“It’s such a rush. It’s incredible,” she said. “I know tribute artists who get addicted to that (feeling). … I can’t blame them because it’s really a lot of fun.”
On Sunday, Allen will perform as the provocative pop star behind “Bad Romance,” “Born This Way” and “Poker Face” during Pride in the Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo. The event, which also features drag divas and cover bands Makeover and The ABBA Show, is part of Central Coast Pride festivities organized by Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast.
According to Allen, “Underworld” actress Kate Beckinsale first pointed out her resemblance to Lady Gaga, who filmed a music video at Hearst Castle in San Simeon in 2014. (Allen was working for clothing retailer Fred Segal at the time.)
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“One day I was ringing her up for some sunglasses and she said, ‘Tierney, you look just like that Lady Gaga.’ And I’m like, ‘Who’s Lady Gaga?’ ” recalled Allen, who went home and researched the singer. “About a month later, I got my first gig as Lady Gaga performing for a birthday party. I was hooked after that.”
Allen credits her husband, Elvis Presley tribute artist Travis Allen, with helping her take her act to the next level. (Their eight-month-old daughter, Charlotte, was born on the same day that Lady Gaga’s 2016 album, “Joanne,” was released.)
Allen recently chatted with The Tribune about life as a Lady Gaga tribute artist.
Q: What is the difference between a tribute artist and an impersonator?
A: (Someone) on the more amateur level is considered an impersonator. It’s kind of just “Throw a costume on and go walk down Fremont Street (in Las Vegas) and collect some tips.” ... As tribute artists we take it to the next level. We spend countless hours studying videos and (getting) our costumes exact and working on every single mannerism of the person to really turn it into an art form.
Q: You weren’t a Lady Gaga fan when you started. How has your appreciation of Gaga changed as you’ve gotten to know her?
A: It’s become all-consuming. (chuckles) I really fell in love with, not just the music, but (also) the artist, the person, as I learned about her … I really could stand behind her as a person, and that helps as a tribute artist because you don’t want to not like the person that you’re paying tribute to. …
In an odd way, without getting creepy about it, you feel like you have this connection with this person you’re paying tribute to because you know so much about them.
Q: What kind of research do you do?
A: Up until I had a baby, (I spent) every day, checking her Twitter, checking her Facebook, checking Instagram. Where is she today? What is she working on now? Who is she working with? Who is she talking to? … Once you get so far into knowing about this person then you start meeting people who actually know her personally, and you can get anecdotes that way too. It’s fun.
Q: Talk about the transformation you go through to become Gaga. It starts with wigs.
A: In my early Gaga days, I made the mistake of having my own hair blonde. It just fried the hell out of my hair. … Eventually I caught on and started investing in some really great wigs. That’s definitely part of the transformation. I don’t want to be Lady Gaga all day every day. I want to be Tierney …
Then it goes into the makeup, understanding the difference between my facial structure and her facial structure and using makeup techniques to make me look more like her.
After that is the costuming. I make all my own costumes. That’s a really important part for me, for getting into character. It sounds cheesy but I sew a bit of my soul into every costume.
Q: Have you ever been mistaken for Lady Gaga?
A: I was at the MGM Grand when she was here (in Las Vegas) and I got mobbed. There were hundreds of people grabbing at me. We had to have a security expert get me out of the hotel because everyone thought I was her. …
To be honest, I was looking for trouble. (laughs) I did it on purpose in my early days as a tribute artist. I think a lot of tribute artists do this too, to get validation that they look like the artist they’re trying to portray.
(I would go) “Gaga’s in town? I’m going to dress up and go to her hotel.” I learned that that was a bad idea because … it can be very dangerous.
You gain an appreciation for what these famous people have to go through day in and day out. They can’t escape it. At least I can take off the wig and get in my little Ford Fusion and drive home.
Q: How does it feel to perform as Lady Gaga?
A: It sounds cheesy but when I step on stage, I feel a transition, a transformation …
People see you in this different way. … You really become this person in their eyes, and it’s a trip. It’s kind of magical, too.
Q: What are your favorite Lady Gaga songs to perform?
A: I really love the new album. I feel like it has a lot of heart and soul in it. … Going further back, I love to perform “Born This Way” because it has such a great message. As far as just having good fun, “Just Dance” is just a really fun. It gets everyone involved and moving.
Q: Which song gets the biggest response?
A: Probably “Bad Romance.” Everyone knows “Bad Romance.” … While I was performing in Hawaii for “Legends in Concert,” most of our audience — probably about 90 percent of our audience — was from Japan. They don’t speak English. … They’re very reserved. … Everyone put their paws up as soon as “Bad Romance” came on. They all had their hands up in the air. It was really cool to cross that cultural divide.
Q: Why are you excited to perform at Pride in the Plaza?
A: Performing for (a) Pride (event) is my back-pocket favorite thing to do. Anyway I can give back to the LGBTQ community, even if it’s this way. This makes me so happy.
There’s no one more special to Gaga than the gays. (laughs) They’ve made her what she is, so any chance (I have) to perform at Pride, I jump at.
Q: What’s your ultimate goal as a tribute artist?
A: What I strive for is to portray her message. Her message, above all else, is love and compassion and equality. Anytime I step on stage I make it my goal to make sure that comes across. Everyone should feel welcome and accepted.