than me and has more hair.'
"That was actual recognition of who I was and what I've done."
Although he's still in demand as a performer, these days, a good deal of the Vegas-based McCoy's energy goes into managing the career of another New Jersey-bred entertainer, singer and one-time "American Idol" semifinalist Lou Gazzara, who hails from Folsom. McCoy predicts big things for Gazarra, who is featured in "Vegas - The Show" at Sin City's Planet Hollywood.
Nonetheless, McCoy won't be hanging up his vocal chords any time soon. "As long as the audience responds," he vowed, "I'll keep singing as long as I can."
Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, 777 Harrah's Blvd., 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday through Nov. 17, $30 and $25, 800-736-1420, ticketmaster.com.