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Heads turn, if only for a moment, at Celebrity Impersonator Convention

Celebrity Impersonator Convention

Leila Navidi

Bono impersonator Pavel Sfera of Los Angeles, Roy Orbison impersonator Donnie Fox of Las Vegas, and Elvis impersonator Jeff Stanulis of Las Vegas sing a Roy Orbison song together as Sfera films them during the Celebrity Impersonator Convention at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012.

Celebrity Impersonator Convention

Amy Winehouse impersonator Monica De Diego of Spain reapplies her lipstick in the bathroom during the Celebrity Impersonator Convention at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »

21st Annual Reel Awards at Golden Nugget

The 21st Annual Reel Awards at the Golden Nugget on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »

At the Golden Nugget, Sean Connery stands near the bar sipping a beer while holding court with the other patrons in his trademark Scottish brogue. A few feet away, gamblers gawk as Robert De Niro and Cher stroll through the casino floor chatting and laughing.

The collection of celebrities made for an improbable scene on a Tuesday afternoon, and discerning observers may have noticed the sharply dressed man in a dark suit wasn’t actually the Academy Award-winning actor or that the woman in the sparkly one-piece jumpsuit wasn’t actually Cher.

It didn’t matter to the dozens of celebrity doppelgangers circulating throughout the Golden Nugget this week for the Celebrity Impersonator Convention.

Now in its 21st year, the convention is part talent expo, part family reunion with the tight-knit group of impersonators from around the world gathered to catch up, trade tips and, hopefully, book a few gigs.

The star-studded affair drew celebrities from all walks of the entertainment industry, including Willie Nelson, Dr. Phil, Whoopi Goldberg and several Frank Sinatras.

Monday featured a red-carpet event and the Reel Awards, which honor the best of the best in the celebrity impersonator industry.

Much of Tuesday’s festivities were taken up with the Vegas Tribute Idol, which pitted the impersonators against each other in a showcase of charisma, dance moves and hair product.

Even as the winners of the competition were announced, the mood was jovial and friendly, something that’s common in the industry, said Jason Scott, who emceed the performance as Howie Mandel and was later scheduled to perform on Fremont Street as Neil Diamond.

“You’d think one Neil Diamond against another Neil Diamond would turn into a competitive thing, but it’s not,” said Scott, who lives in Canada. “It becomes a supportive thing.”

In addition to shop talk about the ins and outs of taking on a celebrity persona, the convention also serves as a networking event where attendees connect with booking agents or share leads on where to land work.

Finding work in the industry can be difficult but often results in unique opportunities to perform around the world, said Trina Johnson Finn, who performs as Whitney Houston.

“It’s a rush,” Johnson Finn said. “It’s almost like you’re stepping into their shoes.”

Phoenix resident Dennis Keogh gave up his job working for a telephone company after 30 years to pursue a career as a Sean Connery and James Bond impersonator. Equipped with a “License to Thrill,” Keogh said he’d spent countless hours studying Connery in film, in speeches and in interviews.

“It’s one thing to have a look. You have to know the character, know their voice, know their persona,” Keogh said as he demonstrated the classic Connery nose scratch. “I like being Dennis, but this is pure fun. I love to wear the kilt.”

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