Ask anyone between the age of 18 and 35 to name three people they'd want to have dinner with, dead or alive. Chances are Jesus and the pope would have to take a seat next to Beyoncé. The 34-year-old singer transcended celebrity a while ago. Today, she's less a person and more a concept, a fleshy representation of everything you wish you could be. Fierce, talented, flawless — these adjectives fall short of capturing Beyoncé's essence. You'd have more success describing the brightness of the sun to an earthworm than pinning down Beyoncé with mere words.
All of this and more is why there's just no way we're getting an interview with her. As B flies down to Miami to kick off her Formation World Tour, she won't be making a pit stop at the New Times office. It's not happening. You can expect a Q&A with Putin before we're able to get on the phone with Beyoncé.
So as demonstrated all day long in flea markets across the nation, when you can't get the original, shoot for an imitation. And by no means do we mean to be disparaging when we say "imitation." It's the sincerest form of flattery, after all. Imitations can be just as durable and fashionable as the original, in some cases distinguishable from its inspiration only to a well-trained eye. Cheaper too.
Though, of the four South Florida-based Beyoncé impersonators we found via the online booking service GigSalad.com (who charged anywhere from $250 to $300 for an hour of Beyoncé, which, in their defense, is much cheaper than an actual Beyoncé), only a couple of them resembled Queen B in the physical sense. The rest, perhaps, would be better-suited as distant cousins or former high-school acquaintances. But that's a harder angle to market.
Nobody wants to hear "Crazy in Love" as performed by the women who sat next to Beyoncé in eighth-grade geography.
But if Beyoncé is more of a concept than a person, does one even need to resemble her physically to qualify as an impersonator? According to Naomi Wynters, not necessarily.
Wynters (who bared the closest resemblance to Beyoncé physically of all the impersonators) is a South Florida-based entertainer whose repertoire centers on her Beyoncé impersonation, which she's been doing "since Beyoncé has been doing Beyoncé," she says.
"Height and body weight can play into it," Wynters explains, "but, as female impersonators, the biggest thing you have to remember when impersonating someone is their gestures — their hand movements, how they move their mouth, their eyes." Wynters, for example, is a full foot taller than Beyoncé. "But if you can get onstage and make the audience believe that you are Beyoncé, it's completely irrelevant. If the audience sees you and feels it, great job."
The next best thing.
Photo by Dario Krakower
Anyway, impersonators have a wide range of Beyoncés to choose from. There's Destiny's Child Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love Beyoncé, Sasha Fierce Beyoncé, pregnant Beyoncé, and the postmodern Beyoncé, a fearless artist who has not only managed to be the most interesting part of two of the last three Super Bowls despite her inability to throw a spiral, but who also isn't afraid to cause controversy, whether through unapologetic sexuality, proud feminism, or by using her art to prod at police brutality and other racial injustices.
Wynters was smitten from the start, when she first heard "No, No, No," a track from Destiny's Child's self-titled debut album. This was back when there were four members of Destiny's Child — Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and LeToya Luckett. The latter two remain some of the unluckiest musicians to get the boot since the Beatles kicked out Pete Best for Ringo Starr.
Even then, there was a magical quality to Beyoncé that separated her from the pack. There was never any doubt who the star was in this group of talented ladies. Beyoncé was to Destiny's Child what marshmallows are to Lucky Charms.
Attempting to capture all of this in an onstage impersonation is tough. So tough, in fact, that one can charge upward of $300 for an hour of it.
"When I go onstage, I try to embody a lot of the things — interaction with the audience, the eye contact, her
Selena Jimenez, a Beyoncé impersonator from Fort Lauderdale, shares a similar philosophy when it comes to channeling Ms. Knowles. It begins with the hair, continues with the costume, and ends with nailing the choreography.
Jimenez performs as Beyoncé in just about every bar in Wilton Manors. She's been a drag artist since the age of
Jimenez isn't alone. In fact, every Beyoncé impersonator we found on GigSalad was a drag entertainer. And for Wynters and Jimenez, Beyoncé is, by light-years, their favorite artist to channel onstage. "She is very much a woman," Jimenez explains. "And for the type of drag that I do, especially being transgendered, that's something I try to nail — being as much of a woman as possible. That's what we do; we're female impersonators. But also, in drag, we have to put on a persona that's strong and powerful, and she definitely represents strong and powerful women."
It's more than that, though. Even if you shaved off her hair, burned her costumes, and deleted all of her songs from the internet — which we are in no way advising you to do — Beyoncé would still find a way into the hearts of millions. As a transgender woman, Jimenez has often looked to Beyoncé for guidance offstage as well. "She's definitely someone I look to for inspiration and strength and not paying attention to the negativity."
Photo by Mason Poole
Especially in this latest phase of Beyoncé's career, with pundits popping up like Whack-a-Mole critters accusing the singer of everything from race-baiting to being antipolice, Jimenez finds inspiration.
"She's such a public figure that she can't really escape the rumors and all of that. In the drag community, we definitely deal with that too."
We used to do this as kids — dress up as someone we admire. Many of us had that one princess or ninja outfit we clung to, begging and begging our parents to let us wear it until, having finally caused them to cave, we proudly strolled through the Publix produce section as a zucchini-wielding Ninja Turtle.
But as we grew up, we left behind such fantastical wardrobes for more socially acceptable garb. It takes a special person to bring us back into that world, where costumes become portals to a different reality, one where we're as strong and fierce as we could hope to be.
Beyoncé is that special person to Wynters, Jimenez, and so many others. She has, against all rules of celebrity, only grown stronger over time, somehow more perfect even in moments of imperfection. As a human, she is wholly unrelatable. But heroes don't always have to make sense. Sometimes, Ninja Turtles use zucchinis to get through the day.
If Wynters and Jimenez were given one sentence to say something to Beyoncé, what would it be?
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"There is probably a novel within me," Wynters says, overwhelmed by even a hypothetical conversation with the Queen. After a moment or two, she composes herself. "I would say thank you for being personal in your music and art as well as sharing your stories to give a lot of us something to hold onto."
Jimenez, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate. "Thank you for changing my life."