Gypsies, Vamps and Queens

Not Cher, just two reasonable facsimiles. (Photos by Paula Guzzo)

“After the nuclear holocaust there’ll be cockroaches and Cher.” We were reading one of the T-shirts in a booth set up inside the grand ballroom of the Woodland Hills Warner Center Marriott for the Cher Convention 2006. We’d seen Nine Inch Nails the night before, so, no, we don’t exactly worship at the altar of Cher. Those awful club hits like the ubiquitous “Believe” of ’98 turned the pop-and-TV icon into a dinosaur disco dolly in our eyes. And yet, we must admit that we’ve stood in front of the mirror, licked our lips and tossed back our hair while singing into a hairbrush . . . “They say we’re young and we don’t know . . .”

Drag queens are our beat, and wherever female impersonators gather for a special occasion and good cause (in this case, the nonprofit Children’s Craniofacial Association), so do we.

From the looks of all the flip-flops at the Marriott, Cher’s demographic consists mostly of suburban families, gay men and the occasional curious hotel guest wandering in from the pool area. And what a wonderfully wacky world to stumble upon: 10,000 square feet of Cher Christmas ornaments, Frisbees, shoelaces, rulers, change purses and more. (Somewhere out there, there’s an urn with Cher’s mug on it containing the ashes of a dead fan.)

At Star Wares Collectibles, we found racks of Cher’s clothes, shoes and accessories for sale, including original Mackie costumes — yours for only $2,500, one pink, fringed gown — as well as cowboy boots and hair scrunchies. Here, we learned at least one important fact about Cher, née Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere: She has small feet — size 7.

Our attention soon shifted to Angelica Joyce, who wore her idol on her shirt, skirt and purse. “And these are Cher’s glasses,” she proudly pointed out. She mentioned wanting to grab a hat with lights and feathers from her car, but thought it would be a bit much.

In the back of the ballroom, Javier Ozuna’s living museum held more Mackie costumes, dolls (Cher as a bride, Cher as Elvis, Cher as Cleopatra), children’s play sets, a denim jacket with “Follow This, You Bitches” studded on the back, and even a plastic Halloween pumpkin carved in Cher’s likeness. While examining a plumed headdress, we noticed all the mannequins were built to look like Cher, including the charm-bracelet tattoo on the arm of one dummy. Their eyes seemed to follow us wherever we went.

We could have caught the Cher career seminar, accompanied by slides, but who wants to listen to a bunch of talking heads when you can watch episodes of The Cher Show that have her duetting with the likes of Wayne Newton, the Spinners and the Jackson 5? Then came the conventioneers’ poetry readings. Allow us to share a haiku by Christopher Brisson: “Gave daughter ridiculous name. Came out a proud a lesbian.” Funny, touching.

The picture taking turned into a frenzy once the male and female impersonators started trickling in. Catherine Marie Carter, in American Indian garb, is a U.K. native and came with her own Sonny (Mark Parry). And Chad Michaels not only impersonates Cher but also moonlights as a Céline Dion and Marilyn Manson look-alike.

For a Family Feud–style game between the impersonators and layman fans, the laymen won the first round, though a layman from Phoenix was stumped on the question “What was Cher’s worst career move?” Hello! Lori Davis’ hair-care products. One doesn’t win a second Oscar peddling shampoo on late-night infomercials.

The impersonator show, which was supposed to be the highlight of the event, was a bit anticlimactic; instead of “Half Breed,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “The Beat Goes On” or even “I Got You Babe,” we heard Cher’s late-career dance numbers from the ’80s and ’90s. Michaels did, however, get all the mannerisms (peace sign, lip licking) down perfect, and Carter was brave enough to sport tattoos on her ass. Wayne Smith, who’d emceed the auction earlier in the day, sang live and came as close to sounding like the real deal as one can while wearing a white furry robe resembling a pack of dead huskies.

By then, the booths were packed up and the hotel waiters were getting the ballroom ready for the evening’s dinner and awards ceremony. We snuck out, knowing we’d miss the next day’s Cher bus tour, but happy to have our commemorative convention water bottles and enough new Cher knowledge to host our own seminar one day.


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