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  • Bridney C.

Keeping Selena's Legacy Alive: A Discussion with Impersonator, Ilana Palomo

By Bridney C.

Ilana Palomo as Selena photographed by Tony Nonthe.

Ilana Palomo says every time she performs in full makeup and shows costumes as Tejano legend, Selena Quintanilla, she is thankful for the kind feedback fans give after each show.

Ilana, who bears a strikingly similar resemblance to Selena does some of the same mannerisms and dance moves like her. Originally born in Torrington, Wyoming, a small farming town, Ilana says that growing up she was not aware of any "theatrics" that ran in her family.

Also known as IlanasIllusion on Instagram, the 27-year-old Selena impersonator who performs around the United States, says the most liberating thing about performing is interpreting and getting into character before a show, and bringing positive energy for the audience to enjoy.

"It is a pat on the back when those who haven't seen a show, know right away who the portrayal is just by hair and makeup," says Ilana.

Ilana Palomo as Selena photographed by Tony Nonthe.

Each tribute show she performs in usually has two sets which include an opening and closing number that ranges from 6 to 10 minutes. There is typically a cast of other performers, including showgirls, drag queens, and vocalists.

"Practicing has always been really, I guess now, I have to really try moves or looks out to see how they would look on stage or with lighting," says Ilana.

According to Ilana, there are a lot more technicalities that go into rehearsing than most people may think. She assures that each performance is not a "one-woman show" and is thankful for the people who help set-up or adjust tiny details before each set, including the microphone lipstick stain.

Ilana was first drawn to the late Tejano superstars' stage presence and persona as a child. Her father's side of the family heavily influenced her love for Selena by showing her posters and videotapes of her concerts.

What drew Ilana even closer to her was that she reminded her of the other women in her family who had dark hair, tan-skin, and average height.

"Everything at the time that wasn’t really celebrated in the mainstream beauty realm," says Ilana.

Ilana strikes a pose with her photographer, Tony Nonthe.

She gradually eased into the "illusion" since her first start without prior experience with theater or performing professionally. Ilana recalls her first start when she was invited to do a Latin Night at a drag cabaret.

"Thanks to the drag queens and showgirls, I was able to make my way into performing as an illusionist... Life is literally that an illusion of what we create around us and internally."

Ilana says she is fortunate to have made great friends with Instagram creators, @jew_lissa, @thehausofgypsy, @monicatribute2selena, @vladvonhorror

Ilana also is thankful for Joe Rios, a devoted Selena fan and disc jokey from Texas, who gave Ilana her "startup" for a Selena tribute performance at the Rumors Beach Bar in Galveston, Texas.

"It was amazing, and the people of Texas are amazing and beautiful with their hospitality and support," says Ilana.

Ilana also learned how to sew which helped her to create replicas of some of Selena's iconic outfits and accompanying accessories.

She was slated to perform at the Nashville Pride Festival, but due to COVID-19, the festival was canceled which would have been the largest crowd she'd perform in front of. All while being optimistic, Ilana looks forward to performing at more tribute concerts and entertaining fans in the future.

Ilana [Middle] with photographer Tony Nonthe [Right]

And what are some of Ilana's Selena favorites?

For starters, her favorite song by Selena is her 1992 hit, "La Carcacha," and cites that song as being iconic for the "countdown and the little dance that is well known."

Ilana's top three favorite Selena outfits are her Amor Prohibido album cover outfit, the silver dress she wore at the Grammy Awards in 1994, and her all-white ensemble featuring the white pearl boots from her 1994 Houston Astrodome concert.

"If she [Selena] were sitting across from me, I think it would be hard to not want to tell her how much of an influence she’s been to me. Also, being able to take bits and pieces of her own story, and apply that to my own life as a proud, open, and Indigenous-Mexican trans showgirl illusionist."

To see more from Ilana Palomo, follow her on Instagram @ilanasillusion 

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