Proms on the Pier – Toni Lee performs as Karen Carpenter at Proms on the Pier on Saturday 29th
Interview by Francis Winston
Legendary singer Karen Carpenter is still hugely beloved decades after her death. So it would take a brave person to attempt to emulate the star and her distinctive dulcet tones. However singer Toni Lee has no qualms about taking to the stage as the tragic chanteuse and her hugely successful tribute shows continue to enthral fans of the Carpenters both young and old. First coming to prominence when she appeared as Carpenter on the popular TV show Stars In Their Eyes, Lee admits that she wasn’t always aware of her vocal resemblance to the singer.
“I’ve always been around music, both my parents were in the business, so it was natural that I would get into it. I’d always loved The Carpenters since I was very, very little and I thought she had such an amazing voice. When I started doing cabaret shows I’d do some Carpenters songs simply because I loved them. But then people started coming up to me after my shows saying I really sounded like her when I sang those numbers,” she explained. “It’s not something I had ever noticed or thought about but when people kept saying it I started to pay attention to it and I could hear the similarities so it all came from there really.”
Clearly the fans of the Carpenters see the resemblance too as Toni regularly plays her tribute show to packed houses and it can be quite an emotional experience.
“There are sometimes people in tears – not because they are upset but because the songs mean so much to them. Its good tears,” she laughs. “I do a meet and greet in character after my show and I’ve had people just grab me and hug me and I’m thinking ‘they do know I’m not really Karen don’t they?’ But to be able to have that effect on people is wonderful.”
Although she spends a lot of her time as Karen that is not the only diva she has performed as. She has previously toured with an ABBA tribute band and she also has a Blondie tribute show in which she takes on the persona of rock legend Debbie Harry.
“I guess I’m lucky because there is something in the register of my voice that allows me to sound like these great singers,” she says. “I don’t really have to try – it’s just there.
Lots of people try and sound like or emulate a particular singer and it doesn’t work but with me it’s just a natural thing. I don’t have to force it.”
When not performing as other people Toni works on her own music and performs regular cabaret gigs where she performs a variety of songs by different artists. However it is as Karen that she will next hit our shores this weekend when she takes to the stage for the inaugural Proms on the Pier in Dublin’s Dun Laoighre. In the past she has played in the area taking to the stage of the Pavilion Theatre but this is a far larger outdoor event that sees her share the bill with the likes of Legendary Ultravox frontman Midge Ure and 70s supergroup 10CC but the veteran singer isn’t fazed by the prospect.
“I’ve played quite a few festivals before with the ABBA tribute and stuff so I’m not worried about it. I think it’s going to be a really good day. I was really flattered when my Irish manager rang me up and asked me to take part because it’s the first one and there are such great names on the bill. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great show.”
Toni Lee performs as Karen Carpenter at Proms on the Pier on Saturday 29th August alongside Phil Coulter, Mide Ure, 10Cc and more. On Sunday 30th August Melanie McCabe, Johnny Logan and Air supply will take to the stage. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster from €49.50 www.promsonthepier.ie
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