Since the first Cher Convention in Chicago in 2000, fans have been gathering to swap Cher stories and party with Cher impersonators. The second and third conventions, in 2002 and 2004 respectively, found their home at The Rivera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada — quintessential Land of Cher, the Mackie-sequined Queen of the Showgirls. Started by a group of online fans who didn't even know each other, these folks rolled up their sleeves, pooled their resources, sacrificed sleep and made sure the thing was done. They talk here about the history of the convention and what it takes to build a Celebration de Chėr.
How did you guys become Cher fans?
Linda Alamprese: I was in high school when "I Got You Babe" came out. I've been a fan ever since. I never missed The Sonny and Cher Show. And I, of course, watched the Cher Show. I wouldn't say I am an obsessed fan or a "die hard." I would say Cher is my very favorite celebrity, and I've always loved her. I love her spirit and admire her tremendously. I love her music and her movies. The first Cher concert I ever had the chance to go to was the Believe tour. I had never seen her in person before and was blown away. But the Cher I got to know through the eyes of Children's Craniofacial Association (CCA) is the most special of all.
Jody Cantwell: In 1967 I was 9 years old. I heard a song on the radio which I thought was different. My cousin told me that a man and a woman were singing the song. I couldn't tell which was which, so my cousin told me that the one singing "drums keep pound'n a rhythm to the brain" was the woman. That was the weirdest voice I ever heard. I was immediately drawn to it. When The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour came on TV, it was love at first sight. I like Cher because she has guts. She says what she thinks even when it is to admit a failure in her career. She is a good, genuine human being who helps others as much as she can.
Judy Didelot: I became a fan twice. The first time, I have my sister Patty to blame—oops, I mean to thank. She was the real Cher fan of the family. I remember her wanting, in the worst way, to go see Sonny & Cher in concert up in Wisconsin. This was way back in 1976. Geez, I can't believe it's been that long ago. Anyway, Patty was too young to drive, so I decided to surprise her by getting tickets and driving her up to the show. It was during this concert that I experienced the transformation of someone who was simply there to enjoy a concert with her sister — into someone becoming a bona fide fan. I liked Sonny, and thought he had tons of talent. Seems he was always smiling. I think each of us is blessed with some kind of talent, but some are also blessed with a special kind of magic about them. Cher has that magic. All singers have fans, but very few have fans of all ages. I like to think of Cher as the "Pied Piper" of singers. When she sings, people of all ages are drawn to it. They're mesmerized by that very distinctive, one-of-a-kind voice, which has only gotten better with time!
Later, in 1992, I became a fan all over again. A fan of Cher "the person." This happened while watching a television show where Cher was one of the guests. She didn't sing, she didn't act, instead she showed a side of herself that was rarely seen by the public then, or since. This program showed just how devoted and dedicated Cher is to CCA, and to the children and families that this charity helps. In 2001, I was given a gift of spending some time with Cher and some of her "kidlets" (as she calls them). When Cher entered the room, she went from one table to the next, kneeling next to each child, spending as much time as they wanted with her, talking, taking photos, and signing whatever the kids had for her to sign. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever witnessed, a memory that will stay with me forever.
Kim Werdman: I was 10 when The Sonny and Cher Nitty Gritty Hour first aired. I've been a Sonny and Cher fan every since. I watched all of their shows with my Dad. The first two Cher concerts I saw were Cher's Heart of Stone concerts in Dallas, and in London in 1990. My Dad lives in France now. Cher toured there in 1999. It was a thrill for me to be able to take my Dad to see her live in concert in Paris.
What do you do for a living? And how much time do you put into the convention per week?
Jody: I am a Corrections Officer for the State of Michigan. There have been no problems keeping my regular job. I guess I spend about 4 hours per week with convention preparations and processing orders and registrations. There isn't a lot of work early on for me, but as it draws nearer, I have to do things which can only be done closer to the event.
