Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Disastrous First Gig As A Lady Gaga Impersonator

My first gig as a Lady Gaga Impersonator was everything but what I expected it to be.

One day out of the blue in 2010, I had received a call from a guy named Henry who called himself an impersonator "agent" from NJ. Henry had found my photos as Lady Gaga online from Getty images, and he wanted to see if I was available to perform at a birthday party in a private restaurant room in Manhattan. I told him I was, and jotted down all the details.
One of my very first promo shots in 2010

When I got off the phone I Googled the name of his company
-- "Best Lookalikes Ever, Wow!" --
I quickly found his website, which looked like it had been made on an Apple IIe and never been updated since. Henry sounded slightly more drunk every time he called to update me about the gig, so I was slightly skeptical of his professionalism. He slurred me the gig address, on site contact person and time I was expected to perform. He told me there would be a dressing room, that the DJ would have a mic for singing and anything else I needed and the client was going to pay me cash onsite. He also told me the client wanted me to perform Bad Romance, Love Game and Poker Face.
I asked around about Henry to a few impersonators I had met, who said that he was difficult to deal with but always paid, so to give it a shot.

Over the next few weeks I prepared meticulously for my performance, spending hours prepping my wig, costume, accessories, music and fake tattoos.
When the day finally arrived, I packed everything neatly into a big duffle bag, hopped on the subway and headed to the restaurant with over an hour to spare before my very first paid debut performance as Lady Gaga.

Once onsite I called my contact to be led to a dressing room. No one answered the phone, so I went into the restaurant main area to try and find someone who worked there to direct me.
"Hi, i'm supposed to be performing tonight at the birthday party in the private room, but I need a place to get into costume." The host squinted at me, confused, and in a way that said "I wonder if she's a stripper" then said "I'll ask my manager."
The manager came out and was equally out of the loop, since the client had not mentioned anyone was coming to perform that would need a changing room. "Well, you can use the bathroom." he said.
Not wanting to be a pain in the ass, I followed him to the ladies room which had two tiny narrow stalls. He explained to me how to get down the stairs, through the kitchen to the private room when I was done.

An early look 
Getting into costume in a 2x4 bathroom stall without getting my stuff dunked in the toilet bowl was not an easy task. I made the best of the space I had and used the sink/mirror area to lay out my makeup and wig. Women kept coming in and out giving me some crazy looks as I Gagafyed myself. Once I was in full Lady Gaga mode, I repacked my tote bag with my real life clothes and headed through the kitchen and down the stairs as directed.

I could hear the clamor of the party happening through the swinging door from my spot at the bottom of the stairwell. I managed to get a couple of peeks inside as food was being brought in and out. It was just a small, dark room with a bunch of couches and round tables. My stomach dropped. Where was the stage or dance floor? Where was I supposed to perform?
My anxiety skyrocketed when I realized I was essentially about perform in the equivalent of someones living room. This was not at all what I had prepared for in my head. I was going to have to throw out everything I had rehearsed and full on improv-which had not been my best class in acting school. After what seemed like forever, the DJ finally responded to my text and came out and met me on the other side of the door. "Wow! You look just like her!" he exclaimed, while fishing his iphone out to take some selfies. "I did not expect you to look this good. Holy Shit. Can you hold my beer for a second?"
He took a bunch of selfies and said-"Well the agent didn't tell me or the client you were singing, so I don't have a working wireless mic for you, but I can just give you a dummy mic. I'll start the music and just come out and do your thing."

I wondered how Henry could have left out such an important detail to the client. Annoyed, I waited with a knot in my stomach knowing that I would have to swallow my pride when walking through that door and be totally shameless in the name of making some cash money.

As the first bars of Bad Romance starting playing I made my entrance into the party room and sang to the music as loud as I could with my fake microphone. To my surprise the party had a ton of kids, and they were all donning colorful balloon animal hats. It felt super weird singing the client's second song choice, with lyrics like "I wanna take a ride on your disco stick" in front of small children, but whatever.
The adults at the party bopped along to the songs & excitedly took photos inches from my face (with flash) as I danced my way through the narrow spaces between the couches and tables. Now half blinded, the already slippery restaurant floor was proving very difficult to dance on in my huge platform heels. Through my dark Lady Gaga sunglasses I also had to make every best effort to not get my costume in ketchup from the half devoured chicken nugget trays laying everywhere.

