DEBBIE WILEMAN STARS AS ONE OF THE GREATEST SINGERS OF OUR TIME
Brace yourself, it appears that Judy Garland did not die from a barbiturate overdose and has been living in seclusion at an unknown location. She plans to come to San Diego to do a one-night performance at the Balboa Theatre on Friday, June 17 in celebration of her 100th birthday — which is actually on June 10.
I’m sure MANY of us would like for this to be true but unfortunately it is a whimsical wish. Judy did pass away on June 22, 1969. However, Debbie Wileman will be doing an uncanny recreation of the legendary gay icon at the Balboa Theatre.
Her tour, appropriately titled Happy 100th Birthday Judy! A Musical Celebration, is now touring. In addition to San Diego, the tour will be coming to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Provincetown, to name a few.
Wileman created quite a stir during the COVID-19 epidemic when she posted a song a day on YouTube.
“The whole reason I’m being interviewed by you or having a tour even, is down to me recording myself on YouTube singing songs,” Wileman said. “This all came about because of a thing I started doing in lockdown called ‘A Song a Day’’ where I recorded myself singing a different song each day as myself, as Judy Garland, as Marilyn Monroe, etc. in the style of lots of people really, but mainly just me, and that’s how I came to be noticed in the first place!”
The main reason she decided to do this wasn’t to be noticed, but it was something she wanted to do to lift the spirits of her friends during the lockdown.
“I was basically a stay-at-home mum,” Wileman said, “who thought that when lockdown started, singing a song every day on Facebook for my 600 friends would be a nice thing to do: for anyone who was self-isolating or for anyone who was totally by themselves. I ended up doing 100 days in a row and then after that, three videos a week for almost two years! At the beginning, it did ‘just happen’ as I wasn’t really thinking about lots and lots of people seeing it. It was more just for my friends, and they know what my kitchen or laundry room or car look like, so I wasn’t bothered about where I filmed it! It was more to get the song across and just connect with my friends. The only thing that changed from my early videos is that my friend Katie Allen bought me an iPhone stand rather than having me hold the phone and record myself and have it look like ‘The Blair Witch Project.’”
Wileman impersonates many iconic singers like Streisand, Adele and Lady Gaga. She also had the chance to do the show Little Voice, which is the story of a very shy girl who listens to all the female greats and becomes an amazing impersonator.
“I was in a production of Little Voice (LV) 14 years ago, which toured Scotland for six months,” Wileman said. “So not only did I have to impersonate all the different divas I also had to pretend to be Scottish too! It was the first production of LV that Jim Cartwright (the author) had taken his children to. Being a big fan of these wonderful singers is an inspiration for me. The first time I sang in front of an audience, I was 11 at a school concert. Me and my friends did a spoof of a show called ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ and I sang ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’— as Cher.”
Wileman is married and has a daughter, Sadie, who is 4. While she may be too young at the present time to sing with her “mum,” Sadie will get to see her on tour. Sadie and her dad will come along for part of the tour.
Wileman has become an overnight success. The entertainment business can be fickle, and many performers who struggle to find the work constantly hear “If you can’t find work, create your own work!” Which is exactly what Wileman did. In a sense, she is quite the inspiration for all performers out there trying to make their dreams come true.
“To be honest that was me,” Wileman said. “We all have to eat and pay bills so sometimes you just have to ‘go and get a proper job’ but if you love something, I think you will always continue doing it for your own enjoyment, whether you are making money from it or not. I tried to be a professional actress/singer in my early-20s after doing a performing arts degree at university. I had to, in some ways, give up the dream at the age of 24 as I needed more money to live. I never stopped singing but I hadn’t done anything professional for about 12 years when I started making the singing videos at the beginning of lockdown.”
Wileman realizes that while she started doing this to cheer up her friends, she grew to know that it took on a life of its own and she now has fans all over the globe.
“I am really looking forward to meeting a lot of the people from Facebook and YouTube,” Wileman said. “Through their comments and kind words, I feel like I have come to know [them] already. I started making these little singing videos just for the friends I already had and partly for myself, to give myself something to do. It was a scary and horrible time. I had not thought of further work or trying to make anything come from it. But it has been fantastic, and I feel that I have made lots of new friends. I made these videos, initially, to help people through the dark time of lockdown but they also ended up helping me through it too. It gave me something to do and something to think about. I have connected with so many lovely people that I would not have met otherwise; whose lovely comments and encouraging words have cheered me, in what was a scary and unsettling time. So, it ended up being mutually beneficial.”
In a way Wileman almost sounds like the character Dorothy Gale, which made Garland so famous, when she surmises this whole journey.
“It is a lovely surprise that they have taken off in the way that they have,” Wileman said, “and that I am now doing things I could only have dreamed of.”