If there’s one thing that Michael Jackson impersonator Kenny Wizz has learned during his 28 years performing as the King of Pop, it’s the importance of privacy. Having watched the chaotic life of the late star from a distance while appearing as him approximately 20,000 times across four continents, the fortysomething actor from Las Vegas says he has still somehow kept his own physical identity a mystery.
His first rule: he never allows himself to be photographed without his ‘face’ on. ‘I’m a make-up artist: it took me five years to learn about make-up professionally, and I was an art student all through school, so it came to me very easy,’ says Wizz. But besides his views on being sprung by the paparazzi, he’s rather determined to keep any direct correlation between what he does and Jackson’s own star at arm’s length. ‘When people want to see me without my make-up, that’s getting personal. I won’t let that happen. I’m not a star, I’m not caught up with being a star, I’m just the guy on the poster who does all the interviews. There are 25 other people that make this great production happen,’ says Wizz. That production, HIStory II, is currently running in Dubai, continuing at the Madinat Theatre until Wednesday February 20.
When we speak to him, Wizz comes across as humble, dedicated and intensely reserved. He’s as softly spoken as his inspiration, though his voice grows stronger as the conversation continues, making it easier to envision him as a real person, rather than the bizarre face of the late Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, he never had a chance to compare notes.
‘I never met him. It would have been great to have that opportunity, but it was never that important to me because I’ve been doing this for 28 years. I’ve studied him for so long, I feel like I already know him,’ he says.
Somewhat surprisingly, Wizz says that being Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly his life’s ambition. In fact, he found himself in Michael Jackson’s shoes by chance. ‘I was a street performer in LA in the mid ’80s, and we used to perform on the weekends, just to have something to do,’ he says. ‘At that point the style of the time was the short curly hair, the same look that Michael Jackson had on the Thriller album cover. People thought I resembled the photo. The photo was very natural, there wasn’t a lot of make-up or fancy costumes, and people started saying, “hey, you should try to dance like Michael Jackson”.’
As Thriller climbed up the charts, Wizz’s looks garnered more and more attention. He eventually attempted an impersonation just to get people off his back. ‘It’s been going ever since then,’ he says incredulously.
Clearly Michael’s looks changed after his Thriller days – as did Kenny’s on stage. ‘I’ve never had plastic surgery, though I’ve had people offer to pay for it for me,’ he reveals.
Did he ever consider a change of career, particularly when Jacko became more and more ‘wacko’? ‘How could anyone not change some way or another after becoming such a household name?’ he says in MJ’s defence. So how does such fame affect Kenny? ‘I understand, I grew up in Hollywood. That’s the reason that I don’t put myself as a person out there. They’ll never see me out of make-up on the stage, so it’s irrelevant.’
HIStory II continues until February 20; tickets Dhs185 balcony; Dhs285 stalls. Madinat Theatre, www.timeouttickets.com.
Three more tribute bands to see in Dubai
Point of View
This Dubai-based hard-rock band have performed as Irish rockers U2 and English legends Pink Floyd.
Covering everything from Paul Simon to Crowded House, this long-running covers band are part of the line-up for Taste of Dubai, taking place from Thursday March 14 to Saturday 16 at Dubai Media City.
Abba The Revival
This Dubai-based foursome recently played a Valentine’s Day gig at The Rooftop at Wafi.
(04 324 4100).
What does Kenny Wizz get up to on a typical day?
‘I get up and read for an hour every day. I’m very spiritually inclined, so I read religious books. I’m not really a breakfast person, so I have a lot of protein shakes.’
‘If the gym’s not available, I’ll run in the city wherever I am, on average for about 14km. It gives me a chance to see a lot of where I am. There have been so many favourite places – Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.’
‘After my run, I come back to the hotel and do interviews. I study Michael Jackson videos for at least half an hour, three times a week. I study the dancing, the gestures, all of that and it doesn’t get old.’
‘I’m not a food person. My schedule is so crazy, I only eat when my body tells me to. I’m very health-conscious – I drink more liquids than I eat foods, let’s put it that way.’
‘Next, I’ll practise things for the show. I often have to clean up the dancers’ choreography and rehearse with them or with the band.’
‘Getting ready for a show takes three hours – two hours of that is make-up. I still experiment to this day. That’s why I’ve never been interested in plastic surgery, because I can create any look: a thin nose, a cleft, any structure. I do a lot of contouring and shadowing, plus I use glue, tape, pins: there’s a lot that goes into it. I don’t give away all of my secrets. People will be surprised if they saw what I’ve been through to make this face, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t allow myself to be recorded during that time. I don’t even allow anyone to be in the same room as me while I’m doing the make-up, because it’s such
a concentrated effort. People know that once I sit down and start make-up that I can’t be disturbed, unless there’s some extreme emergency.’
‘I have a vocal training tape that I use to warm up for about 20 minutes. Just like any athlete getting ready for a big game, you have to stretch. We dance for two hours straight, so I have to have that in my regime. It’s vital. There’s also 20 minutes of putting costumes on. All of that helps me transition into the character. It’s a process.’
‘During the show it feels as though I’m on another planet. As far as breaks go, I don’t have any at all – I have so many fast costume changes in the show that it’s impossible to take any time out.’
After the show
‘The exhilaration after a show is unexplainable. I’m partly exhausted, but still emotionally charged from the performance. The first thing I do after the show is take off my make-up and costume, as well as look forward to the relaxation time after all the hype. Winding down from the show afterwards is one of the most challenging moments I face because my body is still running on adrenaline. I usually go to my hotel
room – I don’t turn on the television or listen to any music, I basically just sit down in a chair and relax, letting my body and mind relax and wind down.’