Carlie Craig is a petite, blue-eyed, blond Coral Springs native who — with the right wig and makeup — can instantly transform herself into celebrities such as Lorde, Kristin Chenoweth, Iggy Azalea, and Gwen Stefani. She's a celebrity impressionist. In the past three years after leaving South Florida for Los Angeles, Craig has built a career on shaking her hips like Shakira, being awkward like Emma Stone, and belting out strong vocals like Ariana Grande.
"Imitation is the best form of flattery," she says. "Basically, anyone I really love or I'm really drawn to, I'll impersonate. I'll sit and watch interviews and repeat what they say until my voice sounds the same. After that, I pay attention to physicality. Then I go into making funny jokes and references to pop culture."
Craig will debut on USA Network's newest competition-driven show, First Impressions, whose first episode airs tonight. The half-hour comedy program is hosted by actor Freddie Prinze Jr. and features Saturday Night Live alum Dana Carvey as the expert-in-residence. The unscripted series presents America’s best amateur impressionists as they battle one another by doing their best celebrity impressions.
"The whole thing was just really great timing," Craig says about her latest gig. "I put out my first character reel in December, which was around the same time I auditioned for the show. I think it definitely helped get me on the show when the video blew up."
Since she was 7 years old, the professional impersonator has spent most of her time onstage. She grew up acting at Coral Springs Center for the Arts and went on to study theater and media production at Florida State University. Ten days after graduation, Craig packed her bags and moved out West.
"I've always been inspired by SNL and being a character performer," she says. "Now it's a dream come true at the right time."
She began posting celebrity impressions on Instagram. From there, she produced her first impressions video that she posted to YouTube. In four months, her video has been viewed more than 600,000 times. She has 23,000-plus subscribers.
"I wanted to produce something of real quality," she says of her impressions. "I pulled costumes from my closet, borrowed wigs, and my friend did my full makeup and basically transformed me into the personalities."
Glam aside, Craig's vocal ability is what sets her apart from other celebrity impressionists. "I've always loved singing," she says. "But comedy has always been my passion. I've taken voice lessons, though, and they're a great tool to have that just sort of carried over to the comedy world, especially in standup."
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Craig says most audience members assume she'll spend her time onstage cracking jokes, so when she busts out her vocals, many are caught off-guard.
Although she's not sure exactly what the future holds, she credits much of her success to those in her hometown of Coral Springs. "Everybody back home is so encouraging of everything that I'm doing," she says. "It's not easy to make it as an actor in L.A. You have to fight and claw your way up, and you face rejection every day. I always try to stay humble and kind. If you're a good person and you work really hard, the world will reward you for that.
"I just love making people laugh," she adds. "I have tunnel vision to making it as a comedic actress."
Hosted by Freddie Prinze Jr. and Dana Carvey. Premieres tonight, May 10, at 10:30 on USA Network. Craig's episode will air later this month. For more information, visit usanetwork.com, or check local listings.