Kim: After college, I was a computer consultant for small businesses, invested in a fixer-upper historic home, and managed family rental property. I still manage family rental property, and I also design and maintain web sites. I don't do the computer consulting, and haven't bought any more fixer-upper houses. I was looking for a change, and enjoy working on the convention and helping CCA much more. For me the convention was a full-time job from August of 1999 to July of 2002. It's been part-time since the last convention. It was estimated at one point that we spent 2,000 hours a week on the convention, but since there are only 144 hours in a week, that estimate was a little off.
Judy: My job was/is taking care of my home/family, and taking care of my parents. I couldn't even begin to guess how much time I spend working on the convention. Sometimes I'd work on and off all day until 3 or 4 in the morning. I'd meet Kim or Linda online and we'd IM on how things were going, or I'd get up early, around 5 or 6 a.m. and meet Jody online and we'd IM as to how things were going. We'd all call one another throughout the year when necessary, and we called more often the closer it got to convention time. So, 5-6 hours of sleep per night was about normal. The closer the convention became, it was more like 4-5 hours per night.
Can you describe how this group came together?
Jody: In the spring of 1999, I was approached by Oz Krasovkis to possibly participate in putting together a Cher Convention with some lady named Judy Didelot. I contacted Judy and let her know that I would help. I live just 6 hours from Chicago and had a group of online Cher fans that I could contact to get the word out. Judy had a group of dedicated followers on the original Cher website where fans posted subjects and talked together, the original Cher.com that had all the message boards. Cher started to tour. I got an idea to put out fliers at shows to see if people would respond. With the help of people all over the country, we put out some crazy yellow fliers. More than 600 people responded that they wanted to know more about Cher Convention 2000.
Judy: I met Jody Cantwell through his yahoo Cher list. We hit it off right away, and I'm very happy to say we've been good friends ever since. He and I have known each other the longest in our group. Jody was very supportive of the convention from day one and we leaned on one another from the very beginning, since we didn't know how this was going to work out. I can remember working with him at his home before Cher Convention 2000. We spent the entire day together putting all of these papers in piles. I don't even remember what they were for, but I don't believe either of us had ever done so much printing, cutting, and folding in our lives. It was work, but he made it a lot of fun. When "Believe" was released, I met Kim Werdman on Cher.com. I remember her posting links on Cher.com, making it easier for fans to contact radio stations. I emailed her to ask if she would post the links more often, which she was more than happy to do.
Kim: On Thanksgiving of 1998, Cher posted a message on the Cher.com message board to the fans about her new release "Believe." After that, many fans joined together to call and email MTV, VH1 and various large radio stations around the U.S. to push "Believe." When it hit #1 and stayed there for 4 weeks, everyone was excited and wanted to celebrate. Judy posted a "let's have a Cher Convention" message. Judy and Jody started working on the convention in May of 1999; Judy invited me to join them in August of 1999; Linda Alamprese joined us in June of 2000.
Judy: Linda always did a great job! After the 2000 Convention, we decided to ask Linda to join our staff.
Linda Alamprese: In 1999 I read a post by Judy about the first convention in Chicago in 2000. Because I lived in Chicago, I contacted Judy for information and also offered my help if they needed volunteers. Judy responded and was so sweet and kind. We met up at the Believe concert in Chicago in 2000. That first year, I went around to the music stores and coffee shops and put up posters advertising the event. I faxed radio stations asking them to mention the event. I also arrived early on the day of the convention to help with whatever they needed -- blowing up balloons, carrying boxes, etc. I also submitted a poem for your first Cher Zine, Superpak Vol. 1 for the convention.
Jody: Oz chose to leave the organizing up to Judy, Kim and I. We had a lot of help and encouragement from fans all over the country. Many people donated time and energy to make the conventions successful, but just this core group took responsibly for the event.
Can you describe your early vision of the Cher Convention and how did it evolve?
