Hot Rod, Neil Zirconia and Elvis: Tribute artists in South Florida

South Florida is a great place to be someone else.

Just ask local impersonators — or tribute artists, as some prefer being called — who make a living posing as a famous face and voice.

These lounge lookalikes (and sound-alikes) perform throughout South Florida, conveying the essence of their real superstar counterparts. You may have seen them at bars, banquet halls and concert venues where they invite audiences to sing and dance along.

Here are some of our more popular professional doppelgangers.


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Shines bright like zirconia

When Chuck LaPaglia gets on stage and sings "Coming to America,'' he sparkles like Neil Diamond.

He really does. During the performance, he wears a sequined red-white-and-blue vest.

For the past five years, local fans have known him as Neil Zirconia, "the ultimate faux diamond',' a Neil Diamond tribute artist.

The singer performs mostly at yacht clubs, retirement villages, parties and bars.

"My dream has always been to entertain people,'' said LaPaglia, 55, a former stockbroker who enjoys the 1970s music of Elton John, Billy Joel and, of course, Diamond. "I always wanted to sing, but I didn't think I could sing that well."

His wife, Lori LaPaglia, disagreed. When LaPaglia sang along while practicing his guitar playing at his Delray Beach home, "she would say, 'You sing Neil Diamond.'"

And she wasn't the only one who thought so.

While shopping at a Boynton Beach music store in 2008, the baritone was goofing around, playing guitar and singing when he caught the attention of an Elvis impersonator.

"You sound so much like Neil Diamond, you should sing. You should put on a show,'' LaPaglia recalled the Elvis wannabe telling him.

At the time, LaPaglia managed his wife's art career, traveling to national art festivals to sell her work. But as the economy weakened, he began looking for other sources of income.

"That's when I decided I should do the tribute thing,'' said LaPaglia. "It's funny how you start things out of desperation."

His first performance was in 2008, at a New Year's Eve party at Ellie's Diner in Delray Beach. He was a hit. Folks asked for his business card. He created a website. Word spread.

And Neil Zirconia was born. (Now his wife manages his career.)

Don't call LaPaglia an impersonator, though.

"I dress like him. I kind of look like him and sound exactly like him. I am not trying to impersonate him. I pay tribute to him,'' said LaPaglia, who wears sequined-shirts and tuxedo pants as he sings dozens of Diamond's hits, from "Sweet Caroline" to "Holly Holy," during his 90-minute show.