Christina Bianco isn’t really a diva, but she loves to impersonate them.
I asked her when she first discovered this talent.
“It’s sort of a funny answer and I have another show where I attempt to answer this fully, but it’s really an odd thing. So, I wanted to sing – instantly. As soon as I could speak, my parents tell me, I was singing – and trying to sing every genre of music from opera to jazz to country to rock and all in my own voice. I just wanted to sing. And occasionally, my parents tell me, that when I would sing along to whoever was playing, I would inadvertently take on the tone and the style of that particular artist,” explained Bianco.
She said if she was watching The Wizard of Oz she’d sing along to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in a voice mimicking Judy Garland.
“I didn’t know I was doing it. It wasn’t like I was, ‘Hey mum, listen to me do this impression’. I just had a good ear for it,” said Bianco.
“I remember a few times, as I was getting older, my mom saying, ‘Don’t sing it like the recording Christina, sing it like you’,” Bianco reflected, explaining that she thought her mother was referring to her choice of phrasing and musical choices.
“I didn’t know I was trying to sound like Whitney Houston or Judy Garland!” exclaimed Bianco.
Christina Bianco was involved in professional musical theatre from a young age in the New York area. She went to college and had never done any impersonations.
It was after graduating from college and doing various gigs around the country that Bianco realised she was always being called on for certain roles and was considered to be very versatile. She would be asked to take on certain vocal qualities and then told, “Oh yes, you take direction well”.
“So, I realised that being vocally flexible could be an asset,” said Bianco.
However, at that point in her career, Bianco still didn’t think she could do impressions of other performers.
“It wasn’t until I auditioned for Forbidden Broadway in New York. For those who don’t know, Forbidden Broadway is a long running show that spoofs and parodies all of the Broadway shows, and their stars, and it’s two guys and two girls. And so in it, they do some impressions. I was always listening to those albums and going to see those performances ever since I was a kid … I would sing along to the cast albums, sort of impersonating the impersonators, and I saw this audition notice for Forbidden Broadway and there I am, finally an adult in my 20s, and I thought it wouldn’t be embarrassing if I went for this audition. I can mimic. I can change my voice enough to sound like people, so maybe they’d be interested in working with me,” recalled Bianco.
“I called my mom and said, ‘Does this sound like Bernadette Peters to you?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, but you’ve always been able to do that’.”
Christina Bianco explained that while the impersonations and mimicry had come very natually to her, it took a long time before she began to take it seriously. It was only when she was cast in Forbidden Broadway and she was reviewed well and received a Drama Desk Award nomination that it finally occurred to her that she was actually very good at this and people wanted to hear it.
“It made me want to learn more and spend more time on the impressions,” said Bianco.
Christina Bianco has now built up a repertoire of over one hundred singing and speaking impersonations.
“I don’t put them all in one show,” laughed Bianco, explaining her selection for each show will depend on the audience and location.
She does, however, have her favourites: Celine Dion, Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand are generally included in every show.
“My personal favourite to do is Celine Dion. Celine has so many funny ‘isms’. They’re so clear: she has such a distinct voice and her pronunciation and phrasing of her words. She moves in a unique way and her facial expressions – she has very obtuse facial expressions, not unlike myself, so it’s really fun to do her.”
While Christina Bianco has a large number of impersonations to choose from, she also knows there are some performers she simply can’t mimic.
“We all have our vocal limitations … I have a pretty wide range, but that doesn’t mean I can do everyone. I have a pretty clear voice. I don’t have a lot of rasp or grit in my voice, so that cancels out so many artists that I will never be able to do. For example, I can only do Tina Turner if I have a cold!” said Bianco.
“I like all of the impressions I do in my show to be of a similar calibre and I am proud of all them. I’ve worked on all of them and I’m happy with all of them. But I never, ever want to hurt my voice – it’s my livelihood. So my ego goes out the window. I do not need to do everybody.” explained Bianco.
Christina Bianco is always looking for new impressions, regularly asking her friends who they are listening to and adding to her repertoire with distinct voices such as Ariana Grande. Performing for the first time in Australia, she said the one person everyone has asked about is whether she can do Kylie Minogue.
“I did Kylie for the first time in the UK this past December, for my Christmas show, and I did her singing a Christmas song, so I’m actually trying to figure out, right now, which Kylie song to include.”
Christina Bianco shot to international fame when her impersonations on YouTube went viral. While she knows that most YouTubers are a younger generation, her live audiences are a much broader range and Bianco ensures she has a range of impressions to cater for all ages.
“There really is something for everyone. I have a show where I go from Ariana Grande to Barbra Streisand to Edith Piaf. I try to put in something for the children, the parents and the grandparents, so they can all come together – because that’s what happened on YouTube,” she said, explaining that her videos were being shared amongst adults as much as the younger YouTubers.
Bianco also adds in some of her own voice to her live performance, “I’m Christina Bianco, first and foremost. In my live shows it’s a real honour, but people really do respond to my own voice and not just the impressions. I find putting my own voice in my own concert is not only lovely for me, to show the audience a bit of me, but it makes the audience appreciate the impressions more when they know what I sound like.”
While her show is called Diva Moments and involves doing impressions of some of the great music divas, Christina Bianco will return to New York to be in the Broadway revival of the play The Rise and Fall of Little Boys, playing a character who does impressions. Without a doubt, she’ll nail it.
Christina Bianco is performing in Diva Moments at The Alex Theatre, St Kilda on March 8th and 9th.