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October 23, 2014

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Celebrity impersonators: A conversation with ‘Michael Jackson,’ ‘Elvis’ and ‘Cher’

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Leila Navidi

Impersonators pose for a photo on the stage during the Celebrity Impersonator Convention at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.

Many people have heard someone say, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like (insert a famous name)?"

But only a few have made careers out of their celebrity resemblances.

Here's a look at a few of them:

    • Steven Wayne of Frank Marino’s “Divas” show at Imperial Palace.  He plays both Cher and Celine Dion.

      Celine and Cher

      Twice nightly, Stephen Wayne dons wigs and rhinestones to transform himself into Cher and Celine Dion. Wayne performs in "Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas."

      Wayne knew he wanted to dance in high heels after seeing his first drag show when he was 17. He learned the craft in East Coast nightclubs.

      As Dion, Wayne wears a white jumpsuit, tuxedo jacket and Heart of the Ocean necklace from Titanic. As Cher, he wears a "Turn Back Time"-inspired rhinestone-and-fishnet bodysuit, biker's jacket and boots.

      During his 14 years with Marino, he has deducted duct tape, glue sticks, Ace bandages, shaving cream and crazy glue on his tax return.

      The hardest part about being a female impersonator, Wayne said, is getting people to understand the difference between his stage persona and his real life. When not performing, he teaches grade school, lifts weights and plays with his pet pit bulls. He has worked at the same Las Vegas school for the past 13 years.

      Wayne asked that the Sun not publish the name of his school, because although administrators and parents know about his side job, he doesn't want it to be a disruption in his class of 6- and 7-year-olds. A student once brought a picture of Wayne in drag to class.

      "After that, they called me Mr. Cher," Wayne said.

      Even adults ask the pesky question.

      "Next to 'How do you stay so young and beautiful?,' the second most-asked question I get is 'Where do you put it?'" Wayne said. "If I revealed that to the public, men all over Las Vegas might try it at home and hurt themselves, so I'd better keep that a secret. Let's just say that it is a magic act, and good magicians never reveal their tricks."

    • Grahame Patrick recently returned from a tour of Germany to rejoin "Legends in Concert" at the Harrah's casino in Las Vegas.

      King of 'Legends'

      Elvises abound in Las Vegas. Irish-native Grahame Patrick is among the most convincing.

      Patrick performs in "Legends in Concert" at Harrah's. During a 20-minute set, he roars through Elvis Presley's career, from "Jailhouse Rock" to "Viva Las Vegas."

      "I don't try to overdo it because I'm afraid of being a caricature," Patrick said. "Even Elvis became a caricature of himself. I try to be full of passion and genuineness."

      Patrick keeps eight to nine costumes at a time and buys the bejeweled jumpsuits for about $1,500 apiece from the same designers that Presley used. He has four custom wigs that cost $2,000 apiece.

      No one would mistake him for Elvis outside of the theater. For one, he says he's an introvert.

      Patrick, 41, worked under his own name in small bars in Canada before he began to impersonate the King. He moved to Las Vegas and first joined "Legends" in 1996. He returned to the show this fall after spending years touring Germany as Elvis.

      "The more I listened to Elvis, the more his tone and inflection just naturally came to me," Patrick said.

    • Michael Firestone portrays Michael Jackson in the show "MJ LIve" at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

      Michael Jackson

      Michael Firestone learned how apply makeup from drag queens in Atlantic City. But when it came to getting Michael Jackson's famous footwork down, he took advice from the source himself.

      Firestone, who plays the King of Pop at the "MJ" show at the Rio, once met Jackson at Caesars Palace. Firestone handed the star his card. To Firestone's surprise, Jackson called him, and the pair talked for hours.

      "It was both amazing and sad," Firestone said. "I mean, he had to be bored. I'm not that interesting."

      Jackson even gave Firestone a few pointers.

