Derrick Barry owes his career to Britney Spears. So I knew the female impersonator would hang on any word she had to say about him.
Alas, he’s going to have to hang a bit longer.
Here, in court reporter detail, is the exchange that began my eight-minute chat with Spears on Dec. 20. You can parse it for deeper meaning and potential interpretations, as Barry already has.
My ice-breaker was to say it was a big change for this Vegas guy to be talking to the real Britney “instead of ‘Legends in Concert’ Britney or the drag Britney.”
“Oh my God,” she replied with a cute giggle.
“The drag guy’s pretty scary-good though. Have you seen him?”
“No I haven’t seen him. That should be interesting.”
“He was on ‘America’s Got Talent’ a few years ago.”
“Oh wow, that’s interesting,” she replied, with more lilt in her voice than you will read in cold type, making it sound as though this was in fact intriguing.
Still, not the recognition Barry hoped for.
His Britney impression didn’t just put him on national television with “Talent” in 2008. He began taking a drag career seriously in 2003, when he made it into the studio audience of “The Tonight Show” on the night Spears was the guest.
Spears gasped and put her hands to her face when Jay Leno pointed him out to her.
“That’s how I knew I was good enough. It really boosted my confidence. I knew that I could go somewhere with this,” he says.
And he was just sure she knew about his “Talent” run, though he worries about confusion with a comedic, less-flattering “Boy Britney” who also appeared on the show.
For Britney’s desert helicopter landing on “Good Morning America” in September, Barry wore a replica of Spears’ “Femme Fatale” tour costume that did not match the welcoming team of “school girls” assembled for the publicity stunt.
The producers had moved him out of the shot “because white pops,” he explains. But it’s his understanding that Spears herself spotted him from the chopper and requested he be reinstated into the shoot.
And if you look at Barry’s Facebook banner, you can see a photo of him out of drag, getting a poster signed by Spears during another coordinated publicity “arrival” on Dec. 3.
Close encounters one and all. But not the same as actually getting to hang with her.
“I would like to think that she at least respects the fact that I do (the tribute), but then I don’t know her,” he says. “I don’t know her personally. I don’t know her personality. I don’t know if she might think it’s weird,” he admits.
It might help Britters to know that Barry is one of the best in the business. His bare-midriffed illusion is a highlight of the “Divas Las Vegas” drag revue at The Quad. He’s now in the odd position of being a few blocks from the real Spears, sharing the same corporate landlord in Caesars Entertainment.
Her two-year residency is “going to give me a lot more exposure and more consistent work,” he says. “Nobody’s going to be able to hire Britney. She can’t come to a birthday party. But these people can go see her show and then throw their birthday party and have me perform there.”
Having a real star so near a drag doppelganger is not a completely unique situation. Celine Dion plays across the street from Steven Wayne’s “Divas” impression. And by the time Cher and Bette Midler played the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, there were too many drag impersonators for each of them to count.
But Spears is still more known to hang out and party than the old divas. And Barry has already entertained “Piece of Me” cast and crew members. Two of the dancers recently jumped up on stage with him at the Piranha club.
“I feel acknowledged by her team,” he says. “It’s just when it comes to Britney, there’s so many other things for her to worry about than what her opinion is of the drag Britney in Las Vegas.”
But hope springs eternal that someday she will have one.
“Now that she’s here it’s totally going to change, because I do think people are going to ask her.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.