He's the king of Queen. The champion, my friends. He's somebody to love, your best friend. He's ... well, he's not a fat-bottomed girl. • Freddie Mercury, right? No. He's Gary Mullen, but for nearly a decade, the 36-year-old Scottish singer has been touring the world with a Queen tribute act, uncannily mimicking the band's late and legendary frontman. • In 2000, Mullen, a computer salesman at the time, won Britain's Stars in Their Eyes, a reality TV show where contestants — in their own voices — impersonate showbiz stars. Mullen's take on Mercury, who died in 1991 of AIDS-related illnesses, didn't land him the instant fame and fortune like Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. But it did launch a new career that brings him and "One Night With Queen" to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night. • He recently took time out during an 11-week North American tour to chat with the Times about the show. Here are some highlights:
How long does it take to transform from Gary into Freddie each night?
I've got it down to about 20 minutes. I like to sit in my dressing room, play some music and get in the mood for show. I slowly put the mustache and the wig and costume on. It's like being an actor in a play. When I hit the stage, I'm a different person.
Tribute acts are tricky with new audiences, aren't they?
Sometimes when you go to a new country, people don't understand at first. Is it a musical or a play with music? It's a two-hour rock concert. It takes a couple songs and then people relax and can boogie, sing, dance, play air guitar, take clothes off, whatever they want to do really.
Do you remember when you first became a Queen fan?
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1977 and I was 4 and I saw the video for We Are The Champions. I was instantly hooked on Queen.
Have you seen them perform live?
Not with Freddie, but I did see the Queen-Paul Rodgers tour. I went as a guest of Brian (May, the band's guitarist) and then went backstage to meet him backstage at the show.
What did you talk about?
Not a lot for the first few minutes because I had that Wayne's World moment where nothing would come out. I was just staring at the poor guy. And he's asking me questions and I couldn't answer him.
Back in 1992, after Freddie died, George Michael performed with Queen at a tribute concert in London. Incredible, right?
I thought it was absolutely awesome. To hear him sing Somebody To Love was a chills-down-your-spine moment.
I think his version is better than Freddie's.
Really? That's a controversial statement!
Adam Lambert performed with Queen during American Idol last season. How did he measure up?
He did a phenomenal performance. But I don't really agree with the Idol thing. They get all these kids and they build them up and build them up. And then the next year, they're yesterday's news. But I think Lambert's got a long career ahead of him. That was the best performance I'd heard since George Michael. The guy can sing.
Can anyone really replace Freddie Mercury?
Nobody on the planet can fill Freddie Mercury's shoes. He's such an icon. It's like trying to have another Elvis Presley. You can't do it.