Gary James' Interview With
Reba McEntire Tribute Artist
For Marie Levin, it all began in the Fall of 1995. That's when she auditioned for the roll of a Reba McEntire look-a-like in a mystery dinner theatre production. The rest, as they say, is history. She's won both local and national Reba look-a-like contests. Sometimes it's really difficult to tell whether it's Reba or Marie Levin. Just ask Tim McGraw, Ronnie Dunn, Toby Keith, Jo Dee Messina, Terri Clark, Linda Davis, Pam Tillis and Reba's son Shelby! So, we set out to discover what like is like as a Reba McEntire tribute artist.
Q - So Marie, what's better than looking like a famous singer? But does it ever get to you? People must come up to you all the time and say, "Are you Reba?"
A - It's no coincidence that I impersonate Reba McEntire. We are so much alike and have shared so many uncanny experiences. I grew up in a small town and I wanted to sing or act. My love for horses began as a young child. I wanted to be a barrel racer when I grew up. But I didn't know who Reba was until 1995. That's when my kids graduated high school and I headed into New York to Weist Barron for acting lessons. I auditioned and got my first acting job with a murder mystery dinner theatre show. It was during that time I saw another company looking for The Judds, Dolly Parton and Reba. I said "Who's Reba?" My neighbor gave me a Reba t-shirt. Someone else gave me a red wig and when I looked in the mirror, there she was! I got the role and when it ended I missed her music. But it was one comment that I'll never forget. You know, you kind of look like Reba. So, Marieba was born. I started listening to every song, watching every concert video and taped every 'live' interview on television. I had to learn how pronounce words like tour, syrup, ice and moron! I was never happy with my hair and eye color combination so I colored my hair and got blue contacts. Even though I hated it as a child, I naturally had the upper lip, the long neck and yes, those ears. People have challenged me, putting me to the test and want to see my ears. Heck, they even pull my hair! Like I said, it's no coincidences. So, to find out if I really looked like Reba I asked my husband Marty to put me to the Nashville test. People were screaming from their cars, honking horns and I was told to see the Marty Stuart tape, the Marty Party at The Wildhorse Saloon. His band caught a glimpse of me outside and sent security to check if that was Reba standing there. Nothing is more fun and rewarding than to know you have been accepted by Reba fans! They tell me, I don't care if you're not her, I'll never get this close to Reba and you are as nice as I think she would be. Now who knows Reba better than her fans? So, when they speak, I listen. Right after Reba cut her hair we went to see her show in Philadelphia. Fans started pointing and screaming and then it went south real fast. "I thought you were her but I know she cut her hair." I then asked myself, do I want people thinking that woman looks like Reba or do I want people asking are you really her? So, I make sure I keep current on hair, make-up and wardrobe styles. Sadly, I don't own anything from her clothing line, but I'd be more than happy to be a model for her! It really is an honor to look like Reba, but I am happy with who I am and living my life. I never lose sight that she is the one and only, she paved the way. I'm just grateful to have learned from the best! It never gets old to see people excited thinking they just met Reba, but I do have to burst their bubble and fess up that I'm not her. Now, if the crowd gets out of hand at one of her concerts that I'm at, she'll just shut off the lights and step out on stage because they're screaming at me from the balcony seats, "We love you Reba!", and that's after the floor audience stood in a forty minute line to have pictures taken with me!
Q - Why do you think you won Country Music Magazine's look-a-like contest? You've actually fooled famous people into thinking you're really Reba, haven't you?
