Gary James' Interview With
She is recognized as one of the world's foremost Cher impersonators and Cher tribute acts. She's been written about in The New York Times, More magazine, Washington DC's Wilson Quarterly and Singapore's Electric News Paper. She's been filmed as a Cher impersonator for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Rachel Ray Show and Lifetime TV. We are talking about Cher tribute artist, Lisa Irion.
Q - Lisa, prior to 2003, you didn't have this Cher tribute act, did you?
A - It was not even a blip on my radar. (laughs)
Q - So, an Elvis tribute artist is the person who suggested you should put a Cher tribute act together?
A - Yeah. He's a guy named Parris Plaisance. He's from Lafayette (Louisiana) as well. We were in a play together. It as an original production that a friend of ours had written. It was about recording artists from the '50s to the '70s. I was kind of a vocal impressionist. I could sing like Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Peggy Lee, Mary Travers. That's who I was cast in the show to portray. We would just do these little short, singing medleys. The show was based on a DJ in California just spinning the records in the '50s. It was kind of a historical thing where they were just giving the news at the time, talking about the latest hit and then the artist would come out and do this little, short performance. It was really successful. We did really well with the show. There was someone else cast as Cher and she couldn't sing though. So, she lip-synched. Every time she would go on, the Elvis and I were up in the green room listening to the monitor and we would just roll our eyes. He said, "Lisa, do you think you could do Cher too? You're already doing four characters. (laughs) So, I was messing around with the vocal and he said, "Wow! You really sound like Cher vocally! If you really work on that, when this thing's over you and I can do a Cher and Elvis show together." So, I kind of took it seriously and tried it and it just took off.
Q - Was it expensive to put the act together? You needed professional make-up consultations and custom designed costumes, didn't you?
A - Yeah. That kind of came a little later. When I was first starting off I was doing a little bit make-shift. I was kind of buying clothes that kind of resembled what Cher might have worn with my budget at the time. We put on our little show together and I was using my make-shift costumes for that and still did well. (laughs) People were just eating it up. So, eventually, when I saw there was a market for this, in the corporate market for this, flying out and doing gigs, my husband didn't believe that anyone would ever pay to fly me out to go do this. I said, "Well, I still want you to bank roll me." (laughs)
Q - I was just about to ask if you had a financial backer.
A - Well, I did it piece meal. I started with one costume and then used the make-shift ones for the rest of the show. Then I got another one made. Over a period of two years I got everything put together. By 2006 I was rockin' and rollin'. I had everything in place. So, it didn't happen over night. My husband is an attorney. When I needed a thousand here or there I would just ask and he was okay with it as long as I spaced it out. I was able to get the whole thing running relatively quickly.
Q - What was harder for you, the look, the mannerisms or the voice?
A - The mannerisms came easily 'cause I was already a character actress. So, just studying her and trying to adopt her as a role, I already knew how to do that. The look was a bear 'cause I'm a blue-eyed blonde. The only resemblance I have to Cher in the face is I have the same cheek bones and the mid-face is kind of the same. But, my eyes are completely different. I had a wider jaw line than she does. I consulted with Marlene Stoller, who was a Hollywood make-up artist. She was Emmy nominated and I found her online. We consulted over the phone. She passed away in 2010, but we became best friends and she consulted with me over the phone. We sent pictures back and forth. It was amazing the transformation she got with her kits going on. I was pretty decent with make-up to begin with. Between the two of us she was just telling me to do this or that and I knew what she was talking about. I would try it and send her a photo and she'd come back and fine-tune it.
Q - Now, the moderators of Cher's official website know about you. Does that mean Cher knows about you? Have you met her?
A - I haven't met her, but I do think she knows about me. When I headlined the Cher Expo, Cher was aware of the Expo. She donated items to be auctioned off. All the proceeds went to her favorite charity. The lady in charge of the Expo did tell me that she wanted a copy of the DVD of my performance. So, when they shipped it to her and her assistant signed for it, they let me know. They called and said, "Hey, she's got it in her hands now. Her assistant signed for it." I do know that she got it. Whether she watched it, I have no idea.
Q - It would've been great to know what she thought of your act, wouldn't it? That is what you would've liked, isn't it?
A - I was just happy that she wanted to see it. She didn't try to shut me down, so I guess she's okay with it. I don't even know if she watched it.
Q - If she wanted to shut you down, could she? As a tribute artist you're really promoting all things Cher.
A - She could definitely say things that would hurt my career. Legally no, she can't shut me down. That's a First Amendment thing. I'm married to a lawyer and I said "Can I do all this stuff?" He said, "Sure, as long as you don't use her original music and as long as you're singing 'live' and the venues are paying for the licensing fees, like they have to do for cover bands. It's no different except you're dressing up like her. You might be using the word "I" because you're acting. You're playing a role in the context of the show. But afterwards you never tell the public or try to fool them that you're Cher."
Q - How much work is there for a Cher tribute act? Do you perform in bars? Theatres? Casinos?
A - I do casinos. I kind of do it all. I really don't play bars too much. When I was starting out I was doing nightclubs, but I really don't do that kind of work so much anymore. It's mostly the corporate. I do a lot of casino work mainly in the mid-west and I do some auditoriums. I'm doing an old opera house in Chicago this summer (2015). Some private events. I did a party in the Hamptons a couple of summers ago.
Q - Do you perform to tracks or do you bring along your own band?
A - I do both. Most of the things are tracks. The casino gigs are almost always with a band and some of the larger auditoriums. Some of the corporate I've done they wanted the band. I have a band in Chicago that backs me. There's a band out of Dallas that backs me. If I'm in a regional area I can try and call on one of those bands. Occasionally my agent will have to find another band to back me. I get a little nervous with that because I'm not sure of the bands.
Q - But it all works out in the end, doesn't it?
A - Usually. (laughs) I had one disaster in Florida. They hired a band and the band didn't rehearse. I was stuck struggling through a two hour show with a band that did not know the music and so it was kind of tough. I mean, that was probably my worst experience ever.
Q - Did the audience catch on? Did they boo?
A - They didn't boo. They stuck with me, but they could tell it was the band. They couldn't keep up with me. They were struggling more than I was.
Q - Should Cher ever retire, the demand to see one of your shows will increase, won't it?
A - I hope she never gives it up. (laughs) When she's working, I work more. People are thinking about her when she's on tour. She's on TV. She's promoting. So more people think about her. I work more when she's busy.
Q - Your biggest dream would probably be to meet Cher, wouldn't it?
A - I'd love to meet her, but I'm going to just keep doing my thing. (laughs)