One in a thousand
Local Stevie Nicks impersonator Charlene Coran was chosen to perform at the “Night of a Thousand Stevies” event in New York City this month.
An unassuming man in his 60s with a gray-haired bouffant softly drawls a Merle Haggard song as a karaoke screen feeds him bright pink words.
Nascar speeds in circles, a batter takes the plate, and wealthy collectors bid on waxy classic cars on the multiple TVs lined on the wall above his head. When the tune ends, the audience inside Taps bar at Baldini’s Sports Casino claps politely and sips on their beers.
Charlene Coran is up next. Her flowing black pants and lacy black shirt sway as she takes the small stage. She usually has a ready laugh and smile, but she’s preparing for her song now, so her face is focused, crowd-forgetting.
The music starts, a slow guitar riff, percussive thumps and a cymbal kick, and then, “Listen to the wind blow.” The voice is strong, powerful, deep and full of vibrato. People formerly absorbed in video poker at the bar look up. Those mulling about near the entrance peer in to see what’s going on. “Damn your love, damn your lies.” She’s getting into it now. Her hands and legs sway, gypsy style. “And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again.” Her hand flies up, punctuating the words with her index finger; her eyes go wide. Her voice wails the heartbreak and bitterness of the song. “Never break the, never break the chain.”
The clothes, the poofed up ’80s hair (recently dyed a strawberry blonde from its natural brunette), the intensity in her eyes and voice—she is Stevie Nicks. Or, at least that’s the idea.
Coran, 32, has been impersonating Stevie Nicks at karaoke bars at least once a week for the past six years. She’s shared many stages with people like the middle-aged, walking caricature of Vince Neil in laced-up, vinyl pants and matching vest singing Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home,” or the bespectacled woman in the white button-down office shirt doing a spot-on version of Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival,” or the couple who sings the two-word song “Tequila” to get their free drink voucher. Coran is not so different from some of them—a relatively unknown novelty outside of the subculture of Reno karaoke-bar regulars. But she’s about to get her five (if not 15) minutes of fame this month in New York City. There, she’ll be recognized, for at least one night, by people who know exactly why she does what she does because they do it, too.
After submitting a song clip through her MySpace Web page, Coran was chosen to perform Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” at the “Night of a Thousand Stevies” in New York’s legendary Knitting Factory on May 19. The event began 16 years ago with only four performers—three transvestites and one of the show’s current producers, Chi Chi Valenti. It now boasts 30 different performances all within a club of at least 1,000 people dressed up like Stevie Nicks, singing and twirling from 9 p.m. until dawn.
“We look for people who are really interpreting Stevie and who are interested in doing their own kind of performance,” says Valenti.
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singin’
People who approach Coran’s studio apartment off Jones St., can hear her singing along with a karaoke machine to Nicks’ “Dreams.” The walls are thin, and she presumes her neighbors hate her. “I can’t belt it in here,” she says.
The room is small, sparse and uncluttered. Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac memorabilia take up one corner of her wall—posters, CDs, a concert T-shirt are all hanging up. Two photos of Angelina Jolie are also mounted above the bed. A book by Sonja Friedman called Men are Just Desserts sits on her bedside table. Two cats—Snickers and Baby—rub against her leg.
She’s been practicing here—not just singing, but also studying a video of a 1982 Fleetwood Mac concert at the Mirage in Los Angeles. She’s noticing Stevie’s facial expressions, how she dances and things she does in concert that aren’t heard on the radio—like a wailing section of “The Chain,” where it sounds like Stevie’s slowly dying. Coran loves that bit and is trying to work it into her act.
Coran waitresses part-time at Coach’s Bar and Grill about five days a week, but her dream is to form a Fleetwood Mac tribute band. She hopes the Night of a Thousand Stevies might help her accomplish that. It’s a bit of a gamble because she has to pay her own way to the show. Tan-A-Rama and Mood Shifter Limousine are sponsoring her flight, and friends have chipped in. But she’s still trying to find about $300 more for hotel and costume expenses. It’s her first time in New York City, and it will be a quick trip, as she leaves May 18 and returns two days later. “Everybody’s worried I won’t come back,” she says. “I’ve waited six years for this experience.”
It wouldn’t be the first time she’s left a place on a whim. Coran grew up in Grass Valley, Calif., and graduated high school in Placerville. She’s spent most of her adult life moving from one town to another, sometimes following a boyfriend, sometimes just wanting a change. “I get bored,” she says. “I will go anywhere.”
Her adventurous nature led to another, more infamous moment in the spotlight. In November 2005, she and her ex-boyfriend decided to settle a car dispute on the Judge Mathis show, which aired in January. She’s open about it, asking eagerly, “Do you want to see it?” She pops the tape in the VCR, and there are Charlene and her ex, standing behind their respective podiums, glaring at each other before a ridiculing judge.
As her ex-boyfriend lambastes her, accusing her of being controlling and financially dependent, the real, non-TV Charlene talks back to the screen—“Whatever!” When he calls her “emotional,” she cocks her head my way and admits, “That’s true.”
Judge Mathis ultimately rips her apart due to a damning e-mail she sent to her ex-boyfriend in which she basically told him not to expect full payment for the car he sold her. She lost the case.
She wholeheartedly laughs it off. “I don’t care,” she says. After all, they flew her into Chicago and gave her a hotel room, and she hit the karaoke bars. “I had a blast!”
This is a girl up for whatever comes her way, and if there’s a bit of attention that goes along with it, that’s A-OK.
Coran remembers the first time she heard Stevie Nicks sing. She was 9 years old, and “Dreams” came over the small AM/FM radio in her bedroom. She asked her mom who it was. “I idolized her ever since, but I never thought I could sing her,” says Coran.
Growing up, no one ever told Coran she could sing, so she didn’t. She won third place in a lip-syncing contest in eighth grade, and she enjoyed taking drama in high school, thinking she might want to be an actress. But she didn’t get any positive feedback on her voice until she was 21, when a Yerington couple she knows only as Cal and Peg got a few drinks into her at a karaoke bar and urged her to sing. “Cal and Peg, wherever they are, I thank them,” she says.
That first song was by The Judds. Later, she began singing more Stevie Nicks songs, which seemed to get the most reaction from people.
“The interesting thing about [Stevie] is she crosses over into so many worlds,” says Valenti. “You don’t just have gay men or goth girls who want to impersonate her—it’s really endless. When we’ve had a chance to talk to Stevie herself, we say, ‘Are you aware there’s all kinds of gay leather men who worship you?’”
“There’s nobody like Stevie Nicks anywhere,” gushes Coran. “She just has this aura about her. I can’t explain it. … If not for the high I have when I’m singing her, I don’t know what kind of confidence I’d have,” she says.
Her friends sometimes ask her to sing something in her own voice, as Charlene. “Charlene—I don’t know where she is,” says Coran. “I don’t know what kind of style she’d have. I can’t get away from the Stevie voice.”