Some are blessed with the come-hither eyes and powerful voice boxes to become global pop sensations. Others are blessed with facial features uncannily like global pop sensations -- like Michaela Weeks, who has earned 300,000 pounds ($483,000) as a Britney Spears impersonator, reports British newspaper, The Sun.
Like Spears, Michaela started her performing career at age 16, when she entered a look-alike competition. The 24-year-old former waitress lost, the newspaper says, but was invited back the following year -- when she won her category, and was soon signed to several agencies and performing a tribute act around the world.
Michaela landed in a music video last year for British indie band The Kaiser Chiefs (alongside Lady Gaga and Beyonce impersonators), and in 2010, even graced the official website of the real Spears, when she was selected among other look-alikes for a special on Fuse TV network.
But just as you can get rich off resembling a beloved celebrity, your fortunes can founder when that celebrity stops being so beloved. 2007 was a bad year for Britney (a few stints in rehab, a shaved head, a custody battle, a child abuse investigation, and a dazed performance at the MTV Video Music Awards), so it was a bad year for those who make money off her stardom.
Michaela told The Sun that she was forced to sell her sports car, fell behind on her mortgage, and went through a winter without heat. But thankfully business picked up with the release of Spears' album "Circus" in 2010. And sometimes bad news for Spears is actually a blessing for Michaela -- like when Spears stops working out and gains weight, so Michaela can "slack off a bit and enjoy snacking."
Ron Bartels, owner of Lookalikes-USA, who's been in the impersonator business for 28 years, is surprised that Michaela is getting much work at all. He says that he gets just one or two Britney Spears requests a year, when it used to be between 30 and 50. Bartels once had a Spears impersonator whom he booked across Asia and Europe, but even then she was earning just $20,000-a-year -- a nice salary supplement for a woman who waitressed as her day job.
Derrick Barry, who made Sharon Osbourne squeal in 2008 when he performed "I'm a Slave 4 U" in drag on "America's Got Talent," and Lorna Bliss, who gyrated on the "X Factor" judges' table in September in a fishnet body stocking.
A professional resembler also has better prospects across the Atlantic, Bartels points out. "England has a really huge lookalike market. It's a real fad over there, the doppelgangers," he says. "I don't know why, but it is."
One former British waitress, for example, now fetches $1,000 an hour for her resemblance to Kate Middleton.
Presidential impersonators are the real cash cows, Bartels has found, because they have guaranteed mega-fame for at least four years and get more play with big budget corporations, as opposed to bar mitzvahs. Bartels had a Bill Clinton look-alike who pulled in $2.5 million over a year and a half.
Weeks would likely see a big spike in demand, though, if Spears were to (pop gods forbid!) prematurely die. Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra look-alikes saw their bookings multiply by three, four and even five times after those pop icons departed, according to Bartels. But sometimes a tragic death is bad for business (just ask any one-time impersonator of Dale Earnhardt or Princess Diana).
Even if requests for solo Spears acts are minimal in the U.S., she does get some play when customers request whole groups, say Bartels. Groups like "famous pretty blondes" or "famous in the 90s."
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