Judy: The idea of wanting to someday help CCA was actually conceived back in 1992, but at the time I had no idea this idea was going to turn out to be Cher Convention 2000. I had watched The Maury Povich Show where Cher was a guest. There were two families there, which CCA had helped, along with the surgeon who had performed surgeries on Maria, a girl on the show. Cher had brought Maria and her mother to the United States so she could receive needed operations. Cher was shown in the operating room during one of Maria's operations. Diana Sweeney, from CCA, was in the audience. They discussed many of the operations these kids go through and about the wonderful help CCA provides so many families. It was also mentioned how most people in the United States don't know anything about CCA. I, for one, never knew there were so many children with craniofacial conditions until I'd watched this show. They also talked about Cher's involvement with the charity and the love she has for all her "kidlets." At the end, Cher asked Maury to present a check to Diana Sweeney, which brought everyone to tears. It was then I thought, what a wonderful feeling it must be to be able to do something like that, and for such a wonderful cause.
All of this happened way before I'd met anyone online. It wasn't until "Believe" was released that I was able to see, day after day, week after week, just how devoted Cher's fans are to her. They kept "Believe" at number one for four consecutive weeks! Our online group celebrated the best we could over our computers. This made me think about how recording artists celebrate their records becoming number one, their turning gold/platinum, and how they receive awards and go to parties because of it. But it's the fans who help to make that happen. This was when the idea hit that Cher's fans deserved the very same. To get together and to celebrate all that they had done, and not just over their computers, but face to face and in a place deserving of what they had worked so hard to accomplish. So the idea to put together a celebration had begun, and why not connect this idea with that of helping CCA? What could be better than Cher fans meeting, celebrating Cher, and knowing that their money would be going to help Cher's "kidlets."
Kim: I thought the idea to bring fans together and raise funds for CCA was great, and that this could be big, especially with CCA behind it. We contacted CCA and talked with the Executive Director, Char Smith about our plans. She wanted to know what they could do to help. They've been very supportive from the beginning.
Jody: One of the first things we wondered was what do we do if the convention actually makes money? We did not want to get tangled up with IRS issues. When Judy decided we would give all the funds to CCA, she found out that we could save hundreds of dollars in taxes if we were tax exempt. Judy formed the Cher Convention Foundation with the State of Illinois. Judy was President, Kim was Vice President, and I was Secretary/Treasurer. We got our tax exempt status.
Kim: Now that we're a part of the CCA family, CCA has opened a separate convention account for us.
How about the structure of the convention itself?
Jody: I envisioned it pretty much as it turned out. Originally we were going to have one day with an evening event. Later we figured everyone would already be in town on Friday, so why not add something on Friday night for fans to do. Kim was friends with a great Cher impersonator, Mr. Wayne Smith. Kim organized the Friday evening show. Originally it was going to be a contest to pick the best impersonator. We shelved that idea because we didn't want any losers. The impersonators were spending a fortune on costumes etc. to be there and we were very grateful.
How did your partnership with the CCA evolve?
Jody: At first we still had a little problem because we didn't want the convention money in our names. Kim lived near CCA headquarters and contacted CCA. They were willing to meet with us. Judy and I flew to Dallas and met with CCA and Kim. Char Smith arranged a nice luncheon for us. We told them about our plans. We laid out our agenda and told them of our contacts and our vision. We asked them to hold the money for us. After they talked with their accountant and staff, they agreed to hold the money for us and they would handle the payouts from those funds.
What do you mean by the term "hold"?
Jody: During the convention year, CCA holds the money for us. We deposit all funds to them, then they make the payments as necessary for convention expenses from the funds we have acquired. Whatever is left after the convention is the donation amount. I guess I use the term hold because I personally look at the funds as "ours" to use as needed for convention expenses until the donation amount is given.
Can you describe your relationship with some of the people you have worked with there?
Judy: Our relationship with CCA has been nothing short of fantastic! They made us feel apart of their family from the very beginning. It's been both a lot of fun and a great learning experience working with Char Smith. She's truly one of a kind! The CCA families that have attended the conventions: Paula, Bob, Aaron and Scott Guzzo, Jill and Robbie Gorecki, Peggy, Jeff & Leslie Upton, Steven Wright and Andy Bartowski have all made the conventions extra special, not only by having their happy faces there, but also by sharing their amazing and courageous outlook on life. We love being a part of CCA!
