GARY, Ind. — Impersonating one of the most famous entertainers of all time is more than wearing a lookalike signature sequined glove and pairing white socks with black pants and shoes.
It’s no surprise that a city so tied to The Jackson 5 would churn out people who want to imitate the family’s brightest star, Michael Jackson.
For fellow Gary native CJ Williams, being a Michael Jackson tribute artist is not about mimicking the spins and splits. It’s about paying homage to the King of Pop.
“I don’t copy Michael 100 percent,” Williams told The Times in Munster. “It’s me, changing. A metamorphosis. When people get on stage, they want to play Michael. That makes me mad. You’re imitating an icon.”
Williams, who took third place at a recent talent contest in Gary coinciding with the anniversary of Jackson’s birthday, has spent 12 years as an impersonator.
He has performed in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Ohio and has plans to take his show farther.
“I’m serious about what I do,” he said. “My outfits are authentic. I have light-up costumes. When I come out there, I come out there ready to perform. There’s no games about that.”
Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and is an executive chef by trade, but his full-time dedication is to his Jackson impersonation and to his growing entertainment company, which includes a team of dancers, singers and security.
Although he now lives mostly in the Crown Point area, the 32-year-old grew up on the east side of Gary, the youngest of eight children.
“It was a pretty simple life,” he said.
Raised a Jackson fan, Williams remembers dancing to the famous family’s music when he was 5.
“I told my mom, ‘I want to be just like Michael Jackson,’” he said.
Years later, his cousin was impersonating Jackson, which piqued Williams’ interest.
“He said, ‘You’re about his height, weight. And you look like 1985 Michael,’” Williams recalled.
Williams studied Jackson’s moves and vocals for five years and started impersonating.
“I sing,” he said. “I’ve done a track where everyone thinks it’s Michael Jackson, but it’s really me. Everything came natural to me.”
If his empire grows into a money maker, Williams wants to build a homeless shelter and give back to his church. He already has influenced the life of Merrill Kikkert.
Kikkert is Williams’ publicist. They met at a flea market in Gary.
“At first, I thought he was a Jehovah’s Witness,” Kikkert said. “Turns out, he was a Michael Jackson impersonator.”
He told Williams about his life and his struggles.
“He pretty much took me in as a big brother and a dad,” Kikkert said. “We just became very close.”
Raised primarily in Hobart, Kikkert manages the day-to-day schedule and the bills.
“I do a lot of the wardrobe organizing,” Kikkert said.
Williams’ wardrobe sets him apart from other Jackson impersonators.
“I don’t think any other Michael Jackson impersonator out there can touch his wardrobe,” Kikkert said. “He brings his own style. He puts his little touch to it. CJ is one of a kind. A lot of his outfits, his aunt makes him, and he puts his sparkling touch to it.”
The attire is extensive, from the costumes to the wigs and gloves.
“We don’t even have enough room for his wardrobe,” Kikkert said.
Williams’ favorite song to perform and favorite costume are for his rendition of, “Man in the Mirror,” a song about helping others and making a difference in the world.
“When I do, ‘Man in the Mirror,’ I have a mirrored jacket, hat and shoes,” he said.
The stage lights flip on and hit the head-to-toe mirrors for an intense effect.
Williams’ home is filled with hats, wigs, photos, album covers, memorabilia and costumes that catch the light with mirrors and sequin details.
The fans go nuts for it. They cry and ask for autographs, Williams said.
He thrives on the energy at showtime and of seeing the reaction from fans.
“I want people, when they leave my show, feeling love, feeling peace, no hatred in their heart,” he said. “This society is so judgmental.”
Williams will perform in Paris in six or seven months and possibly Japan and Asia. In five to 10 years, Kikkert expects to see Williams’ name in lights in Hollywood, he said.
“We are definitely not going to forget where we came from,” Kikkert said. — (AP)