They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Lord knows celebrities are probably up to their necks in flattery, impersonators aside, but you have to wonder — for the vast amount of people who choose celebrity impersonation as a career, how flattering is it to be so talented at being someone else?
For Lisa Irion, an esteemed Cher impersonator for almost a decade, it’s all about new opportunities for fun, travel, and a little bit of padding in the wallet. Though Cher is one of the most impersonated celebrities out there, Irion has no problem utilizing her 20 years of performance experience and her study of Cher to distinguish herself from the rest.
Lisa Irion in costume. Photos courtesy of Lisa Irion.
She has been filmed as Cher by Lifetime TV, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and The Rachel Ray Show, and is flown from her home in Lafayette, La. on a monthly basis for gigs. To Irion, impersonation is all about the combination of the celebrity’s qualities along with personal signatures to deliver an inspiring and authentic performance.
BTR had the chance to talk to Irion on the phone to discuss some of the ins and outs of the celebrity impersonation business.
BreakThru Radio: Lisa, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Lisa Irion: I was a character actress in theater for 20 years or so and I’m a mom and wife and all of that, I got married in 1995. And after I had my son I was working at a law firm and I quit working to be a stay at home mom and after my son started school I considered going back to work at the law firm and I decided I didn’t want to go back to a desk job. So I took my acting things and found a niche impersonating Cher- an Elvis impersonator kind of suggested it to me. So I did that, and it just kind of took a life on its own and for ten years now I’ve been still pretty much a mom and stay at home wife and part time going off, doing gigs and entertaining as Cher.
BTR: So it was around ten years ago that you decided to start impersonating Cher?
LI: Yes, January 2003 was my very first performance.
BTR: And how did this Elvis impersonator inspire you?
LI: Well I was in an original production- an original play and it was a musical production about the recording artists from the 50s through the 70s and of course Elvis was part of the show and I wasn’t even thinking Cher. I look nothing like her in real life and I was cast as Joni Mitchell because I’m a blue eyed blonde and also ended up getting brown contacts because I did Linda Ronstadt as well in the show and Peggy Lee, different characters. There was a different actress who did Cher but she didn’t sing live and she actually lip synced in the show and we were kind of like “well”. He said “Lisa, maybe you can take over that role, can you sing like Cher too?” And I was just messing around in the dressing room and I started singing like Cher and he goes “wow, you really sound like her and if you could look like her then maybe we could do some shows together”. He was a professional Elvis impersonator so he was actually working and earning money doing all that locally. So when the show ended we started our own production, we created our own show and put it on at the same theater and sold it out for three weeks.
BTR: This was in Louisiana?
LI: Yeah, and a lot of people saw the show and we started getting local corporate gigs and things like that to put on our shows for banquets and corporate shows and things like that. It worked out pretty well and about a year later I decided to strike out on my own and started up a website and got really invested in the costumes after that and really put the money into my act and hired a Hollywood makeup artist to transform my face into Cher’s and fine tune it more. And then that took off and I’m still at it.
BTR: Was the transition from being a more traditional performer to an impersonator, was that strange for you?
LI: No not at all, I was in theater so I was constantly creating characters actually before I had to use my own imagination and create characters out of nothing. To do Cher was a lot easier for me in the sense that I could just study her and look at her interviews, look at her performances and get a grasp of her persona.
BTR: Maybe studying one character helps you?
LI: Yeah, it was more as opposed to if you’re doing a role if you’re just reading a part in a script and you have a lot of leeway in your own creativity to create the character the way you see it, where as doing Cher I try to become her, portray her, and try to find her little mannerisms and her little nuances about her. I did a lot of research and studying her and just trying to get in her head.
For more with Lisa, check out today’s episode of Third Eye Weekly, BreakThru Radio’s premier current events podcast.