Who She Is:Samira worked as a telephone operator. One night, as she danced at a party in 1984, a man said to her, “You dance like Tina Turner.” “I didn’t know the name but a few days later the video to ‘What’s Love’ came out and I became an instant fan,” said Samira.
Her Inspiration: In 2000, she began to perform as Turner. "I have had a lot of challenges to overcome similar to Ms. Turner, as well as dealing with a cleft palate and struggling to lose 40 pounds on and off for 11 years. We live in a society so wrapped up in what you look like and how old you are. I'll be 47 Nov. 24 (2 days before Ms. Turner) and age is just a number. I'm just gettin started."
Her Advice: "You have to be the same or better than the celebrity you choose to pay tribute to, period. Respect your character by not performing in a distasteful manner. Tina Turner didn't sit on men's laps. I wouldn't either."
Who She Is:Donna Maxon is a human resources professional specializing in Training and Development. She's co-authored two training programs books, Professional Development and One Step Up.
Her Inspiration: "Bette Middler! I am a dead ringer for the Divine Miss M, which has been a very divine thing for me," Maxon said. Only she wasn't born with Midler's voice. Now Maxon studies with a voice coach every week, rehearses often and chooses her material carefully. "My ability to sing professionally is proof that persistence and desire are the key to success."
Her Advice: "This is like running your own business. No one will do this for you, except you. You need to become a marketing department and create a presentation package that includes photos, videos, and promo material. You need to become a sales department and be able to talk to clients and agents about price, deposits, contracts, etc. Sometimes, you need to be a collection agency and make sure you get paid."
Who She Is:Bettina Williams works as an official court reporter for a District Court.
Her Inspiration: Whoopi Goldberg. Williams went so far as shaving her eyebrows to impersonate her. Why Whoopi? "Don't know why," she said. "Maybe adopted by other family at birth. Naw... I'm just blessed."
Who She Is:Suzanne Goulet worked as a professional dancer, traveling the world to perform in big production shows.
Her Inspiration: Liza Minnelli. Goulet took eight years of vocal training in New York City to sing like her. "I love singing her Broadway style songs, recreating her dance steps and performing with the same high energy as she does," she said.
Her Advice: "Be ready to work very hard to perfect the look, the voice, the steps, the mannerism, the costumes of the star you will be impersonating. It's very important to give a perfect image of the celebrity. I know Liza would be proud of me if she would see my show."
Who She Is:Denise Bella Vlasis studied dance and theater in college, and auditioned daily to find work. She says she's still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.
Her Inspiration: Madonna. "While searching for work as an actress, I found agents asking me to lose the Madonna look," she said. "There came a point where I had to ask myself, 'Do I keep working this angle of my similar look to Madonna to keep working so much, or do I try to find my own look and see if I can get acting roles?" She's been impersonating Madonna for 25 years. Her challenge? Constantly altering her image to keep up with the queen of reinventions.
Her Advice: "Be wary of agents or bookers who try to 'own' you. Look-alike work is free agent work (meaning you can work for 100 agents). There are some agents who may try to keep you from working for others, but working for others is how you will survive. There are many honest and good agents who book, so it's important to know who they are." She wrote You've Got the Look to advise others on how to get started in this industry.
Photo Credit: Glamour Shots, David Comfort and Irby Gascon Photography
Who She Is:Lisa Irion acted in theater, doing some regional TV commercials and voice over work. After the birth of her child, she was a stay-at-home wife and mother until he started school.
Her Inspiration: Cher. "I stumbled into doing this because I was able to talk and sing like her, and an Elvis impersonator encouraged me to try doing a tribute to Cher," Irion said. She loved that as an impersonator, she could satisfy her love of singing without the time commitment of a play, giving her more time with her family. "I chose Cher also because she is an older celebrity and I'm an older actress. I was 43 when I started and am now 51."
Her Advice: "My biggest advice to women wishing to become a celebrity impersonator is to make sure the character you portray is popular and there is a market for that character. You don't necessarily have to be a dead-ringer, because proper makeup can do a lot to change your look."
