Chad Michaels, the world’s most famous Cher impersonator, shares his unique drag journey

via Chad Michael’s Facebook

You may remember Chad Michaels from his triumph in Season One of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. This prolific drag artist snatched our hearts with his charming personality and spot-on Cher impersonation. Despite stepping into several different characters over the decades, Chad Michaels became synonymous with Cher, whether he intended to or not.

So how did Chad Michaels make a name for himself the world’s most famous Cher impersonator? The legend sat down with GayCities and gave us the answer. We learned about the origins of his iconic character, what it was like meeting Cher, and Chad’s favorite hangouts in his hometown of San Diego.

Becoming Cher

Chad Michaels was first exposed to San Diego’s lively drag scene while working as a bartender in a local nightclub. He was fresh from junior college and ready to make it on his own. “I had always been very, very captivated with drag, whether I knew what it was or not when I was younger… I heard about this drag show The Dreamgirls Revue and I had to go see it,” Chad reminisces.

Originally conceived in 1986 by Nicole Murray Ramirez (Queen Mother of the Americas within the Imperial Court System), The Dreamgirls Revue regularly featured performances by Miss Kiwi, Jasmine Masters, Raja, Morgan McMichaels, Raven, Delta Work, and Mayhem Miller, just to name a few. 

Chad’s journey to Cher began in the audience of this Hillcrest drag revue when he first met his “drag mother” Hunter. Chad remembers being completely captivated by Hunter as he performed Liza and Annie Lennox on top cabaret tables. He remarks, “It was terrifying and everything that you imagine a drag queen to be.” Flattered by Chad’s obvious infatuation, Hunter introduced himself to Chad that evening, and together the pair decided to hone Chad’s drag persona. The performer shares he originally liked the idea of portraying Madonna, though when looking back, he sees that as “totally green.”

Chad later joined The Dreamgirls Revue, in 1993 as it made its way from San Diego to West Hollywood. By the early 2000s, Michaels became one of the main show girls in the rotation, with Cher serving as a major hit. As time went on, he perfected that character, and Chad Michaels diligently made a name for himself as the most celebrated Cher impersonator in the world. He cherishes his time onstage as Cher, noting that his performance is the closest some people will ever come to seeing the real deal. His hair might be fake, but his presence onstage is genuine, inspiring joy in all who watch.

When asked about the origin of his iconic drag persona, he claims that Hunter made him do it. The performer admits he does not have a single Cher poster in his house, he doesn’t own any Cher albums, but he does have huge respect for her. In a way, Chad’s continued exploration of Cher could be read as a love letter to Hunter. When speaking of his former collaborator and longtime friend, Chad grows sad. Unfortunately, Hunter perished in an accident at Rage Nightclub in West Hollywood in 2007.

Sunny with Cher

His spot-on impersonation has inspired many, leading Chad to travel in some interesting circles. Of course, Chad Michaels has met Cher. “I’ve had the pleasure and honor of meeting her several times and she’s always been lovely,” he describes. Though he recalled one saucy encounter at a party in Malibu when he opened for Cher herself. He dropped so many names, we should have brought a mop.

That evening, Chad and Cher had the opportunity to exchange looks in the dressing room. At this point in time, Chad was in full drag, and the real-life Cher was preparing for her upcoming set. As the two bumped into each other, Cher scanned Chad from head to toe and told him, “Wow, you look pretty good.” Sounds like a diva’s seal of approval!

San Diego stomping grounds

Being a native of San Diego, Chad Michaels feels has a special place in his heart for Hillcrest. He shares how the pandemic has hit the gayborhood, home to so many wonderful LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses. Chad gives a shout-out to his favorite hangouts. Be sure to check out these gay hotspots the next time you visit San Diego:

Urban Mo’s – San Diego’s best gay bar

San Diego

Urban MO’s Bar & Grill

Fun in the heart of SD

98% Love it Explore

Gossip Grill – Southern California’s only lesbian bar and grill

San diego

Gossip Grill

For the ladies who love to munch!

98% Love it Explore

Baja Betty’s – Mucho margaritas and drag

San Diego

Baja Betty’s

Gayborhood favorite

99% Love it Explore

Hillcrest Brewing Company – Gay brews and bros

San Diego

Hillcrest Brewing Company

World’s First Gay Brewery

100% Love it Explore

On top of that, he brings up another all too familiar concern, San Diego’s growing population of unhoused neighbors. A side effect of the pandemic and rising housing costs. He says that now, more than ever, it’s important to support businesses that promote meaningful change within the community. “[The LGBTQIA+ community,] we’re really the ones that welcome and help EVERYBODY. That’s just who we are. Because I think that we know what it’s like to go without help.”

Chad Michaels still performs in, and now produces, The Dreamgirls Revue in San Diego. He was also featured in the last season of American Horror Story.

All photos courtesy of Chad Michaels.

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