I was never more relieved than when I heard that last song start. This fifteen minutes had felt like 45. As I sauntered confidently forward during Just Dance I felt my foot fly out from underneath me as I slipped on some spilled soda.
And then there I was on the floor. But to my credit the minute my ass hit the ground I kept performing, pretending like I was supposed to be totally having a Madonna moment while covered in splashes of the soda I had fallen on. Luckily, everyone was pretty distracted by the new serving of hamburger buffet to really take much notice, except for the little five year old who was next to me and popped a balloon animal on my head.
As I finished singing Just Dance, wearing a balloon animal hat, I felt like any dignity I had left as a performer had basically died.
Since I was new to this, I had no idea at the time that this particular agent Henry, only booked these types of low end parties & that there was a whole other world of more professional gigs out there for Tribute Artists.

After another half hour of walking around the party to take photos with everyone, my job was done. The client was happy and handed me an envelope of hundred dollar bills and said "So the balance Henry said to give you is another $500 right?" My jaw kind of dropped. ANOTHER FIVE HUNDRED!?

It was at that moment I realized that Henry had taken a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT commission on my gig. He had made $500 from me and couldn't even be bothered to let the client know I sang or arrange for a microphone. In the legitimate entertainment industry it would be unheard of for any licensed agent to take more than a 20% fee for booking talent. But, clearly this was just the ass end of the entertainment industry, so no one cared.

As I made my way back to Brooklyn on the subway with my Lady Gaga wig and disco stick peeking out of the top of my canvas bag, I knew I had to build my own brand so that slimy wanabee agents like Henry wouldn't continue to take advantage of me and the clients could find me directly. I got home, shoved my cash under the mattress, bought my website domain, and created branding logos and a business email account.

Though the death of my pride my business was born.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Ruining A Sweet 16 Made Me Get My Drivers License.

Before I got my drivers license in 2012, getting to out of town Gaga gigs from NYC proved to be quite a challenge. I must have spent hundreds of hours in buses, trains and taxis to get to the many random towns I had to perform in.
One weekend in 2011 was no exception. I was booked to perform at a Sweet 16 at a Country Club about 90 minutes from Manhattan. I had planned to take the NJ transit bus from NYC-NJ, and then a taxi to the venue.

By the time I arrived at the bus station that night, I had two hours to get to the venue I was performing in. The taxi ride was an estimated 15 minutes total, so I was for sure going to arrive very early.
Once the taxi I called arrived, I hopped in with my oversized canvas tote bag of Gaga gear, with my disco stick popping out of the top. I pulled up the address of the venue on my phone and told the driver. He said he knew where to go-no problem.

Twenty minutes later, instead of arriving at the event hall we were still driving through a very dark wooded area. It looked more and more desolate as he drove on and on. I was getting really nervous as we kept barreling through pitch black roads into what seemed like endless nothingness. I asked the driver again if he knew where he was going and he said "yes, we are almost there". Another fifteen minutes went by and there still seemed to be no destination in sight.

"Do you need my google map?" I asked-knowing he was obviously lost. He finally agreed to use it, begrudgingly. After pulling up my directions on phone speaker, he told me he was not in the right town. In fact we were over 12 miles away from the hall. Fab. He turned around and started heading toward the new directions my phone provided. It was at that vital moment that my cell phone flashed low battery-only 20% was left. I asked the driver if he could put the address in his phone, because mine was running out of battery-he refused.

We kept on driving and driving until my phone died. The driver still had no idea where I was going. That's when things got scary. He turned around and yelled at me "You don't know where you are going!?" I shot back with "I gave you directions twice and you said you knew where I was going when I got in." He yelled back, temper rising "I COULD NOT FIND IT- NOW IT'S A BEEN OVER A HALF HOUR, NOW I LOSE OTHER FARES" as we continued to drive through the dark desolated roads. "You are losing fares? Well I am going to lose my job because of you-I cannot be late and I should have been there 40 minutes ago!" I said back. "WELL FINE YOU CAN GET OUT AND WALK THERE IF YOU WANT" the driver yelled back at me, louder and more violently than before. "I AM SICK OF DRIVING AROUND AND CAN'T FIND YOUR PLACE THAT DOESNT EXIST YOU WHITE BITCH" At that moment I seriously thought I was potentially going to have to use my disco stick as a self defense weapon. After all, that thing weighs about 10lbs and with it's rock candy surface could to some serious damage if needed. I was also thinking that if this guy ditched me in the middle of nowhere in the dark with a dead cell phone, I was going to have to use the light from the disco stick to guide me back to civilization.

