His Billboardcharting song “Fashionista” is still gripping an expanding audience 10 years after it was released. Currently touring with his hit show “Hearing is Believing,” and spending his limited free time in the studio recording new material, Jimmy James is expanding his empire. As arguably the most dazzling and versatile performers on the planet, Jimmy James had a humble start debuting his impersonations and self-deprecating humor in small clubs and bars in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. As a launch to our Fashion section of the website, LGBTWeddings.com Editor in Chief, Jessie Reid, recently had a chance to catch up with Jimmy James and discuss all things transformation.
JR: Who was your inspiration or mentor when you began your female impersonation career? How did this create your character/career today? JJ: I think the 1st performer I saw do exquisite female impersonation was Jim Bailey on The Tonight Show, in the 70s, doing his uncanny portrayal of Judy Garland. Suddenly I thought, I might want to do that! I was so shy that only by erasing myself could I ever hope to do something like that. I was always made fun of for my feminine voice, I thought, this might be my ticket to leaving Texas and getting into show business.
JR: Since your success in this industry was so heavily influenced by your knowledge and perfection of makeup, tell us about that. How was makeup imperative in your transformations? Is there something you’d encourage our couples to embrace with this on their wedding day?
JJ: On your wedding day, I believe that even a small amount of makeup is good because that's the day you get photographed a lot. Everybody on TV wears makeup. A little bronzer, a little mascara, a little light dusting of some powder foundation... is good. Hire a professional or consult with someone who knows makeup and do a run through. Take some selfies before and then after. Notice the difference and make sure it's just a little bit better version of yourself.
JR: What kind of research goes into a look? JJ: I'm ALWAYS on the prowl for looks. I like to take what's going on currently in fashion then interpret it for myself. I work closely with a tailor, or designer. Right now there's a Russian designer in Palm Springs, CA that is making things for me named FEDOR. He's incredible. I always bring pictures or sketches and discuss what I'm wanting to wear.
JR: What would you say to our couples that aren’t sure what their look should be or where to start? How do they execute a look in terms of wedding fashion? JJ: If fashion is not your thing, that's ok. You should be comfortable on your special day. Save screen shots or clippings of things you'd like to wear. Hopefully you and your partner agree. For myself I literally would want to wear a big oversized Issey Miyake wrinkled shirt and pants and maybe silver or gold patent leather kicks. I would want to feel comfortable and happy to party and dance the entire night.
JR: Speaking of looks, I have heard that your looks are so successful that people have gotten tattoos of you on them thinking it was Marilyn Monroe. What a tribute to your authenticity!
JJ: Yes! Although I retired from performing as Marilyn Monroe in 1997 so that I could evolve into my voice impressions and recording career....I shot an ad campaign for l.a. Eyeworks around 1990. They were threatened with lawsuits from the then Monroe estate Roger Richmond Agency and forced to strike it from the records. Twenty two years later the internet set the image free. But most people have no idea it's me. I even wound up on a stamp for The Republic of Africa. They don't know either...lol. I've been licked by Africa and straight men and women are wearing me as Marilyn on their bodies. YeeHaw!
JR: Talk about your transformation from Drag Performer to Voice Impressionist. What do you love about what you’re doing today and what are you wanting to accomplish still? JJ: I'm truly having so much more fun as myself and communicating with the audiences. Doing the voices I do is freaky enough. When you have a guy like me doing the voices of: Cher, Adele, Barbra Streisand, Elvis, Diana Ross & Lionel Richie, Lana Del Ray, Judy Garland, Liza, Eartha Kitt, Billie Holiday and so much more.... I don't want to add the drag, that's too much.... (Jimmy laughs) one thing at time is better. Besides, in the past when I did my act in "drag" people thought I was lip synching.
JR: Having delivered some of the most unique and outrageous performances, you have a desire to share with the whole world this musical calling your legendary performances are even available to our couples for wedding entertainment. What would a couple expect and how do they go about booking you? JJ: Yes! I do weddings! My shows are fun and uptempo. I temper the show according to the client. Vocal Impressions of the greats to Dance Music style shows or full on Cabaret type show presentation. I'll work with the clients to pick out their favorites from my vast repertoire.
JR: Rumor has it you are back in the studio recording, continuing to work with some AList celebrities and appear on national talk shows. What is that like? Is there anyone you’re dying to team up with? And where does Jimmy James go from here? JJ: I've just written some new songs! I'm having meetings with some producers. Fingers crossed. They seem to like what I've done.
I wanna continue with my Voices show and continue writing and recording Dance music. I'm also spending time lately in San Antonio, TX going through my HUGE archive in preparation of putting together a documentary of my "Marilyn Years." It will be like nothing you've ever seen. Marilyn started everything for me and I want to show people the love and respect I had for her and all the work I put into my transformation in recreating one of the most beautiful, talented and iconic women of the century.