However you describe Vests line of work celebrity impersonator, tribute artist, look-alike its one that you probably never encountered on career day in junior high. And for those of us who dont resemble anyone more lionized than our Aunt Denise, its a difficult vocation to even comprehend. After all, Madonna is Madonna. Elvis was Elvis. But a professional impersonator whose lifes work is to emulate an iconic figure as believably as possible for our listening, handshaking, and photo-opping pleasure what leads someone to this role in life? And how good of a living can he or she possibly make?
Id say there are about 200 celebrity impersonators in the U.S. who make a good living doing it full time, says Janna Joos, cofounder of International Celebrity Images, an entertainment company based in Palm Springs, California, that has more than 2,000 impersonators on its roster. And despite the fact that the current economy has been especially tough on this business, she says, the number of impersonators seems to be growing.
As one might expect, the business of celebrity impersonation is a very ungoverned offshoot of the entertainment industry. Theres no Association of Celebrity Impersonators, no special wing for tribute artists at the Screen Actors Guild. There is, however, an informal community of sorts for celebrity impersonators a growing family of fake Bette Midlers, Frank Sinatras, Whoopi Goldbergs, Jack Nicholsons, Chers, Mick Jaggers, and so on that gathers at annual conventions and at the Oscars of the impersonator world, the Reel Awards.
A lot of them cry when they win and put it on their website, says Joos, who founded the award show 18 years ago. We do the Reel Awards to honor the level of talent in this industry and I swear to you, some of these people are better than the real ones.
In speaking to impersonators, the stories of how they got into the business usually start out the same way.
I was in a casting-director workshop, and two actresses turned to me and said I reminded them of Barack Obama, says Ron Butler, a TV and theater actor whos added the current U.S. president to his character-acting CV.
I was first told I looked like Marilyn Monroe when I was a teenager, says Susan Griffiths, who is one of the top Monroe impressionists and has appeared as the screen siren in Pulp Fiction and on a recent GQ cover. It was just one of those things that kept following me around.