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'Mini-Gaga' tackles fame in a big way

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Wed October 26, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Terra Jolé is an actress and singer who performs as "Mini-Gaga"
  • She has achondroplasia, which is one of the most common form of dwarfism
  • Jolé has a sizable fan base that includes some famous faces

Editor's note: This weekly series profiles those who capitalize on our obsession with celebrity while always standing just outside of the spotlight.

(CNN) -- She stands just over 4 feet tall and prowls the stage rasping Lady Gaga hits.

But come weekends, you won't find Terra Jolé in the nightclubs partying like a rock star.

"Most short people are at boobie or neck range" with other patrons in the clubs, she explains. "I'm at ass range."

Such quips are definitive Jolé, a petite chanteuse who is as self-deprecating as she is earnestly committed to her career as "Mini-Gaga," an impersonator. The singer-actress has found success in combining the uniqueness of being a little person with her determination to become a star.

Who better to portray than Lady Gaga, who is known for her willingness to traffic in the unexpected?

"Gaga is so exciting to me because she's like an animal," Jolé says. "As long as you are feeling powerful and emotionally driven for the night ... I would say that you are really taking the right steps to becoming 'mini-Gaga.'"

Not that Jolé doesn't consider herself a performer in her own right.

Born in San Antonio to an average-sized family, Jolé has dreamed of a career in Hollywood for as long as she can remember. Along with the blond good looks and the big personality one might expect from a Texas rose, Jolé also has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.

The pint-sized performer decided early on not to let size stop her.

"I've grown up saying, 'Lord please, all I want to do is become a singer,' and I believe he has granted that wish," Jolé says. "The fact that it's not exactly what I envisioned doesn't mean that I'm not still envisioning something more grandiose."

She first came to the public's attention in 2003 with an appearance on MTV's "True Life: I'm a Little Person" special, which chronicled her attempts to break into show business.

After performing as a part of mini-KISS for a few years, she had an offer to perform at a party and was surprised that rather than be asked to come as "an Oompa Loompa or something like that," the client bought into her idea of showing up as "Mini-Britney Spears."

That launched her career as a Lilliputian look-alike, and soon she was appearing everywhere, from television shows like "CSI: Las Vegas" to touring with rapper T-Pain and Lil Wayne and starring in the Las Vegas show "Little Legends." On the big screen, Jolé has appeared in films such as "Jackass 3D" and "Tales From Beyond."

She now has her own company, "Mini-Popstars," with other small impersonators, including "Mini-Beyonce," "Mini-Michael Jackson" and "Mini-Vanilli." And like any big star, she shies away from talking money and fees; she'd much rather focus on how fortunate she feels to be doing what she loves.

"I truly feel like this is so much like the rest of our lives in that if you believe that you can do it, put effort and work into it, then anything is possible," she says.

Jolé has all the trappings of a celebrity: costume designer, manager, publicist and fans who love to be photographed with her. She has met Britney Spears (who Jolé says couldn't have been sweeter) and a quick search of the Web turns up a picture of Lindsay Lohan hanging with Jolé in her Mini-Britney gear.

Jolé has spent hours volunteering with the nonprofit organization Little People of America, and she has written into her contracts a clause that says if the word "midget" is used she will walk. Yet there are still some in her community who aren't thrilled by her career.

"A lot of little people question me and state, 'It's so demeaning' and 'I can't believe you would do that; why don't you just do your own show?' " she says. "That's just like telling any other person why don't you just become your own famous person and see what kind of press you get. No matter who you are or what you are doing, you are always going to get some negative reaction."

Working the stage clearly gives Jolé a buzz. She's meticulous in her preparations. From the makeup to the outrageous costumes, she works hard to achieve the illusion, though she admits she doesn't look much like Gaga or Britney.

As for the sound, Jolé says she sings most of the songs herself -- except for the last number in her act, when she is usually out of breath. Pulling off Gaga's "Bad Romance" is fairly simple given that the husky tune falls in Jolé's natural range. Besides, she says, fans get that she is more tribute performer than spot on.

The biggest challenge, she says, is trying to replicate Gaga's sense of style.

"Everyone remembers the nude latex outfit that she wore at the Grammys when she came out of the egg," Jolé says. "I couldn't find sheets of latex, but I found these heavy shower curtains that I thought would work. Bad idea. It was the worst costume malfunction known to man."

Even though Jolé sometimes gets confused with other little people like Amy Roloff, the mother on TLC's "Little People, Big World," the singer says she enjoys a healthy fan base, especially in the gay community.

Could it only be a matter of time before there is a Terra Jolé impersonator? Absolutely, if she has her way.

"This is like the practice round before I actually become the 'Terra Jolé Show,'" she says, laughing.

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