I don’t often get to indulge my love of 80s music chatting to the impersonators of one of the stars who made the 80s great! So it was an incredible amount of fun to sit with Robin Parsons who does just that and chat Michael Jackson, the 80s and so much more!
Forever Jackson is playing at Joburg Theatre until 19 June and I can think of no better way to celebrate Father’s Day than an indulgent show like this, so get your tickets and take your dad along. Start with the Man in the Mirror and book tickets here.
When I met with Robin, he WASN’T dressed as Michael, and I got to see just how committed and serious he is about bringing the Michael Jackson experience to life. For many of us, Michael Jackson is fun escapism from our own lives, to Robin it’s a serious, thoroughly professional business. I would say that he is the definitive source on all things Michael Jackson. Having said that, he has not lost touch with being himself, too: Robin Parsons.
How long have you been a fan of MJ?
I’d call myself a fan from my late teens, it’s been a good 20 plus year. It was hard not to be aware of Michael Jackson when I was younger because every few years another album or big video would come out. I remember when they aired the video for Black or White and it was an international event. They played it live on TVs all over the world at the exact same time for the first time. You just don’t get anything like that these days.
How did you get into the singing and dancing?
The dancing thing came first and that’s when I really became a fan. I wanted to learn how to dance and I couldn’t afford to go to a dance course or anything so I sort of said to myself MJ is a fantastic dancer so I picked up some videos and I just sort of started watching them and I’d pick up some moves and when everybody went to bed at night I would open up the patio curtains and you almost had a mirror effect and my VCR had a slowmo function so I could watch them in detail. And once I got the Moonwalk and the popping and stuff like that I wanted to learn more of the more minimal moves and I guess the mannerisms and things. I started doing a few talent contests and at one of those the judges asked if I sang and at the time I was miming but they said I should learn to sing and so I did. I started having singing lessons. That’s where it evolved from. It’s a very unique sound. It’s a very demanding vocal. I totally understand where a lot of MJ shows do mime. To take the base out of your voice and, you’ve also got that rocky rasp type of sound that he does at the top end and it’s taken a long time to evolve.
IT’s a responsibility to give people a great show so that they want to come back and when they do come back it doesn’t have to be completely different but there’s a few new tweaks, there’s that responsibility.
It must be a hard shadow to step in.
No matter who you’re a fan of, if they are your number one, they are there and as good as it gets. They’re perfection. For me Michael Jackson was perfection as a performer. How do I emulate. So there’ll always be something I’m striving for. He’s one of those artists who will be forever cherished and you’ll always see his touch in new artists like Jason de Rullo, Usher, Timberlake, Beyonce, you can see Michael Jackson’s influence in their work. You would not have music videos if it wasn’t for Michael Jackson. They’ve changed quite a lot since back then. But he made them into movies back in the day. His work can be played next to anything today and it holds its own. MJ is like this is a story – like Smooth Criminal the gangster thing in the 1920s and so on. Most videos were just live performances and Beat It was the first one that came out. It was also the first time that a black artist came out and did something that made the so called white part of the music industry take notice. It’s a responsibility to do him justice. We’ve got a kid back home who is only 12, he does full makeup, he’s got more costumes than I have, he comes to shows all over the UK and there’s that responsibility to make sure for these kids as well as the fans but the kids who never really got to know him through people like us, to give these people the experience that they deserve.
Absolutely. I’ve always found it very important to leave it behind sometimes. This does consume me. There’s times where I haven’t had a single day off and they’ve been long days, 12 – 24 hour days. But I owe it to my family to be myself and for my own peace of mind. Even when I do the meet and greets, I do it in my voice, so that people know there’s a person behind the persona. I’m still Robin Parsons, I can sit down at a table and be normal to anybody. I’ve done this from scratch with the help of a wonderful team.
It broke down any sort of image black or white. You didn’t even think about whether he was black or white.
