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© 2003, Tad "Baxil" Ramspott


Sheen discusses fame, relationships, science fiction, and theri empowerment

By Tetra Breton, SWUB Entertainment Writer

(FROM: Soft White Underbelly: The Anthropomorphic Arts & Entertainment of Sin City, Vol. 1, Iss. 3)

SHEEN IS a uniquely Las Vegas success story, all the way from the slinky costumes right down to the catchy stage name. Persistence and talent brought her to the spotlight -- and the mother of all progressive-jackpot lucky breaks now has her poised on the brink of national stardom.

That break would be, of course, The Changes. In late 1996, Isabelle Corey was a would-be singer trying to break into the business while paying the bills as an exotic dancer. By New Year's, she was a self-described "cat person," with furred allure and a voice that grabs you by the throat and drags you, enraptured, right onto the alley fence.

SWUB caught up to Sheen after a performance in Paradise Las Vegas' intimate Starlight Lounge, where she has quickly become the top headliner as word of mouth has made her shows hotter than the proverbial tin roof. She graciously agreed to an exclusive interview, printed below.

SWUB: First things first. It's all about your voice. I've heard people describe it as "unearthly," although I personally prefer the simple "unbelievable." What's your secret?

Sheen: If there's any secret to it, it's that I was working on it for years and years. I've always had a cat inside me waiting to be let out, I guess; if you listen to some old tapes I did before The Changes, you can hear that my technique hasn't changed any. But suddenly I had these incredible new vocal cords to play with, and they were exactly what I needed, and I just started using them and it was like I was born with them. I attribute that to all the practice.

SWUB: It shows. The sultriness just drips off your lyrics.

Sheen: (laughs) I'm ashamed to admit it, but that's 100 percent practice, too. I'm actually sort of a boring person in my real life, but when I get on the stage it's just like there's a switch that clicks, and once you make contact with the audience, you know, once they look at you, listen to you, it's all about giving them what they want.

SWUB: Your background working in a strip club must have helped you out a lot there.

Sheen: Not how you think, but, yes. The secret has nothing to do with sex or seduction, and you're not going to believe me, but I promise you it's true. What people want is a connection. You're singing for them and them alone. You're staring at their heart and you're opening up to them, to their desires. Of course, in a strip club, it's not hard to guess what those desires are. On a stage it's much different, and in some ways I'm still learning there.

SWUB: A lot of your fans think you deserve much bigger exposure. Do you think you're ready for the national stage?

Sheen: No. ... No, not now, maybe not ever. I couldn't sing in an arena, maybe not even a concert hall. It would completely break my performance not to be able to make eye contact with everyone in my audience. Lounge singing made me, and it's where I feel at home.

SWUB: Which -- if the rumors I've heard are true -- isn't to say you're planning to stay small potatoes.

Sheen: (laughs) Not for lack of trying. You wouldn't believe the party I was hired for last week. I was the only one there not wearing enough jewelry to choke a dragon. I felt so out of place. But you can't turn down that sort of fee.

SWUB: So you don't take very naturally to wealth and fame?

Sheen: My daughter would kill me if I got too pretentious.

SWUB: Is she a theri too?

Sheen: She hasn't shown much interest in it. She already gets teased enough about her mom at school. She's so self-conscious, and I can understand it. Maybe I'll talk to her about it in a decade, when she's grown up and gotten her degree. Now that I can afford it you'd better believe she's getting a college education.

SWUB: Did you attend college yourself?

Sheen: I was at CCSN for a few semesters. Loved the drama program but I couldn't focus on the rest of my studies. I dropped out so I could have enough time to take care of my daughter and chase my dreams. Even though I'm doing exactly what I'd someday hoped to do, I still regret that. Someday I hope to have the time to go back.

SWUB: I'm really curious about something that might be a personal question.

Sheen: Shoot.

SWUB: Who did you write "Offertory" for?

Sheen: Ah, the age-old "who's the man in my life." My pat answer for that one is always: "Wouldn't you like to know?"

SWUB: So there is a man in your life, then?

Sheen: Well, insofar as "Offertory" goes, it's a complex case. Maybe the best way to put it is that the me that I want to be wrote "Offertory" for the man I wish he was. When you get back to the messy business of reality, I'm not sure how to describe our relationship, except that it isn't.

SWUB: And are you otherwise pursuing romance?

Sheen: Not really, not actively. Maybe if the right guy comes along.

SWUB: I'm sure a lot of your fans will be relieved to hear that.

Sheen: I guess. The thing about fans, though, is that they fall in love with your stage persona. You don't get to show them the real you, and even if you did it would break the spell. I can promise them, though, that Sheen will always be there for them; she's not getting attached to anyone else, ever.

SWUB: Speaking of which, what's the origin of your stage name?

Sheen: Oh, you'd hate me if I told you. It's a stupid story.

SWUB: No, really. Tell me.

