I was sitting at the dinner table with Elvis, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart.
Elvis was holding court with a huge white tablecloth draped over his torso, so as to protect his precious red bedazzled jumpsuit, his Priscilla waiting on him hand and foot. To my right, Donna was talking about her grandchildren while Tina prattled on about her costumes and wigs. To my left sat the man I was dating, dressed up as an aging British pop star, circa 1986.
It sounds like some bizarre dream where suddenly a white horse prances by and you wake up wondering how wise it was to drink that big glass of Malbec before bed…but it really happened.
A few years before this vignette played out, I had hired a Rod Stewart impersonator to entertain the guests at a party I threw. At the time, I co-owned a company that had some dealings with the actual pop star. Shortly after, I began dating the man playing dress-up and threw myself into the belly of the beast: the world of impersonators, also known as “tribute artists.”
I craved excitement and fantasy, and playing make-believe sounded like just the ticket.
I had no idea that this realm even existed, so it was great fun to go to shows and see the craziness that took place behind the scenes. From hairstyles to belt buckles, shoes and jewelry, these performers spent endless hours and resources working to perfectly replicate their chosen celebrity.
Leaving behind what had become a dull existence in the suburbs, I relocated to a new city and an entirely new life as the girlfriend of a Rod Stewart impersonator. I wore dresses covered in sequins, stiletto heels, and far too many animal print garments so that I would shine on his arm.
Throwing caution to the wind, we cohabited right away and I had a front row seat to the “show,” twenty-four-seven.
Right away, I learned that I was to play second fiddle to the art of perfecting the act.
Initially, it was fun to see the end results after he spent countless hours sourcing props, accessories, and styling products in order to create the illusion. He’d toil in the basement, working on vocal lessons and choreography, shrieking and undulating the night away. I even got involved in improving his presentation and public relations, charging myself as his booking agent and helping with mass emails, posters and all things promotional. It proved to be thankless work, and I invested way too much financially and emotionally in the hopes of bringing us closer.
There were so many impersonators out there, and it was a competitive world. There was constant one-upmanship amongst the numerous Rods, Bon Jovis, Journeys and Van Halens. In the throes of the circus, I attended shows where grown men and women pretended to be rock stars and celebrities, while the audiences ate it all up.
Once, at a car dealership’s Christmas party, I had my photo taken with Mr. T. Later that night, Austin Powers shared his plate of hors d’oeuvres and some guy dressed like one of the Three Musketeers (where were the other two?) put the moves on me. It was fascinating to be backstage as Michael Jackson wrapped up a five hour make-up application with his girlfriend, Lady Gaga. Both in full costume, they kissed and I rubbed my eyes, dizzy from the confusion and dazzling display of celebrity love.
So, that’s how I found myself at the fundraiser where Elvis ate and told elaborate stories intermittently broken up by boisterous laughter and huge gulps of wine. Our party was tucked away in the VIP backstage dining room with our own wait staff; copious amounts of food spilling off of plates covering the entire table. I was the only non-impersonator at the meal, inhaling my baked ziti as Rod sat there quietly; he chose not to eat or exert himself pre-show.
He didn’t seem to be enjoying himself, and I felt a bit guilty.
The thing with tribute artists was that the general public craved proximity to fame, albeit make-believe fame. It seemed that people were all too glad to settle for the illusion, so long as it gave them their celeb fix. I witnessed sixty-something moms licking my then-boyfriend’s face while he performed, I received hate mail from crazed fans, and I was physically threatened by a groupie whose one claim to fame was her one-off appearance on a seventies sitcom.
Like a moth to the flame, I was drawn to the glitzy goings-on of this fantasy showbiz world. Eventually, the flame began to burn and I found myself bored with the vapid lifestyle, craving conversation based on things outside of the casino-nursing home impersonator circuit.
It all came to a head after that meal, when Tina Turner grabbed my buttocks with both of her hands and exclaimed “Look at this butt! I’m gonna learn yoga too if I can get a little butt like this!” and then her hands stayed there and…lingered.
I was grossed out and embarrassed as I slinked away and made my way into the hallway crowded with patrons. “You know Tina Turner?” one of them asked as I pushed my way to the coat check and retrieved my faux fur cape.
“Faux” I thought, as I ran my fingers over the lapel. I was through with the make-believe universe and ready to re-enter the realm of the real. Maybe it took a firm rear-end groping from a bawdy stranger to snap me back to reality, but I disappeared into the night and never looked back.
Here’s what I learned from dating a celebrity impersonator:
- Sparkle for yourself! Enjoy an outfit or accessory now and then. I used to dress up to keep up with my ex. Now, I love getting dolled up for myself. Do it on a dime via consignment or thrift store shopping.
- Separate church and state. Don’t try to force your way into someone’s world. Let them do their work, you do yours, then come together and enjoy each other’s company.
- Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not. If you’re in a relationship where you aren’t feeling valued, examine the pros and cons. If your partner doesn’t value you, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste time, it’s a precious commodity.
- Eat the damn pasta. Don’t fret about a potential food baby if you’re wearing a form-fitting outfit. This may be the last beautiful meal you ever get to enjoy. Carpe diem, and carpe carbs; you can hit the gym tomorrow!
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. While escaping reality is fun for a while, there’s nothing like spending time with substantive people. Seek out folks whose company inspires you to do more, be more, feel more like the real you.
Author: Anna Maria Giambanco
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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