A Mariah Carey lookalike who was raking in more than £1,500 an hour impersonating her idol before the pandemic says Covid killed bookings, adding: “All I want for Christmas is parties!”
Undeterred by the slump, former military policewoman Jessie Castro, 40, is determined to fulfil her ‘Fantasy’ by designing an entire Mariah Carey Christmas show – with fir trees, backing dancers and festive decorations to win back fans.
Mum-of-one Jessie, who lives with her partner in Orlando, Florida, USA, said: “People are booking me for a few weeks ahead now, but I still don’t think that by this Christmas it’s going to be like it was before.
“Mariah’s all about Christmas, but I don’t think people are ready to spend all that money on parties, when they can’t be sure how many people are going to turn up.
“I love doing Mariah at Christmas, so it would be perfect, but Covid came along and killed it dead.
“But the dream is to pick this up again and hopefully put my plan for a Mariah Christmas show into action for next year.
“Seeing people’s faces when I come out and sing Mariah as part of the festive celebrations would be a really nice Christmas present for me.”
Just before the pandemic, Jessie had joined forces with a friend who works in showbiz marketing to devise a plan for a festive extravaganza.
She was also able to use her experience from her day job as an administrator at a university specialising in degree courses tailored for the entertainment industry – which has given her “behind the scenes insight” into how things work.
And with a YouTube channel boasting more than 4,000 fans who are eager to see her lip-sync to the diva’s hits, once consumer confidence returns, her new show looks destined to be a hit.
A diehard Mariah fan growing up, since recognising her likeness to the star, Jessie has appeared in a documentary and on US talk shows after her lookalike videos went viral.
But, while her performances before Covid were extremely lucrative, she says she is “not a natural performer” and her Mariah impersonating was only ever a ‘side hustle’ to her job as a university administrator.
She said: “Growing up, I was a humungous Mariah fan.
“I loved her and would lip sync and dance around in my bedroom, recording myself singing to her songs.
“I loved all Mariah’s old songs. Everyone wanted to be Mariah. She was like a little girl’s dream, especially when the song Honey came out – it was super popular.
“I remember dancing to that and trying to do my own music videos with my friends using my mum’s camera and lip-syncing to the music.
“In my late teens, I kept hearing that I looked like her, because she was a brunette and so was I. Then she went blonde and when I did too, it all started up again.
“People would do a double take when they saw me at the grocery store!”
But it was a video call with the world number one Madonna impersonator, Chris America, following a lookalike convention in 2015 that catapulted Jessie, who has a son, Arian, 13, into the spotlight.
And, with interest in Mariah at its height in 1997 after her album, Butterfly, went multi-platinum, Jessie started to develop her career.
She said: “I had met Chris America over video call and she became kind of a mentor to me. She was amazing. She is a star amongst lookalikes.
“There are a million Elvis and Marilyn Monroe impersonators out there, but there were not many Mariahs. So, without any real competition, I became the world’s top Mariah. I have to thank Chris for that.”
Charging around £1,500 for an hour long gig, Jessie was performing every three months, with two shows a week at Christmas, before the pandemic – making up to £16,000 a year. Luckily, salary rises in her day job mean she was not left short of money when bookings dropped off.
Explaining how she became interested in showbusiness, Jessie, who went to film school and worked as a videographer at SeaWorld before joining the military police in June 2010, said: “When I left the military in 2014, I went to work in administration at Full Sail University and it ignited my interest in showbiz.
“I dyed my hair blonde and started making lip-syncing videos on YouTube, trying to mimic Mariah.
“They proved really popular and the first one had tens of thousands of hits within a month.”
Within two months of posting her first video in June 2014, Jessie was flown out to Los Angeles, California, to appear in a video with YouTuber and American Idol star Todrick Hall.
A parody of the film Chicago’s Cell Block Tango, called Cell Black Django, featuring lookalikes for megastars including Rhianna and Nicki Minaj, it received millions of views.
Jessie said: “Todrick Hall called me and said, ‘I have this idea for a music video and I’d love to fly you out here so you can play Mariah.’ I was like, ‘Holy cow!’”
After that, the world was Jessie’s oyster and she was soon hired to appear at corporate events and birthday parties across the USA – with business booming during the festivities.
Yuletide has always been particularly popular, as people scramble to hire a Mariah Carey impersonator to perform All I want for Christmas Is You.
“At the moment, no one is booking that far ahead, but as confidence about going out and spending money returns, that could change,” said Jessie.
“Right now people are booking for a few weeks ahead and I can’t wait to get Mariah out again properly.
“Performing on Zoom really isn’t for me. I’m not a natural performer and like to see people’s faces when they watch me. Seeing them smile is so rewarding.
“But I always lip-sync. I did try singing live once and it was a disaster.
“Mariah is one of the best singers in the world with the most recognisable voice. I’m a good singer, but even a good singer cannot sing as well as her. I prefer not to shatter people’s illusions.”
Jessie – who, unless there is a bookings surge, hopes to spend Christmas skiing in the northern USA – even stood in for the real Mariah in a documentary filmed in London in September 2018, helping to recreate scenes from her life.
She said: “The documentary featured her brother and some people she worked with, so I was there to film some flashback visuals.
“It’s what every lookalike dreams of. You can’t get a better gig than actually playing that person in a documentary – it was the icing on the cake.”
But Jessie feels it is unlikely she will ever be asked to play the modern day Mariah, as her look has changed substantially over the years.
She said: “I think I resemble the younger version of her nowadays.
“I use hair pieces and put the mole on and I do the make-up like she does.
“But I don’t dress like her unless I’m working, as I don’t want to be recognised.
“Although, one day I was in Walmart and a man started singing this little tune and asking, ‘What’s up Mariah Carey?’
“As if Mariah Carey would be shopping in Walmart! It just made me laugh.”
On one occasion, when she deliberately caused a storm by visiting a Disney store in Orlando dressed like the star with friends pretending to be her bodyguards, she says it gave her a real insight into life in the spotlight.
She said: “One of my pals shouted, ‘Hey, there’s Mariah, can I have a picture?’
“A whole crowd started to form around me. They were all trying to take photos of me on their phones.
“That gave me a real insight into what it is like to be a celebrity. I would never want to be one. I know a lot of celebs love the limelight like that, but it’s not for me, personally.”
And Jessie does not even want to meet her idol in the flesh.
“I’m not sure she would take kindly to being impersonated,” she said. “I came to this as a fan first and if meeting her wasn’t a positive experience it would taint it for me.”
For Jessie, who has also appeared on TV morning shows such as The Wendy Williams Show and has modelled a high street version of Mariah’s wardrobe, keeping her star firmly on a pedestal is important.
She said: “I have admired her since I was a teenager and I always want it to stay that way.
“Now all I want for Christmas is some parties, so I can celebrate her with my very own festive tribute again!”
Follow Jessie on Instagram @mariahlookalike