Kim: We also work with Fred Seitz of Directed Technologies, who hosts our website. Fred hosts CCA's website, and he has a son with a craniofacial condition. And we work with Tim Ayers of Ayers Associates, who helps us with press releases. Tim is a former press secretary for the Governor of Maryland. Tim is the current Chairman of the Board of CCA, and he has a grown daughter with a craniofacial condition. Fred and Tim are volunteers, along with everyone on the board of directors. The people with CCA are a great group of dedicated people. The families that we've met are wonderful.
How much money have you raised so far for the CCA?
Judy: Over $60,000 from two conventions and three online eBay auctions.
Jody: And an online store that sells merchandise from the conventions.
Kim: And cash donations. People have made year-end cash donations, and also cash donations in 2003. The Cher Convention Foundation brought in about $12,000 in 2003 for CCA.
Who are some of the other significant volunteers?
Kim: The talented impersonators, Wayne Smith, Chad Michaels, Catherine Marie Carter, Mark Parry, Amy Hohimer, Mark Hussman, Kenneth Blake, and Jeffery Thomas, have all been very generous donating their time and talent, and in many cases making new costumes for the shows. It's very touching when they dedicate songs to the CCA kids. Many other wonderful volunteers have joined in along the way. Sonny Smith, Michael Werdman, Brad Wright, Ward Lamb, and Mary Ladd, just to name a few. After the first convention, my family realized that if they still wanted to know me they had to help with the convention. They've been incredible. Even my Mom's been very helpful with suggestions. My twin brother has done most of our graphics work and he compiled the 2000 program and also helped film the second convention.
Jody: James Heath from New Mexico donated a lot of printing for the first and second convention. He turned into a friend of mine and I cherish that. Also, the Fisher family — Fred, Edna, Robyn and Marina. In 2000, I put out an email to see if people could help me come up with ideas on how to frame posters inexpensively. Anyone who has had them done professionally knows it can cost more than $200 to get a poster framed. I was contacted by Robyn Fisher. Robyn is a fan from Arizona whose father did framing professionally. She said if we wanted to send the items to her, she would pay for the material and her dad would donate the work. The Fisher family drove the framed pictures to Chicago. We were stunned. They were so beautiful and added significantly to the bidding on those auctions. Today the Fisher family is an integral part of Cher Convention. Robyn, who has been one of our biggest donors, now handles all the merchandise. Her mom and dad help, and even her daughter pitches in.
Judy: This family not only hauls all of our convention merchandise/props/etc. back and forth to Las Vegas, but they also store it all. And Robyn handles all of the orders/mailings from our online store. Fred and Robyn handmade our "Believe" box used to officially open every convention, since this song is what brought all of us together.
Then we have Valco Awards and More, Inc. which is owned and operated by Linda Vala. She's not only made very huge donations of items that were personally owned by Cher for our auctions, but also made very generous donations of merchandise from her company to sell at the convention. She does everything possible to make ordering merchandise easier on us, such as providing merchandise "at cost." She and her husband donated not only the shipping costs to mail our merchandise out to Las Vegas, but they also donated 250 stuffed teddy bears to the CCA children for Christmas. Working with them has been nothing short of amazing and they're constantly wanting to do more.
Roberta Morucci not only donated the beautiful painting of Cher for the 2002 convention, but she also donated the artwork that was used on the cover of our 2002 Friday night/dinner program. She donated the animated Cher Convention cartoon that is on our website for the 2004 Cher Convention, and she's working on the artwork for the cover of our 2004 Friday night program. When she sent us a preview of the 2004 cover, it totally took my breath away! It's awesome! We were so happy that Roberta was able to attend the 2002 convention. She brought posters of the 2002 program cover she had designed to sell, which she then donated part of her profits to CCA. Roberta wrote the following to me about her upcoming 2004 donation, "It would be another "pebble" of mine, thrown in the solidarity lake!" Her comment made me think of one of my very favorite Cher songs "Love Can Build A Bridge." I wrote her back saying that she and others may think their donations are small in comparison to some, but they should never think of their donations as small, because it takes more than one pebble, no matter the size, to build a bridge and that her "pebble" or the one someone else sends may be the one that finishes that bridge, a bridge we've all been helping CCA to build, pebble by pebble, to bring the solutions that are somewhere on the other side of that lake, over to where they belong.......to CCA and the families that they help.
