Sarah Strawbridge, of Egg Harbor Township, turned on the VH1 cable channel early one morning in 2008 while preparing to take her son to school. A video came on for a song, "Just Dance," from an artist who instantly became one of her performers - Lady Gaga.

"It was like the very beginning (of the video). I watched the whole thing through, and I'm like, 'Wow, she's really cool. She's really out there. That was the first time I saw her, heard her and I was just blown away. After the first video, I was hooked," said Strawbridge, 27, who added "Just Dance" is her favorite Lady Gaga song. "It's such a fun, outgoing song. You can go out with your girls and dance to it all night."

Most people inside the arena at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City tonight will be dancing to "Just Dance," "LoveGame," "Poker Game" and other Lady Gaga hits as the flamboyant pop star brings her "Monster Ball" to the city for her headlining debut in the resort.

The singer's meteoric rise during the last two years can be charted by her relationship to Atlantic City.

In November 2008, Lady Gaga opened for New Kids on the Block and Natasha Bedingfield in the Event Center at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, but hardly any in the audience knew who she was.

Borgata booked Lady Gaga as a headliner in January in its Event Center, which holds more than 2,000 people, but she canceled the show.

Concert promoter Live Nation brought Lady Gaga back tonight to Atlantic City for a show being presented by Borgata at Boardwalk Hall. She will perform in front of more than 12,000 people. It shows how her popularity has risen in a matter of months.

Greg Tesone, the general manager at Boardwalk Hall, was hard pressed to think of a musical act, who came out of nowhere and captivated the public as thoroughly as Lady Gaga in such a short period of time, leaving aside such former childrens' performers as the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.

"I've heard some of her stuff, and some of her stuff is very good. The videos that I have seen are very well produced. She's a talented woman, no doubt about it. She is definitely good at keeping her name out there, and in front," Tesone said. "The shows themselves are very highly produced. The production elements of the show are very good. The show you are going to see is along the lines of what you will see with Madonna. She is the Madonna of this generation right now."

Strawbridge saw Lady Gaga at the start of touring to support her debut CD, "The Fame." She was in the audience when Gaga opened for New Kids on the Block at Borgata.

"There were a lot of people singing along to her first song. She came out and said, 'You know, this is my No. 1 hit right now.' She was singing, and a lot of people were singing it. They weren't doing too much to her other songs," said Strawbridge, a 2002 Mainland High School graduate. "I can only imagine what the show (tonight) will be like. The first time I saw her, it was her, five guys and a big screen behind her."

"Love her or hate her, people of all ages are drawn to her. Corporations want to own her. Girls of all ages mimic her, and radio programmers want to keep her on the air as much as possible. Every song has been a hands down smash hit," said Rob Garcia, the program director of WAYV-FM 95.1, based out of West Atlantic City, which has played every single Lady Gaga has released.

Rolling Stone magazine put Lady Gaga on the cover of its summer double issue, which is currently on newsstands.

In the article, Rolling Stone contributing editor Neil Strauss and Lady Gaga talk about her fans. During her live shows, she talks about how she is free, and the audience also should be, free not just of society's pressures to conform, but also of letting the men in their lives control them.

"She sees her audience as a collection of mini versions of her socially and romantically rejected self, telling them at one point, 'Let's raise a glass to mend all the broken hearts of my... friends.' Her success is the ultimate misfit's revenge," Strauss wrote.

Strawbridge has read about Lady Gaga's many heartbreaks and can relate to her on that level.

"I have had many broken hearts myself. Her songs definitely touch me, her lyrics, her words," Strawbridge said. "Her being so different and out there and not caring and loving her fans, cause not many people love their fans anymore."

Gina LoPresti, 22, said being one of Lady Gaga's fans, she considers herself normal and everyone else as weird.

"I'm definitively different. I'm my own person, and she does her own thing. She makes us feel comfortable in doing what we like and not to be scared of what other people think or say. We're all a bunch of weirdos," said LoPresti, who is the nightlife coordinator at Dusk in Caesars Atlantic City.

LoPresti starred in and directed a music video with two of friends while on spring break this year to the Lady Gaga song "Monster." The video can be seen at:

Since making the video to the Lady Gaga song, LoPresti, of Voorhees, Camden County, has fallen in love with directing and found something she would like to do for the rest of her life.

"I like Lady Gaga because I feel like every single one of her songs, when you listen to it, it's like a movie. Every single track you listen to is a story. You can make it however you want it. It's more than just music. It's an experience," said LoPresti, who also is a blackjack dealer at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City.

Contact Vincent Jackson:


'Monster Ball' tour

8 tonight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The show is sold-out, but last-minute tickets may be released. Boardwalk Hall box office opens at 3 p.m. Semi Precious Weapons opens.

Look-alike contest

Live broadcast on WAYV-FM 95.1, hosted by Mike of "The Mike & Diane Morning Show," 6:30 tonight in the surface parking lot of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. The winner receives two tickets to the Lady Gaga show.

'Poker Face: The Lady Gaga Tribute Show'

10 tonight in The Beach Bar

at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.