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A Night in the Day of a Female Impersonator
Performing has been in my blood since I was a small child. Making my mother smile by putting on a dress and singing a Diana Ross song was as normal to me as climbing a tree was to my brother. Back then, I didn't know this was strange, or even judged as bad by some. I just knew that it brought joy to me, and the people I sang and danced for. How could that be wrong?
It was the beginning of a long journey that took me through various outlets, such as professional dancing, and various types of performance art, all the way up to doing what I do today; performing as a female impersonator at Images Nightclub here in Chattanooga.
Not only have I done shows in Chattanooga for many years, I have also competed in the pageantry system, including many of Chattanooga's local pageants as well as national pageants. Every pageant has taught me something as a performer. As an artist, I continue to evolve. I'm very proud of what I have accomplished. I am also humbled by the people who continue to come see me perform.
From making costumes, to editing music, making up and practicing choreography, the schedule can be grueling. The money I make usually goes straight back into materials for future shows. As far as music goes, I focus on choosing meaningful songs and interacting with my audience in a way that makes them forget about the problems of the week and just enjoy life for a bit. Before each show, I always talk to my audience and try my best to get some laughs and set the mood for the night. I make it a point to welcome newcomers and to let everyone know they are in a place where they can be themselves without fear of judgment.
We all tend to spend our days walking through society with our socially acceptable masks on. At Images, you can let that go and just be you, whoever that may be. In my job I see people from every walk of life—they are gay, straight, bi-sexual, transgender—and even confused. The common factor is a search for acceptance. I'm lucky enough to be able to give a sense of that while doing what I love.
In my mind, art is art. Art for me isn't fulfilling unless it brings joy to others, or touches them in some way. So a typical day for me isn't just about the hair, makeup, and physical preparation I go through to transform into the role. But yes, there is a lot of preparation.
My day at work usually starts at 4 p.m. I arrive and get myself settled in. If it is a Thursday, then the entire cast has rehearsals for our weekend productions. We have to learn songs as well as group choreography. Everyone gets input; this process can take hours. If it is a Friday or Saturday, then I have to start getting ready for the show. After I've posted on Facebook to invite people out, I write a line-up of the show schedule. I start my transformation process as I listen to music. It gives me ideas of what I would like to do in the show. If I have a certain costume in mind, I may listen to songs to find which song has just the right fit. This also gives me a chance to learn the lyrics. Every week there are new songs released. It’s hard to stay on top of them and to learn them all. I listen to them at work, in the car, or whenever I get the chance. There are also people and groups that will come in that will want to see you do a particular song or character. I get asked to do Cher and Annie Lennox a lot. You have to give the crowd what they want.
Once the transformation is complete, it’s time to go out and socialize. I like to go meet everyone and make them feel welcome. We are all one big family here. While I am doing this, I can also get a feel of what kind of crowd we have, and I can decide what numbers I want to do and what kind of songs the crowd would like. Then it’s time to get ready for the opening production number. Usually, I have 10 minutes to change into a production costume. I listen to the production number one last time and make sure I can remember everything. After the DJ announces the cast, it’s show time!
After the opening, I MC on the microphone. I get to welcome the crowd to Images. We also call people up for their birthdays and special occasions; we have a lot of people bring in parties for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—we have even had a few divorce parties. People like to celebrate, and we are here to party! Once I am finished, the first performer comes on and I have 12-15 minutes to change. I put on a new costume, put on new shoes or boots, and then touch up my makeup and hair. This rotation happens three times and it is always a rush to be ready on time. When the show is over, I go out to the audience one more time and thank them for watching our show.
After collecting my thoughts and touching up my makeup one last time, I head back out and socialize again. Our cast is diverse, entertaining, but most of all, we're all approachable. I get a lot of requests to take pictures. A lot of people will want a hug and to say goodbye before they leave. This can happen for another hour or more after the show is finished. Once we close the bar, it’s time to clean up. As the staff cleans the bar, it is my time to reverse the process and once again start planning for the next show. I start gathering my costumes and clothing and clean up my mess. (You should see the mess. How does one person make such a mess? LOL. That's show business!)
A lot of people ask me if being a female impersonator interferes with my personal life at all. I admit at times it has. With a job that requires me to be in costume as a female much of the time, I tend to meet men that may be more interested in the illusion "Samantha Leblonc" instead of the real man underneath. So there are issues I have to navigate when my job complicates my love life. To me, it's a small price to pay. Luckily, my family accepts and supports me without judgment. In my line of work, I see that often is not the case, and it gives me the inspiration I need to continue on despite any difficulties.
Female impersonation is a job just like any other in many ways, but it also contains special meaning to have the lives of so many people intersect with mine at pivotal and even low points. Me singing a moving song in my sparkling costume isn't just visually appealing or entertaining, it also can speak to a person in distress on a much deeper level. I won't compare what I do to a church service, but I do know it has spiritual meaning to me and to my audience. There is laughter and at times there are tears, but that's show business, isn't it? You are welcome to come out to Images, where all walks of life are welcome, and see for yourself.