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Subculture Studies: Impersonator Tribute Artists

Davy Jones (I)

Davy Jones (II)

Davy Jones (III)

For every celebrity, they say, there is a look-alike. That person who looks so much like a particular star they are often mistaken for them and, in some cases, are able to make a living based on the similarity.

Many of the top look-alike entertainers earn good wages in Las Vegas stage shows, those not so successful show their friends what it would look like if Colin Quinn lit a fart. Further down the chain is Colin Quinn himself.

Yet for some it is not enough to look like a celebrity, for these rare few the subjects of their similacritude are the look-alikes themselves. They call themselves Impersonator Tribute Artists, and they are a surprisingly tight-knit group of performers and friends.

There are a number of regional groups which hold monthly meetings where local artists can network and meet others with the same calling. Also there is the National Association of Impersonator Tribute Artists (NAsImpTA), which holds annual conferences in major US cities, and also publishes the monthly NAsImpTA newsletter, Third Generation.

The conferences are used mainly by members to catch up with old friends and extend their regional associations. But recently there have been a number of invited guest speakers who give workshops for newcomers and old hands alike.

2006 NAsImpTA Conference, Tallahassee, Florida
November 10th-13th, Ramada Inn And Conference Center Tallahassee

Fred Narwhal (Herbert Burbury (Don Cheadle))
From big talker to big stalker: Ways to not creep out the impersonator to whom you are giving tribute

Maria Weaks (June Toni (Meryl Streep))
Take the compliment, but also educate: How to react when someone mistakes you for a celebrity

Paul Ringer (Quinn Allmeat (Clark Gable))
The missing link: Carrying on once the look-alike dies

Ruby Heaves (Bryan Cards (Mickey Rourke))
Basic Conundrums: If the star gets surgery but the look-alike doesn't

Leon & Lana Houston (Walt Green & Daisy O'Dresden (Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie))
Advanced Conundrums: Age progression software and adopting into the business

If you go to a conference, you may be surprised at the openness of the attendees. I spoke to Davy Jones, who is a professional Davy Jones impersonator. Not of the singer Davy Jones, but rather the Davy Jones impersonator who is also named Davy Jones. Davy is a rare artist, known, in the business, as a triplicate.

"There aren't many triplicates out there. There's me, Charles Grodin, Bruce Willis, Mary Hart and, believe it or not, Tupac Shakur. The two Tupacs assure me they haven't had name changes, but ever since the Rene Auberjonois problem we had back in '84, I'll have to see some hard proof.

Years ago all us artists, and people like us, were known as 'Imitation Impersonators', but that was just the name people gave us. We didn't call ourselves anything back then, but we didn't really care for that name. It made us sound so fake. For a while we ignored it, but eventually decided we'd better think of something if we ever wanted to be taken seriously.

People still ask on the street, if they recognize us, or after a performance, 'Why do you impersonate an impersonator? Why not impersonate the celebrity? No one knows who these impersonators are to begin with, nobody knows who you're doing.' And when they say things like that it can really hurt. But it also means that we, as a community, haven't done a good enough job of educating people about who we are and what we do.

See, when I get up on stage and sing Davy(II)'s version of I'm a Believer, I can't just do Davy(I)'s version. I have to interpret an interpretation. It's like when you point a camera at the monitor that's showing what's on the camera, constant feedback. Okay maybe not that, but you get what I mean.

When Davy(I) changes, Davy(II) changes, and I have to keep up with that. And that's hard because a lot of times Davy(II) won't return my calls."

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Copyright © 2005-2013 Graham Cranfield