My survival mode kicked in, which was just get back to where people were. Out of desperation, I asked the driver to take me back to the bus station where he had picked me up. I figured there I could at least charge my cell phone enough to call the client to explain why I was now running late, and call a different car service. Once back at the bus station, I plugged my phone in and called the her asap. When she didn't answer twice, I texted her. I told her what had happened with the taxi driver. At that point we were still a half hour away from my estimated performance start time, but it would need to be pushed back somewhat to allow me time to get into costume.


So, I took a photo of the station clock and one of the bus station and sent it to her.


Yikes. This night was not going well, and I had just lost the biggest chunk of money I was making all month because of that crazy idiot taxi driver. When the next bus came back to Manhattan, I got on it and headed home without completing my gig.
The next morning I received another scathing email from the mother telling me about how I had ruined the party. I profusely apologized once more and told her I was sending her deposit back asap that morning. She still threatened to sue me, but I never heard from her once she cashed her refund check.

I signed up for drivers ed the following week. And though I never did get to use my disco stick that night, I realized it was more than just a valuable stage prop. It could also be an excellent self-defense weapon.

Me and my disco stick. Circa 2011

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Who Do You Think You Are?

When I began to work in the impersonator industry by accident, I had no idea what I was getting into. As an actress who had worked primarily as myself in theatre and commercials, the tribute industry was foreign to me. When I thought of impersonators, I mostly thought of those crazy people who stand on the street on Hollywood Blvd, and in real life actually think they are the famous person they play. It really seemed like the ass end of the entertainment industry, but a step up from juggling or being a go go dancer.

After only a dozen or so gigs playing Lady Gaga at small birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs, I knew that it was important to me to build my own brand, website and business. Many of the so called agents who were contacting me were 65 year old perverted men who had websites that looked like they had not been updated since 1998. They had no clue how to represent me or my act well. After showing up to a gig where the client told me I one thousand times exceeded what the agent had sold him, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands quickly.

As I began to survey the competition, it was very obvious to me that no impersonator who did Gaga in the USA at that time really even came close to looking like her. They all seemed to have played other characters, then taken on Lady Gaga because she was hot and made them more money. I also noticed many of them wore very cheap looking synthetic wigs and Ricky's/Party City type Halloween costumes for gigs. I knew being a close lookalike would work in my favor, as well as building quality wigs and wardrobe.

As an actress first, it was very important to me to study the character I would be portraying, even if these gigs were just at small private events. It was my goal to do the most authentic portrayal of Gaga that I could & not be a parody which made fun of her. I spent hundreds of hours studying Lady Gaga and quickly became a huge fan of her message and creativity.

A few months after I had built my website and had begun to work at more gigs, word started to spread about me within the community. One evening my cell phone rang from a number I had never seen before.
The woman on the other line told me her name was Georgia, and that she was one of the best tribute artists ever to live. A true "A lister" who had photos next to many celebrities.
I spent some time listening to her tell me stories of her hey day, from Australia parties to private jets, from $1,000 tips, to Las Vegas to blowing Hugh Hefner.
When she was all done, she offered me to come to her home and look through her old costumes to maybe buy some of them so that I could "get started."

After the immense buildup of her long career as a impersonator and costume sales pitch, she also said: "I saw your website. You say you are one of the best Lady Gaga impersonators. Who do you think you are? You can't say that. You just started."

The line went quite for a moment, because I was taken aback. I collected myself and responded "I've seen what's out there and I think I am the best."
Honestly, it wouldn't have taken much.

Gerogia was flabbergasted by my response. She said "Well, I wish you luck, and i'm glad I have your info now" before hanging up.

