Gigging with Gaga
Chevonne (aka Lauren Ianuzzi ’07) Makes a Break for Pop Stardom
Chevonne, the artist formerly known as Lauren Ianuzzi ’07, has gone from staging a musical at Swarthmore to sharing a stage with international pop stars Estelle and Lady Gaga. Her flexibility, talent, and big hair, not to mention her adoption of a single stage name, will help further propel her career in the music industry, she hopes.
That stage name is a product of family lore. Her mother always wanted to call her Chevonne, but her dad worried that Chevonne Ianuzzi “was too much name for one little girl,” she says. Lauren turned out to be one of the most common names of the 1980s, so, after Swarthmore, Chevonne assumed the “awesome” name she believes she was always meant to have.
After graduation, Chevonne headed to New York, but the first few years brought a series of “terrible backup jobs.” To make ends meet, she was a hostess at her dad’s restaurant, a full-time babysitter, and a college-essay tutor.
Then Chevonne heard about open-call auditions for backup singers and dancers for Lady Gaga. She had been a fan of Gaga’s since the flamboyant performer was showcasing her work on MySpace.
Chevonne knew she needed some theatrics to stand out, so she showed up in a handmade costume and covered her resumé in glitter. After making the final cut, Chevonne was brought to a supposedly secret location at a warehouse in New Jersey.
“Of course I knew where it was because I’m from Jersey,” Chevonne says with a laugh. Her audition included a performance in front of Lady Gaga herself, right after the star’s “Bad Romance” had become a smash hit.
Chevonne lost out to another woman, but her career picked up again when a friend directed her to an audition that would determine Estelle’s new backup singer. She won the coveted spot and joined Estelle on her 2010 European tour that included stops at the World Cup and the Black Entertainment Television Awards dinner.
While still with Estelle, a call came from one of Lady Gaga’s agents offering Chevonne a spot, based on her earlier audition. “Estelle was really supportive” when she chose Gaga, says Chevonne. The experience taught her to “never burn a bridge, [and] always tell the truth.”
Chevonne toured the United States, Europe, and Canada with Gaga’s 2011 Monster Ball. Though singing in the rain in front of 50,000 people in Mexico City was unforgettable, her most glamorous moment was appearing beside Gaga in HBO’s live airing of Monster Ball at Madison Square Garden. A popular video of Lady Gaga’s impromptu a cappella singing backstage also features Chevonne. “She was gracious enough to share her spotlight at height of her career,” Chevonne says.
After the Monster Ball tour ended, the singer/dancer got her next big break: Season three of NBC’s The Voice. Chevonne performed on three stages in three episodes and “received amazing feedback from [the show’s] coaches.” It was surreal to “listen to these huge rock stars’ advice” about her potential as a pop star, she explains.
Asked about her influences, Chevonne describes her mom’s ’60s and ’70s chart-toppers by groups such as the Kinks, the Zombies, the Supremes, and her dad’s Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“I received an amazing, rounded popular music education,” says Chevonne, who is classically trained in piano and also plays tenor sax. I’m a “hybrid of everything,” she insists. Her advice for aspiring musicians? “Clog your ears with everything you can get your hands on.”
Chevonne attributes her ability to integrate different genres of music to her time at Swarthmore. “At any other school I would have had to choose, ”she says. “At Swarthmore, I did everything.” That includes majoring in music, singing in two a capella groups, and co-writing with Katie Chamblee ’07 a musical score for the junior-year show “We Are So Them.”
This month, she and her band of Jersey natives, Chevonne and the Fuzz, plan to unveil a new album and website, financed by the $10,000 they raised through Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform for creative projects.
Chevonne describes her band’s style as “too poppy to be a rock band but too much rock to [be] pop.” It sounds “old school,” says Chevonne, “but when we play live it really rocks. You really have to see us live.”