The Other Madonna
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It all happened in the early '80s. A singer named Madonna changed the way the world saw pop music and those making it. As the 26-year-old sailed down a gondola in Venice crooning Like a Virgin — dressed in a parrot green lace shirt with a crucifix dangling around her neck — the world sang along, even as some organisations demanded a ban on the song contending that it promoted pre-marital sex.
While the world judged Madonna for making a point with her music, 16-year-old Melissa Totten was busy buying "Madonna-like clothes" from a neighbourhood market in Fairfax, Virginia . "I always loved buying whacky clothes," says Totten, who felt that "Madonna understood her". "I loved everything about her and loved her music like everybody else," adds Totten, who had no idea that eventually, her career will have everything to do with Madonna.
A few years later, Totten — who had moved to Chicago by then — decided to impersonate Madonna as part of a project in college. Gradually, she was approached to do occasional look-alike work for celebrity-themed corporate events and she decided to put on the trademark Madonna cone bra and give it a go. "It felt like playing dress up for beer money. I had no idea that there was a whole industry out there," says Totten, whose impersonation began being called 'Madonna Sightings' by newspapers and TV channels, even as the paparazzi chased her down the street. As as all this happened, Madonna was busy filming A League of Her Own in Chicago.
Everything went in Totten's favour — the striking resemblance, the right accent, the moves and even the trademark gap between her teeth. She began singing at local bars, which was followed by world tours. Now, after 20 years of impersonating Madonna, Totten is all set to perform in seven Indian cities as part of Black Dog Sunday Evenings, the first one of which will be at The Westin, Gurgaon, on August 17. Later, she will perform in Goa, Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata, Vishakhapatnam, Guwahati and Hyderabad. Totten's admiration for Madonna not only existed because Madonna addressed desires and fantasies, and questioned the hegemonic theories of existence, but also because she came across as an intriguing songstress. "She was whacky and allowed everything acerbic to work in her favour," says Totten, who even has two cover albums to her credit.
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