At any given time, in many different places, take a guess as to how many Michael Jackson impersonators there are in the world … go on … take a guess.
No, I don’t know the answer to that one either! But I can tell you that there are probably thousands of them. Some are probably quite good at it, others not so much, but one man who I can tell you without a shadow of doubt is quite excellent at it, is Mr Robin Parsons who takes to the stage as the legendary performer in Forever Jackson, currently showing at the Joburg Theatre until 19 June.
It was an absolute privilege to have the chance to chat with Robin on his first trip to South Africa, and discover some of the background of his journey towards creating the Forever Jackson brand. When we chatted, Robin wasn’t in Michael Jackson persona but he had been for an earlier radio interview, which had required him sleeping in full make-up (something he’d never done before) to pre-empt an extremely early wake-up call in order to go through his lengthy transformation into MJ – but more about that later!
It must be clearly stated that the difference between Robin and many MJ impersonators is that he does not, nor did he ever actually want to be Michael Jackson – something which numerous other impressionists might very well desire. Robin is, notably, an outstanding entertainer and performer – by his own acknowledgement, a perfectionist. When asked when he finally decided that he’d got his Jackson performance (particularly his rendition of ‘Billie Jean’) acceptable enough to take it public, he says that he’s still working on it, and continues to do so – the mark of a true perfectionist!
Robin’s journey towards his MJ persona began approximately 20 years ago, with his love not only for Michael Jackson’s music, but also with his acknowledgement of the strides that Jackson made in the industry as a whole – bringing together music, dance, visuals and an entire sensory experience that earned him the undisputed crown of King of Pop.
While working in the entertainment industry DJ’ing events on a regular basis the recession started to affect business – when financial woes hit, the recreational fields are often the first to feel the effects. Bookings started to lessen and work was hard to come by. One of Robin’s agents who’d noticed his prowess at mimicking Jackson’s moves and voice had started asking on a regular basis when he was going to work on a dedicated Jackson show. Up until that point, Robin hadn’t taken much notice, but with business being so quiet, he returned to the idea and started to think that maybe it wasn’t such a crazy one after all. However, knowing that he would only pursue such a goal if he had the sufficient financial support required, and also acknowledging his own demands of perfection, he again put it on the back-burner, thinking that it just wasn’t a possibility.
But again, with the need to bring in work, by the end of 2008, he and the Hip Hop Pop dancers, who today are still an integral part of the Forever Jackson show, worked for 10 months, putting together a Michael Jackson tribute show to be used as part of a showcase event. Robin admits openly and honestly that what they presented was utter rubbish!
And then … on 25 June, 2009 the world received the shocking news that Michael Jackson had died! The very next day, Robin received a phone call asking him to put together another show for a Michael Jackson showcase that would be performed the following year. And so in 2010, he and the Hip Hop Pop dancers took to the stage once again. This time, they obviously did something very right because before the end of their session, they had 7 bookings! And from there, the Forever Jackson brand has only grown from strength to strength.
They are currently performing between 140 and 160 shows a year, mainly around the British Isles, but a few internationally as well, and 2017 sees them booked for Germany, Holland and Belgium. Although the focus of this lifestyle is on sacrifice and responsibility, Robin laughingly admits that his daughter’s school warned him early on that he would be asked to perform and/or donate time for every single fundraising event from now until the end of time, he’d gladly do so, if he ever got the time!
With Robin’s focus on growing the brand’s identity he is also taking the massive, and extremely brave step of auditioning for a second Michael Jackson in the very near future, in order to continue moving the Forever Jackson brand in the positive direction that it’s currently going. Who knows, there could be Forever Jackson shows performing simultaneously on opposite sides of the world some time very soon!
And still … in Robin’s continuing pursuit of perfection, he will always be tweaking, adding, changing … a step here, a turn there … whatever will make the experience just that little bit better for his audience! And one of the things that makes this show streaks ahead of any others that may try to emulate it, is the transformation process that Robin goes through to become Michael Jackson – a process that takes between 2 to 3 hours! I was absolutely fascinated to learn that he’s had absolutely no facial enhancement done (I admit that I was convinced he had!). With his background in art and portraiture, he’s completely self-taught and after much complex and in-depth shading, colouring and shadowing is able to entirely alter is look into that of Michael Jackson! It’s utterly, truly remarkable!
Forever Jackson takes to the Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre for their final shows in South Africa this Father’s Day weekend and it’s the perfect treat for the entire family. Book your tickets here.