Who are some of your corporate sponsors? How has it been working with them?
Linda: It is not easy getting corporate sponsors. They receive thousands and thousands of requests each year. And some have "pet" projects or specific criteria, or have set charities they help. Some will only sponsor groups in their city. Only a few send a kind rejection letter. Most never respond at all. When you call, they advise that all donation requests be presented at a designated board meeting for consideration and that is usually only once or twice a year. So it is important to get your request in before these meetings. I put together a pretty nice "Sponsor Packet." The information is presented in a folder with a picture of Cher surrounded by her "kidlets" on the cover. Inside it includes a cover letter explaining who we are, our event, our mission, our goals, followed by a letter from CCA verifying they are the recipient of our efforts, a letter of information about CCA and their brochure, and copies of news articles that have covered our convention. I mailed about sixty of these sponsor requests this year.
Wal Mart makes each store responsible for selecting charities in their specific cities to support. I sent my information to each of the store managers in Las Vegas in 2002. My goddaughter works in the office at one of the Wal Mart stores in Las Vegas. I contacted her and asked if she could help put me in touch with the right people to talk to in regards to getting a donation. She did better than that. She went to her store manager who had received my sponsor packet and she helped push her store to sponsor Cher Convention 2002. This also brought three other stores on board. They wanted to send a store manager to present the donation check, which was $3,000. It was a surprise for CCA. The stores also expect their employees to donate a specific amount of time to charitable events or community service. So we also had four employees come to the Saturday daytime event to help us. In turn, Wal Mart donated money to CCA for each volunteer. And after the event, we received an additional donation for CCA from two more stores. This year it is pretty likely we will have six or seven Wal Mart stores in Las Vegas making a donation. And six volunteers. The volunteers were great and walked away very touched by our event, CCA and the "kidlets."
This year a new company became interested in our efforts and have made a generous donation. They are SoftFlex Company of Sonoma, California. I have a good feeling they will become a regular sponsor. It is always so thrilling to get a donation and know it is helping the kids! And if we can get at least one new company a year and have them become consistent repeat sponsors, it will keep growing!
Kim: I contacted a friend of mine, Margaret Vance, who is a retired national fundraiser. I asked her to help design our sponsor packets. She was very helpful. We sent out about 10 sponsor packets before the first convention. Linda's been in charge of the sponsors since then, and we've continued to use the sponsor packet design that Margaret helped put together. Linda is doing a great job with sponsors. Other sponsors include - Directed Technologies, Inc., Valco Awards and More Inc., Ayers Associates LLC, Star Wares Collectibles, Warners, Community Care Systems, Specialized Products, Diebold Productions Inc., Burns Graphics, and Budget Rental Car. They've all been very generous in donating cash, items, and services.
Has Cher been supportive of the convention? If so, in what ways?
Judy: She's only had nice things to say when asked about the convention at different interviews around the world and she's sent both personal and rare items, which she'd autographed. She has signed items while on tour, which she knew were to be given to the convention for auction, such as Roberta Morucci's painting from Rome. Cher was touring over in Europe at the time so Roberta told us that she wanted to try and get the painting signed and dated before mailing it. And as you can see from the photo to the left, Roberta was able to get that accomplished. She included the photograph because she knew it would help bring in even more dollars for CCA. Roberta's painting sold for $600.
Jody: Thanks to Kim Ritz, a $50 gambling chip went for $2,500 because Cher signed it for the convention. She also gave us permission to make necklaces from her Cher Show logo.
Kim: Cher and her management have been highly supportive. Cher donated and autographed the jacket she wore during the opening number for the Love Hurts tour, which sold at the Cher Convention 2002 live auction for $6,000. Cher also donated and autographed a Cher doll, which also sold in the 2002 auction for $1,000.