A - According to Tracy Rogers at Country Music Magazine, I won their celebrity look-a-like contest in 2000 hands down because of the crook in my smile. Most people say it's the eyes. In June of that year I autographed at Fan Fair with the other contestants. But when Terri Clark saw me, she had to send out her security to find out why "Reba was standing on the wrong side of the fence." The next day she told me "You, you got it all!" When Reba toured with Brooks And Dunn, they'd play tricks on each other. So it was hysterical when my husband reminded me Brooks And Dunn would be coming through the crowd to the stage. Reba had just finished performing and along comes Ronnie Dunn who put his hand out to shake mine. When he looked up, saw my face, yanking to retreat his hand like he just saw a ghost. I can only imagine what he was thinking. Tim McGraw spotted me in his audience at the Allentown Fair. He stopped singing to announce to the crowd, pointing, "Reba! Reba's here!" He shook my hand then elbowed his band members, still pointing at me. The he shrugged his shoulders and continued his concert. When I was selected to be on Hollywood Squares I was one of eight impersonators selected for the week long shows. We were taken onto the set for our instructions. I was one of the last impersonators to step out when the crowd went crazy screaming "Reba!" After months of finalizing who the eight contestants would be on The Weakest Link, I received a phone call at 10:30 East Coast time on a Saturday night from an agent asking if I was available this Thursday. I asked what for and she said the casting director just happened to see Reba's sitcom last night and this morning I put your picture on his desk. They actually had to have a meeting to figure out who they were going to bump off the show to put me on. Al Roker from The Today Show had security pull me out of the crowd to do the weather with him. These three huge men approached me and told me "You're coming with us. Don't ask any questions." Really? I said, "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me where you're taking me." They said, "Al wants you to do the weather with him." But when Al saw me he got so excited he decided to pull Reba back to tell her you need to do the Patti Duke Show, only Country style. Well, I agree Al. Linda Davis and I got into the elevator at the same time when she was performing in Baltimore. I didn't know her band was booked at the exact same hotel. No wonder the front desk thought they made a mistake and moved us up to the concierge's floor. The silence was deafening until I asked Linda if she wouldn't mind taking a picture with me. She let out a heavy sigh and said, "I didn't know what to do. I thought you were Reba." When Reba performed for CBS on Thanksgiving Day it was actually pre-recorded at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York. People went nuts as usual. I was all the way in the back of the crowd until people up front started asking for a picture with me. Of course I had to move to be next to them. Now, I'm at the front of the stage and Reba perfectly performs all four of her songs. She leaves and the show co-ordinator says, "Now we are going to turn the cameras on to the crowd. We will play back Reba singing her songs and I will pretend to be Reba and we want to hear you clap and scream as if it were her standing here." The people start yelling, "Put her up there," pointing at me. Next thing, I'm on stage with her band packing up behind me and the crowd is going nuts as if Reba was really there. I entered a contest that was held in New York and the contestants got to see Reba perform the next day at the taping of Good Morning America. We had a tour and were instructed not to speak with anyone and be quiet because they were taping. At one point, an employee starts waving me over. After he came to get me I got yelled at! We were then later positioned next to the stage during Reba's performance. Well, I thought to myself, if I was at her concert I'd be singing. So, I did and that's when I noticed her keyboard player sit straight up and begin leaning over toward me. When Reba finished, she said to me, "You have an incredible voice." Well, I didn't win the contest, but I won the game! Part of me winning the Country Weekly contest was being on the TNN Awards show with Jeff Foxworthy. I was instructed to quickly run across the stage and stand behind a column until I got pushed out onto the stage. I was asked, "Did you hear that?" They already spotted you and think Reba is here!" I walked over to Jeff Foxworthy as instructed and the people and the photographers want crazy. So cool! Until Jeff said, "Oh, you're not Reba!", and that's when it went horribly silent and I swear if they had tomatoes they might have tossed them at me. I just stood there and shook my head like, nope, not her! That's when Jeff told them I won the contest. Her staff got mad during the Awards show and had to come downstairs to meet me. Now, I know Reba was on vacation in Ireland at the time and they thought she flew in without telling them. There are endless stories of Trace Adkins, Mark Chestnutt, Larry King, her band and her make-up artist thinking she saw Reba in the ladies room after just leaving her during the taping of the Reba sitcom. Even her son Shelby pointed at me, stating, "That woman looks just like my Mom!"
Q - It's one thing to look like Reba, but to be able to sing like her? That had to be the hard part to get down, right?
A - Although I struggled and worked extremely hard to learn to sing like Reba, I don't judge my singing. Think about it, if I'm gonna judge myself, I'm coming up short. It's Reba! How would I measure up to Reba, right? So instead, I let my audience judge for themselves. As long as her fans are happy, the venue is happy and the agent is happy, well then, I'm over the top! Of course I am always pushing myself to do better with the entire package as a whole. I never take what I do for granted.
Q - Where do you perform?
A - My performances have been at various venues across the country, corporate events like the one at The Wildhorse Saloon. Fairs, festivals on the East Coast with my band, Little Rock, but also campgrounds and private birthday parties.
Q - How much work is there for a Reba tribute act?
A - The work varies and always seems to increase when Reba has a new CD, hit single, sitcom or Broadway play, which I had to forfeit my fifth row, center stage seats when I was hired to perform at The Wildhorse Saloon. But Reba taught me work comes first, and anyway, who wouldn't want to perform at one of the most prestigious places in Nashville. It was a corporate event and closed to the public. The agent told me, "I saw you at dinner the night before and thought she looks a little like Reba. Then I listened at rehearsals and thought she sounds a little like Reba." The he told me, "But when you walked out on that stage tonight, it's as if you had a blood transfusion because you were Reba." The crowd was begging Security, please, you gotta let me in. You don't understand, that's Reba up there! It doesn't get any better than that or could it? I am hopeful work goes through the roof this year (2015) with her reunion with Brooks And Dunn at Caesar's beginning in June 2015 in Vegas. I feel blessed. I've learned from the best and I am thankful that if God had to make me look like another person, that it was Reba McEntire. And like Reba, I have my own ideas, hopes and dreams. You know, it's a terrible feeling, waking up in the morning and realizing you don't work for Reba and have a show tonight, that it was all just a dream. But I will keep dreaming and I'm a firm believer that dreams really do come true.