Sources: The Telegram – By Tara Bradbury | All Things Michael
If you’re going to make a career as a Michael Jackson tribute artist, you’re setting yourself up for some work.
It’s something the members of Who’s Bad have been working on for years, even before the King of Pop’s untimely death on June 25, 2009. At that time, the tribute band had already been together for about five years, and had a show in Washington booked for the very next day. That show turned into two back-to-back sold-out shows, with media from around the world attending.
Who’s Bad has since gone on to tour around the world, sharing the stage with the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Backstreet Boys and Boys II Men, and were invited to play London’s O2 arena — which Jackson himself was scheduled to end his career with his “This is It” concert series — in 2010. This weekend they’ll bring their tribute to Jackson and celebration of four decades of his music to Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s.
Along with a full band and backup dancers, Who’s Bad actually includes two Jackson impersonators: New York native Taalib York, a lifelong fan and accomplished singer, dancer and choreographer, and Joseph Bell (a.k.a. JoBel), a native of Connecticut who joined the band in 2007. His career in Who’s Bad was meant to be, he says; so meant to be, “I couldn’t have avoided it if I tried.”
Joseph was Jackson’s middle name and the name of his father — also the name of Bell’s father. Both Jackson’s mother and Bell’s mother are named Catherine. Bell’s got a high register, like Jackson, and throughout his life has had many coincidences that brought him to work with people connected to Jackson: vocal coaches, choreographers, dancers, a hairdresser.
“I wasn’t trying to fashion myself around him, but people were automatically picking me out as an artist to somewhat represent him,” explained Bell, who appeared in the TV movie “The Jacksons: An American Dream.”
“One day I got a call from an agent about Who’s Bad and for a minute it was kind of a surprise. It was really, really great for me, and turned out to be very, very natural for me to do.”
Where York had spent years honing his imitation skills when it comes to Jackson, Bell had not, and admits it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. He worked with “This Is It” choreographer Travis Payne and dancer/choreographer Frank Gatson (who appeared in the original “Smooth Criminal” video and also works with Beyoncé) to perfect his performance.
It all paid off — on stage, Bell is Jackson, with the precise timing and intricate steps and quick mannerisms of the King of Pop. In leather pants and aviator sunglasses, with long, wet-look hair, Bell and York’s performances are less about being cheesy, more about being authentic.
They both perform at each show, dividing up the songs amongst themselves.
“When we started working together, we chose what our favourite songs were. Michael has covered so much — fast songs, slow songs — and we chose our favourites and the ones we thought we’d be the strongest at. I kind of represent the older Michael.”
Who’s Bad shows cover Jackson’s entire career, from his work with the Jackson 5 to “Love Never Felt So Good,” released posthumously last spring, focusing on the hits everyone will recognize. Bell’s favourites include “Earth Song,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Scream.”
The costumes are just as detailed, and harder to pick a favourite.
“How can you ask me this?” Bell says, laughing. “He had some great ones. That’s what made him an icon.”
Preparing for a show, practice aside, takes some time. Once the guys arrive at a venue, they have close to three hours of make-up and costuming ahead of them. Bell likes to listen to Jackson’s own voice lessons on YouTube while getting ready, and practice along with him.
While Bell acknowledges Jackson’s talent, he says his legend and icon status goes beyond his singing and dancing abilities.
“I don’t think he was from here. He was from someplace else,” he says. “He was a genius with a big heart that had a magic about him and presented and innocence, though he was a brilliant businessman at the same time. Obviously he had such a great talent, but there was a love inside of him that people feel. He projected that.”
Tickets for Who’s Bad at Holy Heart Saturday range from $69.50 to $79.50 (taxes and fees included) and are available at the Holy Heart box office, by calling 579-4424, and online at www.holyhearttheatre.com. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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