I never heard from Georgia again, but later I found out she had recommended me to many agents and party planners. Not because she liked me, but because she was making $50 as a "referral fee" for every gig I performed, for anyone she gave my phone number to FOREVER.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Groom Who Had More Than His Paws Up

Years ago when Lady Gaga was a still a new sensation, requests started pouring in for me to perform at weddings. I was a little shocked at first to think any bride would want the attention taken away from her at the reception, but quickly began to realize for some it was more about the narcissism of making their guests think they actually knew a celebrity. Typical bridezilla stuff.
In real life I am not a big wedding fan, and avoid going to them at all costs. But hey, pay me enough and i'll show up and pretend to love anything. This is a job after all.

At this point nearly six years later, i've probably performed at over 75 wedding receptions. I call it my national tour of bridal suites, since I always end up using them as my dressing room. I've met some amazing couples and families during these journeys, but the most memorable wedding i've performed at to date, was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

It was late on a Saturday evening, and I had just made the 2 1/2 hour drive from NYC in my zip car.  After the 80 minutes it took for me to get into full Lady Gaga mode, (which included drawing on tattoos) I was waiting in the bridal suite for my cue from the DJ to make my way to the dance floor for my performance. I could tell this was going to be a wild crowd, because the Maid Of Honor, trailed by a few bridesmaids had already brought me two shots while I was getting ready. She yelled SHOTS WITH LADY GAGA, and even though I had one eyelash glued on my work had already begun.

A half hour later, my cue still had not come because reception was running over an hour behind from  slow speeches and delayed dinner service. The catering staff was flying around that place with trays of Champagne and chicken, stressed to the max.
Finally the DJ ran into the bridal suite with sweat on his forehead and told me they were ready for my performance. "This crowd is hella drunk and busting at the seams to let loose" he told me. "Be prepared." I had pretty much seen it all at that point and armed with my disco stick, I could tame even the drunkest weirdo crowd. Performing at these type of events can be as exhilarating as getting shot out of a cannon. I typically had no rehearsal and saw the room and crowd for the first time when I stepped onto the dance floor.

That night as I made my way into the room singing "Bad Romance", the crowd of over 250 went wild. They were eating out of them palm of my hand and singing every word. At one point in all the excitement, a drunk Uncle yelled "I WAS BORN THIS WAY!" and everyone gave him side eye, especially his wife who was right next to him.

Next came the most vitally important part of any wedding reception performance: getting the bride and groom on the floor to dance and sometimes telling a personal story or inside joke that we had pre arranged. I thought for a moment before yelling to the crowd. Was this George and Sarah, Kim and Mike, Jen and Andrew, Josh and Kate, or Alex and Rachel? Ok, it was Kim and Mike. "EVERYONE GIVE IT UP FOR KIM AND MIKE!!" I yelled, getting that cheap applause.

With my happy bride and groom #55 up and dancing to the opening bars of Poker Face, everything was going perfectly.
A minute into the song, the groom got a little closer and I noticed his breath smelled like he had already had 12 Whiskey sours. Somebody's celebrating a little to hard, I thought, and kept on singing.
As the song progressed the Bride became enveloped by her circle of pastel covered Bridesmaids and the groom kept getting closer and closer, grinding with me and yelling "I LOVE YOU GAGA"!

As my performance finished, the DJ took over to get the dance party started. This was now my time to mix and mingle for photos with the guests.
As I turned around to leave the now packed dance floor, the groom pulled me closer to give me a hug. As he leaned in, I got poked with something that was not a Poker Face. His boner.

I did my best to pretend I hadn't noticed, and not get to close to drunky groom and his boner for the rest of my gig. After taking hundreds of photos and mingling with the many guests, I said my goodbyes, changed and got ready to head home on the long 2 1/2 hour drive back to NYC. Just as I was exiting the hall, I overheard the bride screaming at the groom because he was dancing too close to one of her Bridesmaids.

As I drove home, I couldn't help but wonder if i'd be getting repeat wedding business from one of them in the next few years.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Gig That Took The Piss Out Of Me

It was a hot day during the summer of 2011, and I was headed to perform at yet another exclusive private event.
My client was having his annual summer bash with many VIP attendees including well known sports stars and celebrities.

