You’d think it’d be a hard time to be a Michael Jackson impersonator – yet business is booming for some acts mimicking problematic stars. Jack Needham finds out more
“Iuse the same makeup as Michael. I can’t have my face running when I’m sweating on stage,” says CJ, one of the UK’s leading Michael Jackson impersonators. “And when my makeup looks good I look at myself in the mirror and think: ‘Yeah!’”
I’m backstage at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre being talked through CJ’s cosmetics routine. The room is littered with black faux-leather trousers; hanging up are a dozen or so jackets, no doubt worth a small fortune, used to create the culture-defining Michael looks. I can’t help but jump as CJ opens a small carry case to reveal a wig-wearing mannequin’s head. His show, Jackson Live in Concert, promises to be quite the spectacle – for those who have left their moral dilemmas at the door.
CJ discovered the music of Michael Jackson when he was four years old. The moonwalk, the mystique: he quickly became obsessed. “I was always watching Michael, practising his dance moves, trying to sing like him,” he says. As he grew older, his talent for mimicry developed, and Jackson’s artistry provided an alternate reality when CJ served in Iraq in 2004. “Michael wrote about healing the world, making it a better place … in Iraq I’d listen to those songs. They took me away from what was going on.”
Returning home he found work on a building site, but spent weekends performing Thriller in social clubs and holiday camps; CJ is now 32 and his show is supremely polished. But after the documentary Leaving Neverland detailed child abuse allegations against the King of Pop, his livelihood is under threat.