Michael Jackson tribute artist Joby Rogers hand-picked by Jackson himself

Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience show set for LSU

Joby Rogers laughs each time he hears the Dr. Hook song.

He laughs even when thinking about listening to it.

Because he’s been on the cover of Rolling Stone. And right now, it sounds more inviting than being homebound in Connecticut in the wake of a brutal snowstorm.

That’s the title of Dr. Hook’s song, by the way, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” But Rogers was Michael Jackson when he appeared there in 2009.

Make that the persona of Jackson, an alter ego that Rogers will bring to Baton Rouge in “The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience.”

The show is the fourth in the Family Hour Series at the LSU Union Theater, where it will be performed on Thursday, Feb. 21.

For those thinking, “Oh, this is just a Michael Jackson impersonator,” well, think again. Rogers is the only tribute artist chosen to be Jackson’s official substitute — by Jackson, himself.

And Rogers is the only impersonator ever to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone.

But to call him an impersonator seems a bit demeaning, because Rogers is more than that. It’s as if he becomes Jackson when he steps on stage.

Jackson must have seen this when choosing Rogers as a substitute for a New York fundraising event. That, of course, was before the singer’s death.

“The demand has grown since his passing,” Rogers said. “And the number of impersonators has grown, too.”

But none of them has a letter of designation signed by Jackson. And none has been on the cover of Rolling Stone.

And only Rogers will be coming to Baton Rouge with six back-up dancers and a stage set equipped for videos, all of which will guide the audience on a journey from the Jackson 5 days to the singer’s last years.

“We perform songs from when his popularity was at an all-time high and those from the time when he wasn’t as popular,” Rogers said. “And when I look at the film that was released after his death, This is It, I think about how great that tour was going to be.”

A tour that will never be.

“What I liked about that film is how it showed him as a performer,” Rogers said. “They didn’t try to make him a deity or an icon. They showed him as a performer and how professional he was as a performer.”

Rogers doesn’t deify Jackson, either. No performer deserves that, because no performer can live up to it.

No, Rogers appreciates Jackson as a performer, an appreciation that began in high school. He’d always listened to music by Jackson and his brothers, but he’d never really stepped on a stage until his friends decided to develop a Michael Jackson show for a junior prom.

“I was the person who looked closest to Michael Jackson, so they put me in the show,” he said.

And who would ever have thought a high school stage show would lead to Rolling Stone?

“Not me,” Rogers said. “I never dreamed it would go this far.”

The prom gave way to an opportunity for Rogers to perform as Jackson at children’s birthday parties.

“I’d go in and start dancing, and the kids would scatter everywhere and hide,” Rogers said, laughing.

Then it was to an off Broadway La Cage show, which needed a Jackson impersonator. La Cage shows usually stage female impersonators portraying iconic singing stars.

“But for some reason, they needed someone to do Michael Jackson,” Rogers said.

That experience opened doors, one of which was an opportunity for Rogers to portray Jackson in other La Cage shows in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. He also learned how to apply makeup, which has led to teaching opportunities at two schools in Connecticut.

Why Connecticut? It’s where he was born, where he grew up.

“I limit traveling for ‘The Michael Jackson Experience’ to weekends, and I teach makeup artistry during the week,” he said. “The female impersonators in the La Cage shows knew how to apply makeup. They know what to do to make their faces look different, and I didn’t know how to do any of that. So, they taught me.”

So, when Rogers steps on the LSU Union Theater stage, keep in mind that the transformation is by his own hand. He applies his own makeup. He also choreographs the show, which is filled with Jackson’s signature moves.

“I’d never studied dance before I started doing Michael Jackson shows, so I learned the dances through repetition,” he said. “I’d keep doing the move until I got it right. The two hardest moves were the moonwalk and standing straight up on the toes. And I don’t actually sing. The entire show is lip synced, and there are videos playing behind us. The show is more of a tribute to Michael Jackson’s dancing.”

For now, Rogers is trying to stave off cabin fever. The weekend storm had dumped several feet of snow on his street, and workers are still clearing streets in other parts of the city.

“My neighbors and I took out our snowblowers and cleared our street,” he said. “I needed to go to the store, so I had to do something.”

And though he didn’t make it to Louisiana in time for Mardi Gras, the state offers the prospect of warmer temperatures and good food.

“This not only will be my first trip to Baton Rouge but my first trip to Louisiana,” Rogers said. “I don’t know why we’ve never made it to Louisiana, but we’re really looking forward to it. I’ve eaten gumbo, but it’s been from a can. I’m looking forward to eating real Louisiana food.”

After years of portraying the King of Pop on stage, Roger’s yet to tire of his alter ego. Paying tribute to Jackson has given him opportunities to travel, to perform nationally on Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel’s television talk shows and to appear at the unveiling of the Michael Jackson statue at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Los Angeles.

And now it’s bringing him to LSU, where he will introduce Baton Rougeans to “The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience.”