“I always knew I was going to be a singer, whatever capacity that was. I grew up in a family with a lot of love but it was also a lot of hard times, so no matter what I did, I knew I wanted to be successful because I didn’t want to struggle. I always wanted more, in my life, so I always went after it.” – Jodi Katz
Jodi Katz has catapulted herself into a stratosphere where the chosen are a select few. Locals can tell you that Katz never feared a microphone. Her husky vocals, polished strut, and unshakable confidence are inherent. Do not let her dazzling smile and diminutive stature fool you though, the 11-year veteran of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra spent years pulling the weeds and tilling the soil, meticulously earning every portion of her success. Underneath her infectious charisma is a fierce warrior and she has all intentions of unwaveringly keeping the high ground.
Once you hear her voice and understand her determination, the fact she now finds herself lending her powerhouse vocals as a backup singer for the one and only Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe-winning (and the list goes on) diva Cher, was an inevitable reality. But that is what happens … when you answer the call.
So how does an individual go from choosing one present a year from the Salvation Army to background singer for a living icon? To borrow a quote from Rihanna, “Work work work work work work….,” plus a good word from a long-time friend, and a little help from above.
“It’s not luck. I was working my butt off. I never had a plan B. If I had a plan B, plan A wouldn’t work. I mean I took every job. I never stopped. I didn’t grow up with parents that were wealthy or go to a performing arts school and have private lessons. I started learning from my gigs,” Katz says. “I cannot say that I could have foreseen I would ever end up with Cher but I did have the hope and dreams, the relentlessness and the drive to end up here, I just didn’t know it would be Cher.”
But given her frontwoman-caliber vocals, it was only a matter of time before Katz would find her way from obscurity to the tour bus of an international megastar.
“I owe my job to Joel Hoekstra for putting my name in,” Katz states. Hoekstra, a long-time friend of Katz, guitarist for Whitesnake, Cher and Trans-Siberian Orchestra approached Katz about background vocals for the Cher tour, adding Katz’s name as a candidate. Katz sent a video to Cher’s music director replacing the lyrics of “If I Could Turn Back Time,” to “I Really Want That Job.”
“I was so excited and I got this crazy feeling over me — I felt like I’m going to be on tour with Cher,” Katz recalls.
Katz is very familiar with that “crazy feeling,” and had she not continually trusted it, she would not have connected with her mentor, Broadway playwright Mark Schoenfeld of Manchester, essentially starting a domino effect that would lead her to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Immediately after completing 50-plus shows in six-weeks for TSO, Katz learned she had been selected as Cher’s new vocalist. She had two days of rehearsals with longtime backing vocalist Nichelle (Nikki) Tillman, who over her career has shared the stage with various stars including Joe Cocker and Tina Turner. “She’s a mamma bear,” Katz says with affection. Katz met Cher before her first performance. “We ran three songs with the band then Cher walked in and introduced herself and gave me a hug, a real hug!” says Katz.
How does Katz feel about this next phase in her career and sharing the stage with a living legend?
“Humbled. I’m very aware that not many artists get to play arenas, but the next phase of that is, not many artists get to share an arena stage with an icon. She is so kind, she tours with her best friend and surrounds herself with people that she has known her whole life. Everyone is very welcoming and that starts from the top down. It’s a whole other magical experience touring an arena with Cher because her fan base includes everybody and people go bananas for her. She’s this legend, this icon, this beauty queen. From the minute the show starts to the minute of the last note they are on their feet, screaming, taking pictures, crying. Every night I get butterflies! She is 73-years-old and she puts everything she has on the stage every show. [Read more on Sonny and Cher’s Canobie Lake performance here]
For a woman who was literally one of the catalysts for the international explosion of Studio 54, it would only follow suit to have a stage show of spectacle and fantasy. Dancers, aerialists, and a life-size elephant perform on an ever-changing, visually sumptuous stage, straddling between concert and theatrics. Of course, Cher has multiple costume changes, dripping in the glittering scantily clad opulence of the one-and-only quintessential costume designer of the 1970s and beyond, Bob Mackie.
Katz’s biggest cheerleader and supporter, her father, passed away when Katz was 26, but Katz is convinced that his spirit remains by her side. A friend recently told her that her father “would be so happy” about her success, to which, Katz answered, “He is happy. He knows,” says Katz. “He was the proudest Dad. He used to tell people when I was 15 I was going to be bigger than Elvis.”
Katz says 2019 has been a reflection of miraculous events, courtesy of her father. Her brother had his first child; her mother won over $20,000 on a single BINGO ticket; and she is touring with Cher. As further evidence of Katz’s father’s influence from the ethereal, her biopic article, “Jodi Katz, She Doesn’t Need A Microphone,” was released, unplanned by Manchester Ink Link, on Father’s Day.
“Sure, my dream was to be ‘the’ Cher, but honestly, I always just wanted to sing. As a back-up vocalist you are getting all the same experience, the massive venues, you are staying in the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons, you are on the tour bus and you have 20,000 people applauding you but it is without the pressure and ridicule. Would I want to be a frontwoman because I love entertaining? I think with the right situation, sure. My dream was always to be a professional singer in any capacity fate had in store,” says Katz.
As impressive as her career continues to be, Katz is mindful of the cost. “You’re on the road and it’s hard to stay connected to your home life when you are always gone and you are in a different city every night,” she says.
Given her unconventional line of work, Katz’s unbelievable moments are undeniable realities, the likes of which few experience. “Getting the job was a “pinch-me” moment, then, during the Boston show I had 70 friends and family members purchase tickets. I had so much love and support. Cher taking the time to meet my family was an indescribable moment. It was mind-blowing to me. I felt like I was going to explode from happiness that day,” says Katz.
Then there was the Met Gala. Cher was scheduled as the surprise performer, which was also a surprise to the band. “It was like being invited to the cool kids private party with no parents allowed. Katy Perry came in as a chandelier and left as a hamburger and she is five-feet in front of me! Unreal! Every single A-list from models to performers to clothing designers were partying. Cher came out and they went crazy, bowing to her, it was literally insane. Everyone you have ever watched on TV is watching you and they were fabulous, from head-to-toe!” Katz says.
As for her career moving forward, says, Katz, “Cher is on her third farewell tour so hopefully, she continues. I really enjoy the background vocals so hopefully, I can do that some more.” Cher will continue touring in 2020 and Katz will definitely be there, belting out her behemoth vocals.
Katz explains her adoration for performing goes far beyond the bright lights and arena-packed audiences. “If I am artistically happy then it’s not a job but it could be anything. It could be a gig for [Manchester opera singer] Carlos Martinez that is a local town event, and I’m completely fulfilled doing that. I love singing and I never want to stop. Music has always made me happy and always will.”
So do I really believe Jodi Katz is singing back-up for Cher?
Of course I believe.
Actually, Jodi… we all believe.
Cher’s Here We Go Again Tour will return to TD Garden in Boston on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets.
Constance Cherise is a classic film aficionado. Reach her at email@example.com