It was one of the times in my life I spent the most isolated. My immediate response to this was to seek out my local library. There, I checked out the soundtrack to Fame on a whim and discovered, to my great surprise, that it was really good. When the school year started, one of my new classmates at my new college responded with, “Oh, yeah—have you seen the movie?” I had not. I did. I have since bought it on multiple formats. Genuinely, it has become one of my all-time favourite movies, which would have surprised 1999 me, if you went back to that lonely summer and talked to her and got a word in edgewise.
Irene Cara is not the only person of enormous talent from that movie, but my Gods she has enormous talent in that movie. She plays Coco Hernandez, the “little bit of everything” student at the performing arts school; she uses the line to refer to her ethnicity, but it’s also true of her talents. In the movie, she gets into the school for dance, but she is more than just a dancer. She sings the title song, true, but also the much more moving “Out Here on My Own.” She accompanies herself on the piano in that one. We don’t see her act; we don’t see much acting in the movie, because that’s a bit meta, but she does get one of the most heartrending moments in the whole thing where she’s conned into an audition that isn’t what she expected it to be.
Cara also won an Oscar for cowriting the song “Flashdance . . . What a Feeling.” She was initially hesitant about working with one of her cowriters, Giorgio Moroder, because she was already getting compared to Donna Summer, his frequent collaborater. However, Cara was her own. She got her start on The Electric Company as part of “The Short Circus.” She sang in English and Spanish, and unlike many people who sang in two languages—such as Selena and Richie Valens—she didn’t learn her Spanish phonetically. If anything, Irene Cara was more talented than Coco.
To my great joy, she also turns out to have done Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, and, blessings upon this person’s house, someone has uploaded it to YouTube. Mary Magdalene is the kind of role that’s frankly made for someone of Cara’s abilities. She did a lot of stage work, including playing Myrlie Evers once, and I’m glad to discover that, because her celebrity diminished to the general public in the post-Flashdance years. One wonders how things might have been different had her TV show been picked up in the early ‘80s.
Irene Cara should have been an even bigger star than she was. She was a woman of enormous abilities and talents, with a phenomenal singing voice, great acting skills, and a touch for composing and writing lyrics. She was one of the icons of the ‘80s, a woman whose voice will be remembered. It’s only a shame that so few people remember her name.