Who She Is:Jennifer Sullivan, who has two graduate degrees, was employed as a project manager in banking. Now she works part-time as a fitness specialist and health consultant. "I impersonate because it's fun, flexible (I have a 10-year-old little girl) and typically pays well," she said.
Her Inspiration: Jennifer Aniston. "I've always liked Jennifer Aniston's demeanor and personality," she said. "I have respect for her integrity. She is a spokesperson for cancer organizations. I am a two-time cancer survivor: primary breast cancer and metastasized brain cancer. I beat them both. I am currently in remission. The celebrity look-alike work has been a much needed financial resource funding numerous medical bills from my fight with cancer."
Her Advice: "If you are told on a daily (or at minimum a weekly basis) that you look like a celebrity, then you should consider becoming a celebrity look-alike and/or impersonator. Do some research. Go online, search and review agencies that promote and book celebrity impersonators. Have professional photos taken and email them to the agents."
Who She Is: Charlene Rose raised fived sons and worked in outside sales selling semiconductors to aerospace companies.
Her Inspiration: She won first place in a Halloween Dolly Parton look-alike contest. "My aerospace buyers and engineers always called me 'Dolly' since I was naturally endowed at age 14 with 'Double D's', a natural beauty mark in the exact same spot as hers, blond hair, about the same height, and I was told I even sounded like her when I spoke. So when my friends insisted I enter the look-alike contest, I did." Now Rose travels the world as an impersonator, working with celebrities like Anthony Hopkins, and has even met Dolly Parton herself.
"People driving next to me on the freeway would be looking at me as though they were thinking, 'I wonder what street corner she's working today?' But Dolly herself admits she fashioned herself after the town tramp!"
Her Advice: "First and foremost, always represent the person you impersonate well and with respect! It is they who afforded you this opportunity. Know your history on the person you impersonate. If it's a singer, learn their songs. Also get the wardrobe, make-up and mannerisms down. Have fun with it!"
Who She Is: Sharon Daniels earned her teaching degree, but worked as a laboratory secretary at a hospital. "I became a wife and mother, and still worked after my first son was born and Grandma would babysit," she said. "But as I had two more sons, I was mainly a wife and stay-at-home mom."
Her Inspiration: Daniels has always had an ear for mimicking voices. "My middle son was in the Screen Actors Guild doing national commercials at age 4," she said. "His agent needed a Joan Rivers look and sound alike for a local TV station in Miami. She saw my resume and thought I could do an impersonation of Joan Rivers. I ran out and got a tape (cassette back in those days) and over night I started learning Joan's voice for my audition the next day. I was hired for the job as Joan Rivers at the audition!"
Now she impersonates several celebrities, from Sharon Osbourne to Fran Drescher to Katharine Hepburn. "Learning dialogue is a challenge," she said. "You can't just look and sound like a character. You have to be entertaining your audience, keeping them interested and making them laugh."
Her Advice: "Study your characters well. Listen to the voice, learn the physical movements and trademarks of the character. Try to 'inhabit' them. I actually try to channel them and think in their heads so that I am believable as the person I am portraying."
Who She Is: Vernetta Jenkins has worked as a talk/reality show television producer for the past 15+ years on shows from CBS's Big Brother to The Dr. Phil Show. Now she's pursuing acting full time.
Her Inspiration: Michelle Obama. "During the Obama campaign in 2007-2008, I started getting all kinds of calls from my family and friends in Chicago, along with being stopped by people here in Los Angeles saying how much they thought I looked like Michelle Obama, the then Senator's wife," she said. "Of course, being raised to be the 'proud individual' that my parents raised me to be, I didn't see it at first."
"After the election, I began getting stopped all day, every day with some variation of that same phrase, 'Are you...' or 'You look just like...'" Now she frequently does sketch comedy work as Michelle Obama, from Jimmy Kimmel Live to Live with Regis & Kelly--and on her YouTube channel.
Her Advice: "My character has taken me all over the United States and I get paid for it. How cool is that?! Do your homework and research the character you think you can realistically portray. Spend the time and money to master the character's physical appearance, talent and history."
Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.