Gary James' Interview With
World Tribute Artist Champion
and Talent Agent
Jennifer Ramsey is not only a tribute artist, she's an agent for tribute artists. She's been a tribute artist since 1995. In 2004 Jennifer won the World Tribute Artist Championship Award for her impersonation of Marilyn Monroe. She also won the Sybil Award at the Sunburst Convention Of Celebrity Impersonators in 2004, 2012 and 2013. As owner of Ramsey's Replicas, Jennifer Ramsey knows the tribute business.
Q - You actually started out as a tribute artist in 1995.
A - Correct.
Q - Before 1995, what were you doing?
A - I was a hairdresser and a makeup artist.
Q - In Hollywood?
A - No, I was in Indiana.
Q - So, how did you start your tribute artist career?
A - Well, I had done an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe in Indiana once and people kept telling me I look like her. After I moved to Florida, I got in a car accident and damaged my back, so I couldn't stand behind a chair for hours on end anymore. So I had to do something that was just a few hours at a time. So I started doing look-a-like work in Florida.
Q - Usually a person will do a tribute to one artist. You do multiple tributes. You do Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis and Joan Rivers. Why those three people?
A - I do several people. I started with Marilyn, then went to Lucy (Lucille Ball). It just started with the agents requesting because I could turn myself into different people with my wigs and makeup 'cause I know how to do that. When they needed a character, they would call me and say, "Can you do so-and-so and so-and-so?" I would do Elvira at Halloween or whatever they would request. If they would call me and say can I put something together, I would do it and I would just add that character to my repertoire.
Q - Was it more than just the look?
A - I have to do their voices and mannerisms. It takes me awhile to put together a new character.
Q - Was the money good when you were doing these tributes?
A - It's not enough to make a complete living out of starting out, so what I did was I got another job doing Murder Mysteries and acting in theaters. So now, I write and produce Murder Mysteries as well.
Q - You're a busy lady!
A - Well, you have to pay the bills.
Q - Are you still a tribute artist?
A - Yes.
Q - And you're running this tribute artist agency as well?
A - Correct. My company is a division of a fully licensed and insured talent agency down here in Florida. I book other tributes. People call me and they want tribute shows or if they want tribute bands I can find them.
Q - When buyers call up for an act, how sure are you that the act is reliable and dependable?
A - I only use people I know of, that I've worked for or that have come recommended to me by someone that I've known personally. I go every year to conventions. There are two conventions a year. The best one is the one in Orlando and most tribute artists go to that convention every year. There's hundreds of look-a-likes and tribute artists that go to that and they showcase every year. So, you can see the acts perform and interact with them over a three to five day period, and talk to them and get their promotional material. We talk to other agents while we're there and get their testimonials on the professionalism of the acts and who they've booked. So, we pretty well know who's good and who's bad.
Q - Do agencies like I.C.M. or William Morris or C.A.A. book tribute artists, or don't you know?
A - I don't know, but when you think about this, I've watched over the years how Hollywood has done this. You have seen big stars win Oscars being the stuttering prince or the Queen of England or the guy that did Johnny Cash won an Oscar and the guy that did Ray Charles wins an Oscar. When a star in Hollywood does a great tribute, they win an Oscar. That's what we make a living from, but people laugh at us. "Oh, it's an Elvis. It's a Marilyn. Ha, ha, ha. Isn't that cheesy!" But when a Hollywood actor does a great performance as a tribute, they win an Oscar.
Q - You do a tribute to not only Marilyn, but Bette Davis. Do people remember Bette Davis?
A - In my area in Florida, it's good for me because the demographic down here is older, so they remember Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson and some of the silver screen icons that are so fun to do. We can really get campy with those. There's always going to be Marilyn. There's young ones coming up and I like that. There's always going to be Elvis and that's fine. That's a good thing. As the older people die off, I don't know if there's going to be that many calls for Bette Davis, but as long as people are calling for it, I'm going to keep doing it.
Q - As you see it, is the tribute business growing or has it leveled off?
A - There's a lot of times I get calls just to get look-a-likes to go to a party just for atmosphere. They'll book people just to mix and mingle. Sometimes they don't even want a full show. They just want somebody for photo ops. I don't see that tribute business leveling off.
Q - Are you booking acts primarily in Orlando or all over the United States?
A - There are agencies that book acts all over the country. As a booker, I'll book acts locally, but for myself as talent, I get booked all over the country. I've been in Mississippi, Wisconsin, all over the place, because my Lucy is one of the best Lucys. I look a lot like Lucy. Elvira has been all over the country. Of course that's a seasonal thing.
Q - I guess when you get tired of being a tribute artists yourself, you'll just concentrate on booking other tribute acts, won't you?
A - Yes, exactly. You gotta know when to get out. I've seen some pretty scary Marilyns out there. You have to know when to quit. That's why I like to see some younger Marilyns come along. I need a couple of young Marilyns here in Florida. We've got some good ones, but some of 'em might not be in my area. So I'm always looking for new talent for that reason because they move or they're changing characters. I'm always adding characters or changing. Maybe I don't want to do Marilyn anymore. I want someone else to do it for me. That kind of thing, or I'm busy or I'm booked. You always need someone else.