As a 1980s Chicago cabaret performer, Candi Stratton impersonated Cher for the better part of a decade.
She has marched in Mardi Gras as the American pop legend and has taken her glitzy Cher tribute show to clubs around Australia.
It started out when I was about seven, when The Sonny & Cher Show started, back in the early 1970s, Stratton explains.
I was hooked as a little boy. A lot of the kids on my block [in Chicago] would constantly put on little shows in their garages.
My friend Mark and I were putting on a show practically every other week after The Sonny & Cher Show.
Mark would play Sonny and I would play Cher and I’d put this big black T-shirt on the back of my head for my big black long straight hair.
We had the busiest show on the block, that’s for sure.
From the beginning, Stratton found Cher’s style beguiling.
Even at seven years old -“ because I’m sure that I knew sooner or later I was going to come out of the closet -“ it had to be the costumes and the glamour of her, she says.
My mum and dad used to laugh every weekend, and they were a bit worried. And look now at how I turned out -“ as a transgender woman after reassignment surgery in 1989.
After marrying an Australian, Stratton moved here about three years ago and decided to pull out my Cher again.
And it kind of took off again -“ to the point that Cher herself paid attention.
I’ve been to all her concerts but I never ever went once as Cher, Stratton says.
When she came here to Australia I saved it for one special show. I went with a good friend of mine who got me second-row tickets in Newcastle.
People were coming up and taking photos before the concert. All of a sudden Cher came out on stage and she looked at me and made reference.
[She said,] -˜I was backstage watching my little TV as I was getting ready -¦ and I noticed you all out there taking photos with that Cher impersonator,’ and she looked right over at me.
There were two other guys there from Sydney. They grabbed me over the front row and brought me to the front of the stage for her last number.
At the end of the show -¦ Cher came up and she put her hands together like she does and she bowed to me. I bowed back and she said, -˜Come on, girl, get your hand up,’ and she gave me a high five.
That’s the closest I’ve gotten to her.
For the moment, Stratton will have to content herself with her own Cher show, which she’s performing at Burwood RSL next week.
It’s a tribute to her life with the videos, the music, the costumes, the speech, her movies and everything, Stratton says.
There’s more dialogue in this show, which we thought would work better in the RSL.
Burwood RSL is also where Stratton picked up the Miss Gay Universe crown last month. She hopes her own event helps to change attitudes outside the inner city too.
I’m out there working just like Carlotta does to make people understand we are people with a heart and a soul and we’re no different than anyone else, she says.
The more of us out there entertaining, the more acceptance there’ll be.
Candi Stratton’s Cher show is on at Burwood RSL on 31 March from 8pm. Book at House of Priscilla in Darlinghurst, on 0422 369 608 or at the Oz Cher Show website.