For celebrity impersonators, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
IT WAS APPROACHING midnight on New Years Eve 1984, and the house band at the Holiday Inn Torrance in Los Angeles was gearing up for the usual Auld Lang Syne crescendo before a packed crowd of regulars. But the bands lead vocalist, Hollie Vest, had other plans. She was secretly preparing another number to mark the occasion.
In the preceding weeks, the seasoned performer had added some Tina Turner hits, including Whats Love Got to Do with It and Private Dancer, to her bands repertoire. She was surprised when her voice, movements, energy, and even her cheekbones immediately began drawing comparisons to Turner never mind the fact that she isnt African-American. Everyone was telling her that she was Turner. Everyone had to be set straight.
My goal that night was to show them the difference, Vest says. I prided myself on being me an original in my own right. So I didnt tell my band, didnt tell the audience, didnt tell anybody, but I just went into my closet, put together a Tina outfit and convinced a guy at the hotel to play Whats Love at midnight instead of Auld Lang Syne. Id do my best Tina Turner impersonation and prove to everyone, once and for all, that I wasnt her.
Whatever the logic was in that strategy, it backfired terribly. Vest strutted onstage as Turner and belted out the Grammy-winning song at the stroke of midnight to a roomful of dropped jaws. Thats pretty much when her fate was sealed.
From that point on, nobody wanted to see Hollie anymore, Vest recalls. They wanted to see Hollie doing Tina. And so, thats what Ive been doing. I also perform as Carmen Miranda, Mae West, Ethel Merman, and Peggy Lee on occasion. But mainly, Im Hollie as Tina.
And so it happened on that fateful night that another star er, star impersonator was born. Now, 25 years after her New Years Eve experiment, Vest is considered one of the worlds top Tina Turner impersonators. The gig has opened doors for her around the world; shes landed on cruise ships and in South Africa for a 19-month stint and been featured at countless conventions and corporate shindigs from coast to coast. It has enabled her to buy a historic mansion, which she runs as a bed-and-breakfast-style hotel called Magnolia Mansion, in New Orleanss Garden District, and it has led her to launch Thrillusions, an impersonator-inspired show she hopes to take to Las Vegas.
Making a living performing as Tina was an adjustment at first, Vest says. But once I made my peace with it, I realized that I loved singing as her more than as myself. Without question, shes been a huge gift in my life.