Lately, it hasn't been easy to flatter the celebrities that Enrico Hampton (a.k.a. "Rico Michael Jackson") and 4'2" Terra Jole (a.k.a. "Mini-Britney") impersonate. It's difficult to find fun in alleged suicide attempts and child molestation, enticing minors with "Jesus juice," dangling an infant named Blanket over a balcony, trips to rehab, and, of course, exiting a limousine while panty-less and disoriented. But the show must go on: Hampton has performed as Jacko for more than 20 years, and last year, Jole successfully transitioned from performing with Mini Kiss to appearing solo as Mini-Britney; she's about to release an original single, "Stupid." The A.V. Club recently spoke to Hampton and Jole about professional celebrity impersonation, becoming regular human beings, and when it's appropriate to kick overzealous fans in the balls.
The A.V. Club: Why do you impersonate?
Enrico Hampton: I started doing it for fun, as something only for the family, but it turned into a business. I keep saying "This is my last year," but it just gets better and better each year.
AVC: Why do you want to give it up each year?
EH: With all the controversy, every year it gets crazier and crazier. Not so much with me performing, but with Michael Jackson's personal life. You get tired of hearing the jokes, and you think, "I've got to give this up and become a regular human." [Laughs.] But–
Terra Jole: There's no such thing as a regular human.
EH: Exactly. [Laughs.] It gets better and better each year, so it keeps me from throwing in the moonwalking shoes, and I keep going.
AVC: Maybe you're just so good that they think it's you. They think they're yelling at Michael Jackson.
EH: Exactly. "Why are you yelling at me? I didn't do anything." [Laughs.] I hear everything, because I perform for so many different genres of people. I'm going to hear everything from "You child molester!" to "You're gay, you're this, you're that!" You hear it all. But I still just go ahead with a smile and a [Michael Jackson laugh.] "Please pay me!" I have a lot of fun, because by the end of the performance, even if I get the thuggiest people saying this, that, or the other, by the end of the show, they're like, "Mike, man, you was bad. Let me get an autograph." So it works out.
AVC: What do people ask you to do when they take your picture?
EH: Of course, they ask me to hold my crotch. [Laughs.] Really, to do a move; any Michael signature move.
TJ: People want to pick me up. I should say, guys want to pick me up.
TJ: Physically pick me up. And I always tell them, "Sure, as long as I can kick you in the balls." I'm not kidding–I've had people be like, "Dude! Take it for the team, man." Some people pick me up without even asking me, and I tell them, "If you don't put me down right now, I will kick you in the balls." I weigh as much as a skinny tall person would. [Laughs.] I weigh 95 pounds. People don't realize I weigh that much, so when they pick me up, they're already struggling. And I'm like, "If you don't put me down right now, I will make this very uncomfortable."
AVC: How many pairs of balls have you kicked?
TJ: Three. And once, it was a really hard fall for me, because he was a really tall dude.
AVC: Rico, you have a lifetime-long catalog, but you don't specialize in a certain era of Michael Jackson.
EH: I try to keep up with what he does. Of course, over the years, my makeup has gotten lighter and lighter. Every album. This time, you might be able to see through him. [Laughs.] Right now, he comes out with the straight hair, looking like a rocker, so I have to adapt. I'm not getting plastic surgery, or–
TJ: I won't shave my head.
EH: Right. [Laughs.]
TJ: I won't. I've been asked. But we're in their shadows, technically. I'm basically supporting her. Everyone loves the old Britney, and I wouldn't want to destroy that.
AVC: How do you deal with the bad press?
EH: You have to stay positive. When he was going through the child-molestation trials, I still had to go out and perform, and hear all of the jokes. I can't jump crazy, and say "Michael didn't do that!" I just stay positive. I just say, "Well, it's in the courts!"
TJ: I never read magazine racks, but now Britney is all over the place. I have to study them. People ask me questions like I'm her assistant.
EH: There is Britney overload now. Every day, there's "Britney watch."
TJ: Every day. And "Jamie Lynn watch." I need to know about her sister now, too. It's so crazy.
AVC: Last week, the Associated Press penned Britney Spears' obituary.
TJ: I have heard about that. I've heard about the [attempted] suicide, and I hope she's not steering in that direction. But when you're in your 20s, to have your obituary ready, that's pretty strange.
AVC: Can you do this after your celebrities die? Are they on Elvis' level?
EH: Yeah. I'm sure with Michael Jackson, I can keep doing this.
TJ: Michael Jackson could survive that. He'd be Elvis. Maybe Britney Spears could, too. But I think the three icons, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Elvis, will live on forever. They'll always have impersonators.
AVC: How is performing as Mini-Britney different from Mini Kiss?
TJ: All of it's true. Mini Kiss fakes: They don't play guitar, they don't play the drums, they don't do anything. So the fact that I have real vocals is something I am really excited about with Britney. As for the show itself, it's a lot crazier. Even if I was to leave, I couldn't go anywhere. In Mini Kiss, we were all four feet, but we still all had makeup on. So the next day, no one would recognize us. Now, I get stopped everywhere–nationally known for impersonating [Adopts Southern accent.] Ms. Britney Spears.
AVC: How often do you get recognized?
TJ: If I'm in public, at least three to five times a day. Especially because I'm in Vegas, and I just finished a show here. It depends on what city I'm in. If I'm in a big city, New York, I get recognized a lot. L.A., Vegas. But if it's like Myrtle Beach, probably not so much. [Laughs.]
EH: I don't get recognized at all if I'm not dressed up like Mike. It's totally night and day.
TJ: But also: I'm 4'2". You can spot out a little person with blond hair. [Laughs.] "Oh, well, okay. Maybe that's her. Let me ask."
AVC: How do you straddle the line between playing up your resemblance, but also distancing yourself from the scandals?
TJ: I try and stay mainly pre-K-Fed. [Laughs.]
AVC: But didn't you have a Mini K-Fed that you used onstage?
TJ: No, no, I no longer work for [that manager]. That was an event that I was just over. But my show is all of her old stuff. I only have one of her new songs, "Gimme More." I try and focus on keeping her in the positive light of how she was, and people adore it, love it, and thrive on it. It's been working for me so far.
EH: Pretty much the same thing here. I try to stay away from the craziness, because I already know going out the door that I am going to hear it. So I prepare for it. If I don't hear it by the end of the day, I'm surprised. But when I hear the jokes and the negative comments, I just shrug it off and keep going. I don't let it bother me at all.
AVC: Are there perks to impersonating?
EH: There used to be. I used to be out there, you know, to get girls.
AVC: Did that work?
EH: Uh, no. [Laughs.] Because a lot of females aren't really turned on by Michael Jackson. They look at Michael Jackson as a friend or as a brother. He's been out for so long that they can't look at Michael and say, "Ooh, Michael, you're sexy, I wanna get with you."