Sometimes it's not good to be the King, even if you're not really one — just ask professional Michael Jackson impersonators.
Impersonators of the "King of Pop" are closely watching the developments in Jackson's child molestation case, and they're worried about the ramifications if he is convicted. Business hasn't been booming since Jackson was arrested and charged with nine counts for allegedly victimizing a 12-year-old boy who spent time at his Neverland Ranch.
Some impersonators and lookalikes fear that a conviction would kill not only the singer's career, but theirs as well.
"I'm concerned, simply because I love what I do," said Kenny Wizz, a Las Vegas-based entertainer who has been impersonating Jackson for 20 years. "I worry that I won't be accepted in the same way. … I wouldn't want to develop another character at this point. I love doing his character, and with everything that goes on, that I see in the media, it makes me nervous.
"I've gotten [comments such as] 'So, you like little boys,' things like that," Wizz said. "Some people figure, 'Hey, this is the closest I'll ever get to Michael Jackson, so I'll say this to you.' "
Since criminal charges were filed, some corporations have been hesitant to hire Jackson impersonators — or have canceled previously scheduled bookings. It's one thing for a celebrity to be as famous for his eccentricities as his musical talent. But alleged child molestation is no laughing matter.
"I've had some corporate parties where they had booked Michael Jackson [performers] and then they pulled out," said Ron Bartels, owner of the Massachusetts-based Lookalikes-USA. "Then I've had some corporations where they hire a Michael Jackson impersonator and then when the charges came up, they said, 'Oh, you better calm it down.' So you have to be careful how you book them [Jackson impersonators].
"Some people have ordered impersonators and thought it would be funny to have Michael Jackson show up in handcuffs and then bust out of them and dance around," Bartels said. "But those are novelty acts."
Shades of 1993 … But Worse
The latest molestation allegations are a case of dejá vú for Jackson impersonators. When a 13-year-old boy made similar allegations against Jackson in 1993, they felt a backlash.
"I was [performing] in Japan at the time and I was kind of glad I wasn't in the States when things were going on," said Wizz. "I heard about some of the things some other guys had to go through."
Jackson was never charged because the alleged victim refused to testify against him. The star always denied any wrongdoing but settled a civil suit filed by the boy's family for reported millions. He could never entirely escape the scandal, however.
"[It was] just because of the way Michael Jackson's camp handled it — it put a dark cloud over things," said Joby Rogers, who has been impersonating Jackson since 1984. "I've worked with Michael, talked to him and he told me he gets hit with literally hundreds of lawsuits. You don't know which ones to fight. I like the way he's been handling this [case]. He needs to fight back and get everything out in the open."
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