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[Weekly Q&A]

It’s not Britney, bitch: Spears impersonator Derrick Barry on becoming the pop star

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Look twice: This Britney is a Diva.
Nick San Pedro

After months of anticipation—and speculative rumors surrounding lip-syncing—Britney Spears and her Piece of Me residency finally land at Planet Hollywood December 27.

But the Strip has been home to another Britney for quite some time: Derrick Barry, female impersonator and cast member of Divas Las Vegas at the Quad.

You’ve been a fan of Britney Spears from the start. Has your adoration for the pop star grown since you started stepping into her shoes? I think even if I wasn’t impersonating her I would still be such a huge fan. The fun in it is [that] my homework is to study Britney Spears’ choreography and learn her music and work on costumes that are replicas, so I really have the most amazing job in the world. To be a fan of hers and then to get to impersonate her around the world is such an honor.

With Britney’s arrival in town this month, have any changes been made to your acts in Divas Las Vegas? Unfortunately I’ve been on the road. This is the best time for me to get out there and promote the Britney Jean album. And obviously, “Work Bitch” was very successful, so I get to do that at all the clubs. I’m hoping that once her show kicks off that we can do a little tribute to the acts that she’s doing here in Vegas. I’m still doing “Circus”/”Womanizer,” which I love, but that’s from two tours ago already. And we should be keeping it fresh and current, especially with her right down the street.

What’s the biggest challenge that you face as a Britney Spears impersonator? The dancing is always the hardest for me, because she has been training since she was like 2 or maybe 3 years old. I’ll just watch her videos and study them and do the dance until I feel like it’s perfect enough to go onstage. It’s like impersonating Janet Jackson—you have to dance. And if you’re not dancing then people are going to be like, “Uh, what are they doing?”

How about the transformation process—what is the most difficult part? I got pretty lucky with the features; my eyes and my mouth are very similar to hers. So I think just putting on enough makeup I can resemble her. But I think the part for me that’s the hardest to hide is my jawline, just because it’s really dominant. I get a lot of critiques on that. And it’s the one thing that we can’t really shade with makeup—as soon as there’s a flash, it’s going to pick it up.

Renowned Cher impersonator Chad Michaels has had plastic surgery to make himself look more like her. Would you ever consider doing that? It’s something that I have felt really strongly about not doing, and only because I got into this just purely based on wanting to see where it could take me as an actor. I think if I start to change my facial features, then I kind of gave up on my own person and my own personality and my own look. So, as long as I can hide things as best I can with makeup then I’ll continue to do that.

Derrick Barry performs as Britney Spears in Divas Las Vegas.

Britney had a very public meltdown a few years back. Did that impact your job in any way? I did get hired to do the Comedy Festival with HBO, and they wanted to have me take my wig off at the very end—and I had a shaved head. I did that, and only because it was the right time to do it. I never poked fun at her in any other way. It kind of takes what I do and puts it in a bad light if I start gaining weight or coming onstage with an umbrella. Or little things like [how] people thought it would be funny if I were to perform the song “Crazy” and to have someone carry me out on a stretcher—I just didn’t find the humor in any of that; It’s someone’s life. I was all about portraying her in the most positive light. Obviously, if SNL were to call, of course—I’d be like, “Okay, how can we make fun of Britney, because I’m totally down.” But I’m not going to do that in a Las Vegas show where we’re supposed to emulate them at their prime. I just always want to look my best, and it’s easy to do because Britney’s had such iconic looks through her 15-year career.

What’s the craziest thing that's happened to you as a result of performing as Britney Spears? I had a fan of the show that got a tattoo that says “Divas” and then underneath it says “Britney Spears” and “Lady Gaga” and then “Derrick Barry” as well. Not only are they a fan of the show and the characters I do, but also a fan of me. It was the most flattering thing.

Another time, I was in Hollywood at [Britney’s] star taking a picture with it and dressed as her, and a grandmother came over to me and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, my granddaughter wanted to come so badly to meet with you. Can I call her and can you just say ‘hi’ to her?” I felt so bad because this grandmother really thought I was Britney, so I did. I talked to the granddaughter and said, “Oh, thank you so much, I wish you could have been here today.” It’s so bad, but I couldn’t let her down. It was when Britney was there for a performance on Ryan Seacrest, and this was 10 years ago. I obviously don’t do things like that now that I impersonate her for a living.

A lot of people are upset by reports that Britney will lip-sync her way through the show. What do you have to say to those people? I think that anyone who has a problem with Britney lip-syncing should probably get onstage in front of thousands of people, learn all of her choreography and go through the whole show singing live—and then we’ll see if they’ll sing live and have the backlash from the critics on not sounding perfect because they’re dancing the whole way through the show.

If you were approached to perform a duet with Britney during the Piece of Me show, what song would you choose? Oh my gosh. I would love to do “Toxic” with her, just because she had the two looks—where she had the dark hair and then she had the red hair. It’s her favorite. It’s my favorite. It’s the reason that I moved to Vegas and just took a leap of faith, because that song was so powerful. It was definitely my sign that I needed to move here and continue impersonating her. But I’m down to do anything in the show. If they need me to walk VIPs to their seats or if they need me to help with meet and greets or if they need me to sweep the stage after the show, I will do it.

What do you enjoy most out of being Britney? I get to be the sexiest woman alive on stage. There’s no one, in my eyes, that’s more beautiful than Britney Spears. Every night I’m so grateful that I pinch myself—I get to go onstage and do these songs that I love and I know all the words to anyway just because I’m a fan of hers. So it’s very nice. I feel like I don’t even work for a living because I love what I do.

Divas Las Vegas Nightly, 9:30 p.m., $55-$88. The Quad, 777-2782.

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