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.
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.
Between songs, LaPaglia talks about Diamond's life and the story behind the hits. "I love performing. I love getting people off their chairs,'' LaPaglia said. "I get 90-year-old ladies to come on stage with me."
Elvis lives in the 954
The spirit of Elvis Presley lives on through Chris MacDonald, who plays year-round tributes to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
"Elvis was the first American Idol … I am doing the performance but I am also sharing something that Elvis did … I am telling his story,'' said MacDonald, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
He grew up in Coral Springs watching Presley's TV concert performances and movies. "He would beat up the bad guy. He would win the race. He played a guitar. He looked cool. I became a fan."
But MacDonald never set out to become a hunka-hunka burning love. While in college, he was doing some modeling and acting when he attended a Halloween party dressed as Elvis.
"Someone saw me and said, 'Hey, do you want to do a show?' I auditioned for him and I already enjoyed singing. I had a natural tone quality that seemed to work with the Elvis music. I started doing a show here and there ... Things kept going."
At six-foot-three inches tall and blue eyes, MacDonald dyes his light brown hair to black to transform into Presley. He also works out regularly and lets his sideburns grow out, but "I don't let them go all the way down to the chin."
MacDonald books 250 shows a year nationally, he said, including performances at Graceland's Heartbreak Hotel for Presley tributes from 1999 to 2006.
Locally, MacDonald, who also writes and sings country songs, puts on his Elvis tributes each August at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale to commemorate the anniversary of Presley's death. For Presley's birthday in January, he croons at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts.
During his shows, MacDonald channels the singer's breathy drawl and various looks, from the blue suede shoes of the '50s to the black leather outfits of '60s and the white-fringe-clad rocker of the early '70s.
"It's not over-the-top. I don't say I am Elvis. It's a tribute,'' said MacDonald, who performs with a 10-person crew that includes dancers and a band. "I do the music and I sing. The vocals are very close. They remind you of Elvis."
During a performance, which lasts about three hours, MacDonald sings about 30 of Presley's classic hits, including "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Blue Suede Shoes'' to "Suspicious Minds" and "Return to Sender."
"It's a way to escape and have a good time,'' he said. "I am telling you the story of the King of Rock 'n' Roll."
George Orr has heard the comparison most of his adult life: "Hey, you look like Rod Stewart."
It shadowed him for years as Orr embarked on a singing career in the 1970s in his native Scotland, then later as a concert roadie in Europe and as a celebrity photographer in South Florida in the 1980s and '90s.
But it wasn't until his photography work began drying up that the North Miami Beach resident with the spiky blond hair a la Stewart embraced his looks for work.
"I am not a crazed fan, I am just somebody who ended up in the body of a rock star,'' said Orr, jokingly. "It's an entertainment thing that I do. My show is comedy. I pretend to hate this job. I say things like, 'There is a guy who looks like me who gets paid $1 million a night to do the same thing I do.
"My act is not so much an impersonation as a comedic interpretation of what it's like to look and sound like a superstar and be performing in a pub."
Orr was a guy with all the luck one day ten years ago, when he delivered some publicity head-shots he had taken for a karaoke bar manager he knew. The manager pulled him up on stage.
"Ladies and gentleman, George Orr is going to get up and give us a song,'' he recalls the manager telling the audience.
The song: Rod Stewart's "Reason To Believe."
"Suddenly there is an uproar in the bar. 'Rod's in the house.'"
After the performance, a man approached Orr about working as a Rod Stewart impersonator for a show. In need of money, Orr agreed and began studying Stewart's concert and music videos so that he could move and sing like him. Enter "Hot Rod."
"I feel like I can actually sing like him. He sings in a high key of D, which is very difficult to do,'' Orr said. "It quickly took off.'
Stewart performs about five times a week, mostly in South Florida (both east and west coasts). He's become a regular act at Johnnie Brown's burger joint in Delray Beach and The Field Irish Pub and Eatery in Dania Beach.
"I have never pretended to be Rod Stewart. I tell people from the get-go I am not him. I am just singing his songs."
Orr spends about three hours per show belting out Stewart classics. His son, Jay, plays guitar in the show.
Although Orr said his work is just that, a job, he feels at home on stage. "As soon as the music starts, we are in hog heaven."
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Want to see 'em?
Hot Rod: 8 p.m. Tuesday at Johnnie Brown's, 301 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. No cover. Info: georgeorr.com
Chris MacDonald: 8 p.m. Aug. 17 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets $45. Info: chrismacdonaldelvis.com