What about putting together a convention was harder than you thought it would be?
Judy: Not realizing just how much time and work it was going to take to put it together. We never realized it would become like a full time job for Jody, Kim and I. When 2000 was over, we thought 2002 would be a little easier. But surprise, it turned out to be even more work. We started working on 2002 the day after 2000 ended and we worked right up until the day Cher Convention 2002 began.
Jody: Trusting people I barely knew. Cher Convention 2000 was put together by a group of people who didn't know each other. It took some time for us each to find our niche in the organization and feel comfortable giving others control over aspects of the convention without worrying that it might not get done as well as you might do it.
Also, the Congress Hotel in Chicago said they would love to have us put the convention on there. But the starting price would be $10,000! I was horrified but it was less than the other hotel we contacted. Judy called me and asked me if I was serious about putting the convention together. She was willing to put up $2,500 of her own money as a down payment on the hotel. Judy, Kim and I agreed to see it through, come hell or high-water.
Kim: It did take a lot more time than I ever realized.
What aspect of organizing the convention was easier?
Kim: Communicating through the internet.
Jody: Getting the fans to come.
Judy: Working with Jody, Kim, Char, and Linda. They're truly the best at what they do. There's something very special about the combination of their characters, personalities, and talents that makes amazing things happen, such as producing two-going-on-three very memorable conventions.
What is the most fun aspect of putting the convention together?
Judy: One thing I always look forward to — the four of us getting together in Vegas for our pre-convention meeting with the staff at the Riviera.
Jody: My favorite part of the planning is the pre-convention meeting. We have a blast and laugh more than we work.
Judy: Second — it's a really great feeling seeing our plans and everyone's hard work come together making the convention complete. It's kinda like when you put that final piece into that giant puzzle you've been working on for months, only this is so much better! And last, but certainly not least, reuniting with our friends and fellow fans we'd made from previous conventions, and the excitement of meeting new fans and friends. Each time we get together, we not only leave with wonderful memories, but with a new friend or two
Kim: We built it and they came. I enjoy the excitement of the fans at the conventions. I love that they wear Cher T-shirts and come all decked out as Cher fans and are in the spirit of the convention. I particularly liked a comment after the last convention, "it's all Cher without Cher even being there." I enjoy working with our staff, volunteers, impersonators, and the CCA.
What is the worst aspect of it?
Kim: Contracts and paperwork.
Jody: The actual convention is hard on the staff. It is constant work all weekend and the nagging fear of not providing a weekend that fans will enjoy.
Judy: In the very beginning, it was worrying about our being able to reserve a hotel in Chicago due to the time of year we wanted As it turned out, there were conventions being held all over the city and every hotel was booked, except for a few days still open at The Congress Hotel. The minute we walked into the Gold Room, we saw that it was a room made for royalty, a room where Cher fans, the children and families of CCA deserved to meet, party, and to honor Cher. It was as if it was meant to be!
Can you describe any funny or weird stories about pulling the event together?
Kim: When working on the first convention, we met in various cities around the United States - Las Vegas, Chicago, Detroit, Dayton, Dallas. Seemed every time there was some kind of airline delay.
Jody: At Cher Convention 2000, I arrived two days early. Judy only lived an hour away and had all the merchandise, so she was coming on Friday with Kim. A reporter was waiting to interview the three of us for national newspapers. Judy was late, and later I called her with my usual "What the hell!" attitude and she told me the street department had just gone and re-paved the street in front of her house. She could not get out of the driveway!
Kim: Jody, I completely forgot about that. We had rented a big U-Haul to take all the merchandise to the convention, and wanted to return it the same day to keep our expenses down. We bought all this merchandise and it was stuck in the back of the U-Haul in Judy's driveway. It was stressful at the time, but, looking back now, it's funny. Needless to say, we had to pay extra for the U-Haul. I wanted to turn that bill into the city, but we didn't.