My job for the night was to show up in a black stretch limo with two body guards, be escorted to the red carpet area to take photos with VIPS's, perform for ten minutes and depart via limo back to NYC before anyone figured out I wasn't the real deal.

I had hired two of my actor friends to play my bodyguards. They were more than happy to make $200 the in cash that my client was paying them, for doing very little work.
We met at my Brooklyn apartment, and we had some wine before I changed into my "Fame Monster" look. My cell phone rang and the limo driver was on the other line, telling me he was waiting outside.
When I stepped into the buildings awning in full Gaga mode, the doorman looked really confused. I don't think he knew who I was out of costume, or what apartment I had come from.

People on the streets gawked as "Lady Gaga" and her bodyguards got into the long black stretch limo.

Once inside, I took off my sunglasses and looked around in awe. I had never been inside a limo before in my life. This was SO FUCKING COOL! The back of my limo was fully stocked with booze, water and snacks. The driver hopped in the front and told us to buzz if we needed anything, before rolling up the partician. It didn't take long for us to bust open the booze, and take full advantage of the amenities.

Two drinks later, and fifty minutes into the drive, my bladder felt like it was about to explode. In true diva fashion I asked one of my "body guards" to buzz the driver and ask how far we were from the nearest rest stop or the destination.

The dark tinted partician slowly slithered down and our driver was revealed. He told us the next exit was over a half hour and the destination was even further away.
The tinted glass rolled back up and I held my breath hoping I could survive the wait.
About ten minutes later it was clear that I couldn't. I had to pee so bad that I was about to pee on myself, possibly out my eyes and anyone in my way.

In my slightly drunken haze I said "Hey fake bodyguard, can you ask the driver to pull over so I can pee. Like ANYWHERE!? This is a peemergancy!"

The tinted glass rolled back down and the limo driver said "ok, but there are just woods around", as he pulled over.
I climbed out of the limo in my six inch Gaga platforms and peered into the dusk lit woods, as cars flew by me.
"If i'm not back in 5 minutes, create an Amber alert" I told the fake bodyguards.
I then struted deep into the trees seeking a semi private pee area with as much dignity as possible.
I could see the oncoming drivers doing double takes and almost swerving off the road watching "Lady Gaga" get out of this limo and walk into the woods. What a sight that must have been.

I did pretty well balancing on those huge platforms while squatting and maintaining a pee stream that stayed away from my costume. Peeing in the woods in that getup was for sure not as easy as I had expected. I had to pee so crazy bad that I must have peed for a minute straight. Just as I finished, I remembered that nature has no toilet paper. I attempted to shake it off, but quickly lost my balance and landed ass first into the wet freshly peed on ground.

With my legs and giant Gaga platforms splayed out in front of me, I could see the limo through the trees, parked in the distance and started laughing hysterically at the whole situation.
There I was sitting in pee in the middle of the woods, semi drunk, dressed as Lady Gaga, laughing hysterically.
After basking in the ridiculousness of it all, I pulled up my fishnets and composed myself. I strutted out of the woods as fabulously as I had gone in, and climbed back inside the limo like nothing had happened.

"Hey guys.......do I smell like pee?" I asked my fake bodyguards.
They assured me I didn't smell like pee.
In what felt like no time without a full bladder, we finally reached our destination.

When we pulled up to the house, my client jumped in the limo, said "nice to meet you" and handed me my pay-an envelope stuffed with a huge wad of hundred dollar bills, then quickly gave me a play by play of the action plan. He got out and we pulled around to the mansion's back entrance and waited ten minutes. When the limo doors opened, about eight huge security guys surrounded myself and my fake bodyguards as we made our way to the red carpet. As I took photos with numerous celebrities, I still kept worrying I might smell like I had fallen in pee.

After photos, I was led to a small stage surrounded by at least 600 teens and adults. They went wild when they caught a glimpse of me and started chanting, "GAGA! GAGA! GAGA! GAGA! GAGA!". My fake bodyguards took places on either side of the stage, the DJ handed me a mic and fired up my tracks. The kids in the front row were so excited, that every time I got close to them during the performance they would grab my hands and nearly pull me into the crowd.
As soon as the songs ended, the security team hastily surrounded me and walked me back to the limo.
As we started to pull away some of the kids from the party chased us and screamed for the driver to stop. We had to roll down the windows, because they wanted me to sign autographs.
Before heading back to NYC, we pulled up the road a bit, away from the party guests and sat inside the limo to watch the private fireworks show my client was putting on.

