The multifaceted diva brings her greatest hits to Joe's Pub.
Tue May 17 2011
Photograph: Liz Liguori
As a little girl growing up on the Texas-Louisiana border, Amber Martin knew she was destined to live in New York: "I saw Fame," she says. "That was it." She didn't take a direct path from the deep South to the big city, though; first came stints in Los Angeles ("I was there for the riots") and Portland, Oregon. But Martin's blend of brash (sometimes bizarre) comedy and beautiful music fit perfectly in her tough-yet-sentimental adopted home—and has earned her a devoted gay following. For the next two Saturdays, she's bringing the best of her original-character-packed Amber Alert! series to Joe's Pub, where she'll be joined onstage by a who's who of downtown stars, including Bridget Everett, Justin Vivian Bond and Cole Escola. Definitely catch her now—before she gets bigger than Fame.
You spend much of your show in garish makeup and wigs, and all of your costume and makeup changes are done onstage. Do you ever just want to stand there in a pretty dress and sing?
Yeah! I'm working on a tribute to Laura Nyro. I want to have a band with a horn section, and I just want to sing an evening of Laura Nyro in a nice outfit. Maybe I'll go buy myself a fancy Bob Mackie vintage dress. You know...with my tax-return money.
Where do you see yourself going? Broadway? Carnegie Hall?
When I think about Broadway—I'd be a fool to say no. But it's so grueling. And Carnegie Hall! That's the fantasy. But I've always wanted to have my own TV show—and that's what Amber Alert! has become, a live version of that. I want to do my own version of The Carol Burnett Show—on acid, for adults. The kids can watch too. [Laughs]
Your mom often joins you onstage via Skype. Does she enjoy performing?
Here's the thing: My mom was a singer, but she quit performing when I became part of her life. She, like many other Southern women from that era... Well, maybe she had some dreams, but she got married and had a kid and that became her life. So as I started out, I had this idea to do something live on speakerphone. And it was so cool because it got her back onstage, even though she's in Texas in her bedroom. [Laughs] Now she's actually flown out here three times and we've performed together. And that's how that all began—with the speakerphone, and then Skype.
You do a dead-on Reba McEntire, and you seem to have a love-hate relationship with her.
I certainly don't hate Reba! I laugh at Reba. I think she's a caracture of herself. There's no doubt that she's a legend and has one of the prettiest voices ever. But I have these two VHS tapes of Reba; it's like her greatest video-hits compilation. She's got this huge hair...you know, '80s Reba. It's simple and hilarous, and that's where my Reba comes from.
How will your upcoming Joe's Pub gigs differ from your regular Amber Alert! shows?
These shows are going to be kind of a best-of-greatest-hits mashup of all of the Amber Alerts—and each one has been so different. I can't wait.
I've seen you perform at Nowhere, and you cohost the monthly Mattachine party at Julius'. If you become a big TV star, will we still find you hanging out in gay dives?
Absolutely! Those are my people. My best friends in the world are gay, and it turns out they're the best audience. Nothing against the straights. You know...they can be fun too.