You just go this guy’s got so much talent, it paved the way. I think it’s another reason why so many artists have so much love and respect. Not just today’s artists, but from back in the day. I think from my generation he was the King – he was the start of the stars. The teacher to today’s performers. Before he died I’d say the biggest death would have been Freddie Mercury or Elvis Presley. When MJ died, because of the circumstances, he was literally about to embark on a comeback I think it was even more shocking.
Which are your favourite songs?
There’s a few songs that I really love. AT the moment one of my favourites to perform and we only do a tiny bit of it is They Don’t Care About Us. I really love Earth Song too and it’s quite new to our show. We only put it in a few months ago. I quite like a lot of the stuff that you don’t hear very often because I’m performing so many of the mainstream stuff. There’s an unreleased song called Cheater which I really like. I really like Streetwalker which is a bit like The Way You Make Me Feel. And there’s one actually on the last album called Place With No Name which was a great song. When we make decisions about what’s going to be in the show I always have a specific criteria and a specific mind-set that it has to be visual. There’s some amazing ballads but if you put too many in it slows it down a bit. The max we can do is 2 hours and even that is long for a family based show with children. At what point do you go The Way You Make Me Feel or we won’t do Thriller. We always get someone coming and going you didn’t do Ben or this one – the good thing is there’s room to change and move things around. But when we do that and then people come back and go you didn’t do this one this time. We can’t please everyone. He had so many hits and it wasn’t like he had so many albums just every song was a hit.
We’ve been working to make sure this show is right, making sure that we’re ready for technical issues and we’ve learned over the last two years what to do with them. We’re very well known in the UK in general and from a theatre point of view we’ve started to make some waves back home. But we see this as an international show and that’s what we’re aiming for. His homeland, the States was where he was the least unpopular. Not unknown, obviously. But he was more popular around Africa, China, Japan and Europe.
It takes be between 2.5 – 3 hours to apply the makeup. Every single time I do something as Michael Jackson, whether it’s just a quick interview, or a photoshoot. There’s no surgery or prosthetics. And I do it all myself. It’s all self-taught. Me practising and doing it.
Do you have family?
I always feel like I’m doing her an injustice to call her my girlfriend but we’ve been together over 10 years, and we have 2 kids, my daughter will be 5 in a few months and my youngest, Stanley who’s one and a half. They don’t know me doing anything different. This is the longest I’ve been away from them. My oldest is getting to the age where I know she misses me. But I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to everybody around me. If I’m ill it doesn’t happen. We do as much as we can to put things in place, in a certain scenario the show can go ahead but if I don’t perform that means that none of the other guys perform. That means that the theatre doesn’t get to work. So there’s a huge amount of responsibility which I take very seriously.
I’m just thinking about an understudy but I guess that wouldn’t really work.
Funnily enough we just started talking yesterday about bringing in a second MJ, not so much as an understudy but because over the years we perform smaller versions of the show in casinos and holiday parks. We look at it as a show, and we’ve set up an audition with a guy for the end of September. I don’t want the guys who have helped get this show going to not have a show, ever. I wanted to put in as many special effects as we could.
I can’t decide if MJ was complex or not complex
I think he was. I think he was misunderstood. He was so adamant on his beliefs and what he though was right even if the rest of the world thought it was wrong. I believe he was never criminal and never had any ill thoughts towards anybody or did anything wrong. He burdened an adult life pretty much and a huge amount of responsibility. He was doing that on a huge scale from the age of 7 or 8 and for the entirety of his life. I think he just wanted some escapism and be with people who weren’t going to judge me. He put himself in a position where he was open to threat from the outside world and from people who wanted to get money from him.
How are you enjoying SA?
This is my first time here, we’ve been so well received and accepted and welcomed. We were told by the agents that we were going to be well looked after and there was going to be a lot of media interest but you still don’t know. Because of the team around us including Collett’s hard work and all of the media in general have been so supportive.
Is there anything you’d like to get across in the interview?
If there’s anything anyone would like to find out about us, please go to www.foreverjackson.co.uk. Any posts or anything they want to put please put #ForeverJackson, we’d love to keep trending. Come and see us, Sunday is Father’s Day and it’s a great thing for Father’s Day.