Sheen: (laughs self-consciously) When I was little my family had a cat. My parents named it Gina. When I was learning to talk I kept calling it "Sheen-a." And, like all nicknames, it evolved from there. I remember that by the time I was in kindergarten she was "Sheeny-boo." Everyone in the house called her that. And she was the sweetest, lovingest cat ever. So when I had to come up with a name for myself, that's what came to mind. But of course I couldn't go with "Sheeny-boo" on the stage, so I shortened it.

SWUB: Huh.

Sheen: It feels like going back to my roots. It's a comfort to me, reminding me of who I am.

SWUB: Did you consider yourself a theri before The Changes, then?

Sheen: Not like people like Dennis Redwing, no. I wasn't waiting for this to happen. I had a background where the idea seemed to come naturally once the world changed, but I never would have seriously explored the idea if they hadn't started walking the streets.

SWUB: What do you mean by that background? What drew you to the idea?

Sheen: I've always been a cat person. Uh, I mean, someone who likes cats. But it wasn't until about, um, 1991 that I found my niche. My kid brother -- he's just graduating from high school now, but he was 11 or 12 at the time -- he was a real geek. My folks bought him a used computer back then, an old PC, and he had this game called Wing Commander. They used to ask me to come over and baby-sit him, and he was addicted to that game for a while. I would watch him play, and I got really fascinated by the Kilrathi. The idea that you could have cats who could walk and talk and fly starships turned me on. It resonated with me at a deeper level, that there was a way to be a cat without giving up all of the things that make us who we are.

SWUB: Was that your biggest influence?

Sheen: Well, that's what got me started digging deeper into the idea. I could hardly mention the Kilrathi without also talking about Larry Niven's Kzinti --

SWUB: Oh, are you a Niven fan?

Sheen: Isn't every science fiction reader? ... Didn't you catch the reference in the chorus of "The Ring"?

SWUB: Can't say I made the connection.

Sheen: You need to stay inside more. (laughs) But I do have to say, as much as I like his writing, the kzinti didn't really grab me. For one thing, the females are stupid breeding machines. Not much of a role model. And, you know, it's going to destroy any geek credibility I might have built up, but I think the single biggest influence on my persona was Catwoman, from the old Batman series. I never started watching it until the '90s, but that worked out, because much earlier and I wouldn't have really been able to appreciate her for what she was.

SWUB: And what about the Thundercats?

Sheen: The who?

SWUB: It was a cartoon in the '80s. I hear a lot of feline theris citing them as role models.

Sheen: Cartoons? I was never really into the kid stuff.

SWUB: A lot of people would disagree with you about that, but let's move on. How has being a theri changed your life?

Sheen: That's a tough one. How hasn't it?

SWUB: Well, for one, how do people react to you differently, off the stage as well as on it?

Sheen: Hmm. Like I said earlier, my daughter gets a lot of flak from her classmates. For me, most of the time, people recognize me as Sheen before they recognize me as a theri, so I'm not really sure I know.

SWUB: Well, what's the worst act of discrimination you've ever faced as a theri?

Sheen: That's much easier to answer, but let me say right off the bat that I am completely not typical. Every single one of my theri friends can rattle off some horror story. Some of them have been attacked for just walking down the street. So I know that I've been blessed, that the worst experience that comes to mind is being asked not to shed on the carpet.

SWUB: (laughs) You're kidding.

Sheen: Nope. It was a very well-intentioned but totally misguided party host, who kept trying to usher me out from his living room to the back porch. Once I finally figured out why, I was a little offended, but it was too funny to take seriously. Of course, we were both two sheets to the wind.

SWUB: Has being a theri been, on the whole, a positive experience for you?

Sheen: Well, obviously, it's made me who I am today. It's been an unqualified success. But also, on a more personal level, it's been very deeply empowering.

SWUB: How so?

Sheen: (considers) I can't name names or provide any details, because it would stir up a whole lot of trouble that should stay in the past. But back at the beginning of my career, just a few months after The Changes actually, this slimeball went for me. It was the end of the evening, he'd thrown all sorts of money into dating me, and he expected to go all the way and wouldn't take no for an answer. I let him take me home and let him come in to use the john, but he followed me into my bedroom. Before I could react, he had me down on the bed. I don't want to think about what would have happened next if I hadn't been able to stop him cold with a handful of claws to the throat.

SWUB: Oh my God.

Sheen: Last I heard, he'd moved out of state. Good riddance.

SWUB: Didn't you file charges? That's attempted rape.

Sheen: It was my word against his, and he had connections. And even if I had, it wouldn't have stopped it from happening. Some of the dancers I used to work with got stuck in similar situations, and those are horror stories you really don't want to hear. ... You know, I think being a theri was the only thing that saved me that night. And now, even if it meant not having to face the discrimination I see around me, I can't imagine changing back. Having the power to stand up for yourself is the most liberating thing I can think of.

SWUB: Yeah.

Sheen: Yeah.         ***

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