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.