Judy: Jody and I were working on his idea to print flyers to hand out at the concerts and posters to hang where possible. We both started printing these flyers and posters on our personal printers. I remember calling Jody, or did he call me? Anyway, he asked me how many flyers/posters I was able to print per ink cartridge and it was something like ten, if that. I'm not exactly sure; but I knew it was a very low number and I also knew I was running to Radio Shack a lot for ink cartridges. The very same thing was happening with Jody. We were thinking maybe it wasn't such a good idea. Jody said we could go to Kinkos and do all of this printing for a lot less than what we had already spent. Of course it wasn't funny at the time, but when I think about it now it's a hoot and a half.
Did anything ever go wrong that had to be fixed creatively?
Jody: In Chicago, I was in charge of the curtain which was needed for the Friday night show. I forgot to bring anything to sew the curtain to the PVC piping we used. So I substituted a stapler and got the job done. Then on Saturday morning I was in charge of the museum. The wall that I designed to hold many of the framed memorabilia did not work at all. We had to put all the pictures on tables. Then, we underestimated the amount of time it would take to set up the main convention hall and had to open the doors an hour late to some very anxious fans who waited patiently for us to get our act together. I made an error in printing our guest list for the Saturday daytime event and had to literally run a few blocks to find a Kinkos who could print the file for me. On Saturday, The Congress Hotel workers took out the dance floor in the dining room without our knowledge. Every little thing you get at hotels costs extra. To have a raised stage or dance floor cost extra for the install and take down. We thought the dance floor would stay in the dining room because it was there Friday night. But the workers removed it because we hadn't specified. So in the middle of our stressed out day on Saturday, the dance floor incident occurred. The hotel was willing to put it back.... for $500! We were all shocked! We eventually settled for a reinstall at a lesser amount.
Kim: At the first convention, Mark Hussman loaned us a cord to plug the CD player into the house speaker system. When it was Wayne's time to perform, we couldn't find the cord. He had to improvise. He was quite creative.
[Interviewer's Note: This is one of my fondest memories from the first convention, Wayne improvising to kill time by singing non-Cher songs acappella as Cher would sing them. It was hilarious. I keep hoping he'll do that bit again. I'm ready to shout out "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."]
Second convention, we misplaced our Sonny & Cher tape that we were going to use as filler between the skits during our mock Sonny & Cher Show. Wayne improvised throughout the evening and was very creative and entertaining. One of the highlights was when he was backstage getting ready for his next performance, he jokingly started gossiping about Char and Dann over the house mic.
What aspect of the convention has changed from the first one to the third one?
Jody: We have four main organizers now instead of three.
Judy: With Cher Convention 2004, it's been easier on us since certain jobs have been designated for others to handle. And they've all been doing a super job!
Kim: The first one was a lot of work. The second one was a lot more work. The third one seems easier so far, as we were able to take a break this time.
How is the labor divided these days?
Kim: I am the event and show coordinator, the media chairman, and I work on our www.cherconvention.com website. One of the main reasons it has gotten easier over time is because of dividing the work further. Robyn Fisher takes care of the merchandise. Mike Werdman is our graphics person. Mary Ladd is in charge of the games and started our very first website. Ward Lamb and Dann Queta have done the seminars. Brad Wright oversees the daytime event, the vendor setup, and assists with the auctions. As of this convention, Sonny Smith is in charge of the evening shows. And, Mark Hussman is helping me with the daytime show.
Judy: My responsibilities are dealing with the hotel (contracts, insurance, dinner menus, etc.), working with Linda Vala on ordering all the merchandise that's sold at each convention, putting together our three auction lists, two live and one silent, and any online auctions after or before each convention. Char Smith and I watch over the convention account. I renew our tax-exempt status when necessary, which just happens to be due after Cher Convention 2004. And then of course there are times when I have to borrow Cher's whip to keep everyone in line. Ok, I'm just joking about that last part.
Jody: I am responsible for everything registration-related, museum coordination, program, audio, video and will do the auctions this year. I keep track of all incoming money and deposit the funds and report monthly to CCA for accounting purposes. If someone needs to talk to a reporter, I am usually the only one with enough guts to do it.
