The Life of Michael Jackson Impersonators

The Photo Blog
Dec. 17 2013 10:51 AM

There Is No Such Thing as Too Many Michael Jacksons

Lorena Turner
Jovan Rameau, impersonator, Hollywood, Calif., 2010. Rameau, who has traveled worldwide as Michael Jackson, makes $400 to $500 a day working on Hollywood Boulevard, which he does three days a week. Turner says, “He works to embody Michael Jackson’s demeanor—someone who is light in spirit with a physical fluidity.” Turner says when she met him, “he was trying to save money to put on an autobiographical play about his life as a Haitian immigrant and MJ lookalike.”

Lorena Turner

Millions of Michael Jackson fans can’t be wrong: Getting close to the next best thing can induce crazed excitement. This is one of the many things Lorena Turner learned while working on The Michael Jacksons, her portrait series of Michael Jackson lookalikes, impersonators, and tribute artists.

Turner started working on the project shortly after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 after she traveled to Harlem and was captivated by all of the Michael Jackson performers in attendance for his memorial. She was also struck by the crowd’s intense reaction to them; the mere presence of a facsimile elicited worshipful cries, screams, and hysteria.

Turner began the project soon after her Harlem visit by delving into the online world of Michael Jacksons. She placed an ad on Craigslist, where MJs often look for work, and searched on Facebook and GigSalad. She also discovered a huge MJ subculture in which the MJs are exceptionally supportive of one another. Rather than divided by competitiveness that one might naturally expect, they are instead united by their unabiding love for Jackson.

Lorena Turner
Hollywood MJ Christof (Christof Ryulin), impersonator, Las Vegas, 2012. Ryulin was the stand-in for Jackson on the poster for This Is It. Since Ryulin is the same height as Jackson was and the image is in silhouette, it’s impossible to tell the poster image is not actually Michael Jackson.

Lorena Turner

Lorena Turner
J. Michael Lucas, impersonator, Las Vegas, 2012. When Turner met Lucas, he was performing in Harrah’s “Legends in Concert” show in Las Vegas. He has a massive fan base and is unusual in that he sings and dances, as many of the MJs are only dancers. He has aspirations to be a singer and dancer in his own right.

Lorena Turner

Lorena Turner
Santana Jackson, tribute artist, Clearwater, Fla., 2012.

Lorena Turner

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Turner said the subjects she photographed come from diverse backgrounds. “There’s Jen Amerson, a single mother of two in a small town in South Carolina, who used to be a factory worker,” Turned mentioned. “She’s Caucasian and performs for African American audiences. There’s also a guy who used to be homeless and would go between Hollywood and Las Vegas performing on the streets, purely out of his love for Michael Jackson… They all come from different backgrounds, of course, but they are all tied together in this one great affection.”

One tribute artist, Jovan Rameau, in particular stood out to Turner for his interesting and frank take on the racial politics of being a Jackson impersonator. He is “the most aware of all the representers of the issue of race. Given his experience as a [Haitian] immigrant, arriving in South Florida in the late 1980s, he frequently hears comments like, ‘You’re too black to be Michael Jackson,’ or ‘You look like Michael Jackson from the days I want to remember him: Beautiful! Beautiful!’ ” Turner said.

Turner’s book of the series The Michael Jacksons is available for purchase at www.themichaeljacksons.com.

Lorena Turner
MJ.5 (Charles "Scooby" James), impersonator, Queens, N.Y., 2011. James has a production company called Scooby Productionz and was, for a long time, the only client. He performs in Times Square and at birthday parties around Brooklyn and Queens.

Lorena Turner

Lorena Turner
JenNJuice4MJ (Jen Amerson), tribute artist, Florence, S.C., 2012. Says Turner: "Amerson ... is the divorced mother of two and splits raising her kids with her ex-husband. She performs primarily for African-American families at birthday parties and local events. During the 'MJ season,' AKA the summer months, she can make enough to take care of her family."

Lorena Turner

Lorena Turner
Apple G Jackson (Brandon Hunt), impersonator. Las Vegas, 2012. Hunt started working as Michael Jackson after receiving compliments at a Halloween party in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. After working in Las Vegas, he returned to Fort Worth and works as an actor at the Murder Mystery Company. His Michael Jackson was from the 2000s, and like a true lookalike, he uses mannerisms and a voice that he’s styled after Michael Jackson.

Lorena Turner

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