A couple of years after this gig, I read an interview with Lady Gaga where she said that she's had to pee in dressing room trash cans because her outfits often make visiting the bathroom immposible.

My reason for peeing in a random place wasn't quite as glamorous, but then again, being a Lady Gaga impersonator never is. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Littlest Gay

As a Lady Gaga impersonator, I get many many bookings for kids parties. This surprised me at first, because Gaga's music has some very adult content, and her concerts are far from family friendly.
Often a Mom calls me and tells me that her four year old knows every word to Poker Face, and me showing up will "make her life."
Typically at these gigs, the kids really believe I am Lady Gaga. 
I end up signing illegible autographs on i phones, arms and even on dresses, all while feeling a little bad that i'm ruining stuff with permanent marker. 
Most of the kids are really adorable. They'll hug me and tell me all about how they love my albums and saw me in concert. We chat about boys, school and even fashion. They ask if they can feel my hair, and stroke my long blonde wigs with wonder. I love being Lady Gaga for those well behaved cuties.  

When I sift through my years of kids party memories, there is one that really stands out from the rest.
I had been booked for a little girls 6th birthday and just finished my performance. 
As I walked around the room to take photos with the guests, I noticed a little boy who looked about four years old. His eyes kept following my every move and whenever I turned around, he would be right behind me, staring up adoringly.
I knelt down to his eye level to say hello and he put his little hand in my hair, and said the last thing I ever expected to come out of his mouth...... "FIERCE!"

I had all I could do not to double over laughing. I thanked him and asked what his name was. 
He told me his name was Henry and that he knew that my favorite designer was Alexander McQueen and that he liked Alexander McQueen too. He also told me he knew all the words to Bad Romance, and liked my dress with the bubbles. 
We kept talking, and Henry asked if he could check out all of my rings, accessories and even try on my hat. This little boy was truly like an adult gay man in a four year olds body. His super straight laced Dad came over after a few minutes and we took a few photos with the little guy sitting in my lap, wearing my huge hat.

As I got up to say goodbye to Henry, he hugged me and with a giant smile said, "Lady Gaga-will you sing my favorite song with me?" I asked him what song that was, and he said "Born This Way" while striking a pose with his hands on his hips.

I knelt back down to his level and started to sing the chorus to him. "You're beautiful in your way cuz God makes no mistakes, you're on the right track baby you were born this way. Don't hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and your set. You're on the right track, Henry you were born this way." As I finished he jumped up and down excitedly and gave a little applause.

From that moment on, every time I hear or sing Born This Way, I think of Henry. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Behind The Gaga Glasses

I get out of my limo and the paparazzi surrounds me out of nowhere. The large crowd of public gawkers keeps growing. They think someone famous is there. My vision is hazy and dark through my sunglasses.
A woman hugs me sobbing hysterically and tells me that my music saved her life.
A DJ asks if I remember him from when I started.
A teenager tells me The Monster Ball changed their life.
Children are begging me for autographs.
I'm led to a step and repeat where there are some famous NFL players. They act like they know me. I wonder if they know Lady Gaga in real life or if they are pretending to to look cool.
The camera flashes are so intense and bright that I can't see anymore.
I feel dizzy on my 6 inch platforms but keep posing. The crowd gets bigger.
Security firmly takes my arm and pulls me inside to safety, away from the noise and flashes.
I close my eyes and open them, then take off my sunglasses expecting to wake up from some crazy dream.

I go to the dressing room to change out of my wig, costume and sunglasses packing them all into a large cheap canvas duffel bag.
A few minutes later I walk outside to see the remnants of the crazy scene I had caused.
The same photographers who were hounding me don't even glance up, the excited kids and crying woman look right past me, all still waiting for Lady Gaga to come out of the building and hoping for another glimpse of her. I'm just a nobody again. No ones cares.

I sigh, leave the chaotic scene I had just caused behind me and make my way underground to ride the subway back to my tiny Brooklyn apartment.

Me and the paparazzi at fashion week