Impersonators of the pop superstar have seen no drop in requests.
By KEVIN AMORIM
LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY
Even as the King of Pop sweats it out in a courtroom, pretenders to the throne are doing just fine, thank you.
"Business-wise, not much has changed," said Joby Rogers, a Michael Jackson impersonator since 1984. "The work is still out there -- just last night I was on Conan O'Brien."
Rogers, 37, did a quick walk-on during O'Brien's "State of the Show" skit Feb. 3 on "Late Night."
"In 2005, I will give the people of Iraq the greatest comedy gift of all, Michael Jackson," O'Brien said during the show. "In fact, I'm giving them their very own Iraqi Jacko. Ladies and gentleman, meet Iraq-o."
Rogers then materialized as a sand-blasted MJ. That appearance lasted only five seconds, but Rogers, who lives in Meriden, Conn., has a steady gig in "The Awesome '80s Prom," an Off-Broadway audience participation show at Webster Hall in Manhattan.
Others reflect Rogers' continuing success portraying the man in the mirror. "I'm steady workin'," said Jackson impersonator and comedian C.P. Lacey, who lives in Plainfield, N.J., and also portrays MC Hammer at the " '80s Prom."
"It surprises me, but I'm working every weekend. What is it they say? Any publicity is good publicity?"
If that's the case, then Jacko look-alikes should be moonwalking to the bank for a long time, given what's happening at the trial for the real Jackson at a Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse. During the first few days of jury selection, there was all the excitement of an in-store appearance, not a child molestation trial -- hundreds of fans from around the world, including some MJ impersonators, camped outside with hopes of seeing the real Gloved One. And this is really off the wall: Even if Jackson is convicted (he could get more than 20 years in prison), his impersonators said they believe they will still be able to prosper.
"Michael fans are rabid," said Adrienne Gusoff, the owner of Bubby Gram, a Manhattan talent and entertainment company. "If they caught him on film red-handed, (the fans) would still not believe it."
Gusoff, 51, said she still books Jackson impersonators for birthdays, bar mitzvahs and nightclub parties. The going rate for hiring a Jackson stand-in is between $500 and $900. Last New Year's Eve she even sent a female look-alike to India for a party outside of Bombay.
The jet-setting impersonator, Devra Gregory, who is 46 -- the same age as Jackson -- performed for about 4,000 people in Pune with a Madonna wanna-be. "In other countries, they're not following the media too closely," the professional dancer said. "For the most part, they are not into the dirt that Americans love so much."
Plenty of support
Gregory's been doing MJ for about five years -- "My look is '90s, long curly hair and pale skin" -- at a drag dinner theater in her native San Diego. "I'm the drag king of pop," Gregory said proudly. Her customers enjoy being served by MJ, too. "They love Michael. 'We're on your side,' they tell me. It's so cute when they talk to me as if I'm him."
Like Gregory's dinner theater patrons, if Jackson's coterie of costumed imitators could actually talk to the star, many would offer support, after breaking into a rendition of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," of course.
Rogers -- who has met the real deal and has a signed document decreeing, "It is the decision I, Michael Jackson, have made to have Mr. Joby Rogers ... to be my official substitute" -- said he believes Jackson is doing the right thing now. "I think settling out of court the first time kind of opened up the door for everyone to go after him," Rogers said. "If he would have fought this then and there, things would have been different."
Ever the businessman, New Jersey's C.P. Lacey -- the C.P. stands for "crowd pleaser" -- said that if Jackson were to be convicted, it would make people want to have the superstar's likeness at their celebration all the more.
"I still believe I will get work," Lacey, 44, said. "Because he would be out of the loop. I'm thinking that people would want the next best thing."