How was having the convention in Chicago different from having it in Las Vegas?
Jody: Chicago was the obvious choice for the first convention because of its convenient location to many of the organizers. The Congress Hotel was older but had recently refurbished its convention space and was very nice. Chicago was easier for me because I am a little familiar with Chicago. Although The Congress Hotel in Chicago was very good to us, The Riviera Hotel in Vegas has exceeded their helpfulness.
Kim: I love having it at The Riviera. They are fantastic to work with. We all enjoyed the Gold Room in Chicago, but we also enjoy the view from the penthouse ballroom at The Riviera.
Judy: I've always loved Chicago, so our having the very first convention there will always be very special and the number one convention for me. As for the difference, The Riviera has a better staff and they supply us with everything we ask for or need, and if they don't have it, they help us find it.
How would you describe the kinds of Cher fans you have met at Cher conventions?
Judy: I've found that they're just as unique and just as special as Cher, except for two itsy bitsy things ... most of them can't sing or act their way out of a paper bag. I'm just joking on that last part. Cher fans also have a wonderful sense of humor. :-)
Linda: I have met so many great Cher fans that I call friends because of being involved in the convention. Cher fans have such a great and giving spirit! Everyone attending the convention just has so much fun being together and celebrating Cher and CCA. I just love doing this!
What about Cher fans surprised you when you first started meeting them at conventions?
Kim: How nice and helpful they are. How much of an impact Cher has had on their lives.
Jody: How patient they are and willing to do anything to help make the event successful. They spend a small fortune to travel and attend the convention, and then many of them are willing to work all weekend, too. I look forward to seeing everyone and they all know me before I can think of their names. Lizette O'Rourke from Mexico who doesn't speak English very well, but loves to attend and is very grateful and happy about it. Linda Vala and her Sister Wanda. I met them in Chicago and we hit it off right away.
Judy: They made me feel like I was meeting old acquaintances, instead of people that I didn't know. They're also the most caring, giving and loving people I've ever met.
What is on your wish list for a perfect convention?
Kim: We listen to the fans and do our best to give them the convention they want. I would like for the CCA kids to be more involved, and I would like for us to raise a lot more money for CCA.
Judy: To hand CCA a check for $50,000 during the closing ceremonies from Cher's fans, and from all the people who have ever been involved in helping to make each convention a success.
Jody: —but with Cher actually accepting the CCA donation that the fans work so hard to get. I would like to get someone to bring one of those printing machines that makes pictures of people with someone else's body. I think fans would love to have pictures of themselves superimposed in Cher's wigs or outfits, or be on some magazine cover with her.
Overall, what have you learned in general about fan conventions after having put together three of them?
Jody: It takes a little time to get comfortable working with people you only know through email.
Judy: They're a lot of freakin' work!
Kim: As Char said, "They get easier as you go along." We seem to have a lot more people contacting us as we go along.
Linda: I've been asked why do you do this? and what do you get out of it? It is hard to put into words. It is a good feeling to know that you are doing something that will make a difference in a child's life. These children just touch your heart! I treasure the friendship of Judy, Kim, Jody and Brad.
What advice do you have for fans of other celebrities who would like to start their own conventions?
Kim: You have to front some money to get it going. Between Judy, Jody, and I, we fronted over five thousand dollars. We turned our receipts in to CCA after the first convention and were reimbursed.
Jody: Start with organizing a small group of people who are willing and able to see it through. Many people will tell you they want to do it, but only a few are willing to take a chance on failing with you. Then contact some hotels. Divide your projected expenses by the number of people you think will come and see if you can afford it. Think of creative ways to sell items at the convention to help raise money to cover costs. Contact your celebrity's favorite charity for ideas and possible help with "holding" the money.
Judy: As with anything, you need a solid foundation. So you first have to have reliable people, people with great character, and who are dedicated and very proud of the work that they do, no matter what kind of work that might be. Then you have to have a way to raise money in order to have your convention in a place suitable for the people you're holding the convention for and the person you're honoring. The rest is simply a lot of hard work. ◙
(Cher Scholar, 2004)
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