      "He said, 'When you do Billie Jean, you're doing it backwards,'" Firestone recalled. "When I was kicking, I was turning my back to the audience. He said if did it with the other leg, I didn't have to turn away from them. I changed it the next day."

      Firestone looks nothing like Michael Jackson off stage. In fact, he has been mistaken for Criss Angel. Makeup makes the transformation possible.

      "Some Michael Jacksons I see just look mean," Firestone said. "But I got to talk to him. I could see how nice he was. I want to reflect that in his eyes."

      Firestone said he spends about $3,500 a year on makeup. His dozen-plus costumes cost $2,000 each. One jacket lasted only seven performances.

      Since Jackson's death, people across the country have hired Firestone to help them remember the star. Firestone has performed in Jackson's home of Gary, Ind., and drew long lines at the Rio on the singer's birthday.

      Firestone was so devastated by Jackson's death, he said he almost quit the act he had been perfecting since 1999.

      "I didn't want people to think I was taking advantage of it," he said.

    • David DeCosta plays Frank Sinatra in "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack" at the Las Vegas Hotel (LVH) and on tour across the U.S.

      Frank Sinatra

      David De'Costa's voice is almost indistinguishable from Frank Sinatra's. De'Costa performs as Sinatra most Tuesdays at the LVH in "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack" show.

      "I don't consider myself an impersonator," De'Costa said. "I consider myself an actor. When you see me, I'm playing Sinatra, but there's also a little David De'Costa in there."

      De'Costa grew up listening to Sinatra.

      "In my house there was always two people you heard talked about: the Pope and Frank Sinatra, not necessarily in that order," he said.

      De'Costa, who has been performing with the Rat Pack show since 2005, wears ribbon-trimmed leather shoes from England to match Sinatra's "Mary Janes" and a 1960s-style shawl collar tux with an orange (Sinatra's favorite color) pocket square.

      "I think out of all the people who do what we do, there are just a few of us who Frank would see and say, 'You did a good job kid,'" De'Costa said. "I hope I'm one of those."

    • Drew Anthony portrays Dean Martin in "The Rat Pack is Back Show" at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

      Dean Martin

      When Drew Anthony, a nightclub jazz singer, moved from New York to Las Vegas, he had no idea he would end up playing Dean Martin in a "The Rat Pack is Back" at the Rio.

      Anthony grew up a third-generation Italian-American in New Haven, Conn., singing with his grandmother and later performing at weddings and parties to work his way through college. He often received requests for the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin standards.

      "I had no idea the impersonation business existed really," Anthony said.

      He found out once he moved here, after he went to see the Rat Pack show. He approached producer Dick Feeney, looking to play Sinatra.

      "You can't do Sinatra in my show," Anthony recalled Feeney saying. "You look like Dean."

      Unlike some performers, Anthony doesn't have to do much to transform himself into Martin – just some sun and a few curls in his hair.

      "People always ask me if I’m wearing a wig, and I’m not, but they even like to tug on it after a show," Anthony said. "I was just blessed with a good head of hair, I guess."

    • Leonard Quenneville (left) and Ron Keel reunite Brooks and Dunn for the show they also produce, "Country Superstars Tribute," at the Golden Nugget  showroom.

      Brooks and Dunn

      Ron Keel and Leonard Quenneville, Brooks and Dunn impersonators, keep Fremont Street audiences tapping their toes. They are the stars of "Country Superstars Tribute" at the Golden Nugget. The pair produce the show.

      Keel, who plays Ronnie Dunn, is a former heavy metal singer. Quenneville, who plays Kix Brooks, is a video artist.

      Keel started his musical career as the lead singer of the 1980s southern band California Keel. He still occasionally tours with the band, which had a hit song in 1985.

      The Brooks and Dunn show opened in 2007 at Fitzgerald's and played there for two years before moving to Whiskey Pete's in Primm. It returned to Las Vegas as the Fitzgerald transitioned to the D casino.

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