The year was 1982, and Michael Jackson's record-breaking Thriller album had just been released. The Los Angeles street dancer Kenny Wizz, then 20 years old, didn't realise how drastically his life was about to change.
Wizz has performed more than 20,000 shows to date, including daily performances during an 11-year contract with Las Vegas's Riviera Hotel and Casino.
Four years ago, he began the Michael Jackson History II Tour, which has been booked around the world, and will debut in the UAE tomorrow at Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
Special guests to his shows have included members of the Jackson family, including sister Janet.
"This is a concert setting. It's especially for fans who did not get a chance to see Michael perform live. It's collective entertainment and excitement," says Wizz during a stop in Johannesburg. "I'll be performing many of Michael's hits including Smooth Criminal, Bad, Beat It and Billie Jean, with the recognisable outfits he performed those songs in. He was truly one of a kind and in his own class."
Wizz will be performing 22 songs, alongside six dancers and six band members. In total, the production is made up of a team of 25. There are 1,000 lighting cues and a dozen costume changes.
Ahead of each performance, the Las Vegas-based Wizz spends three hours transforming himself into Michael Jackson, including two hours on make-up and a minimum of 20 minutes of vocal training - the whole show is performed live with no lip-synching, which he believes distinguishes him from other MJ impersonators.
"In between songs, I have about 10 to 15 seconds to change, so it's really not that easy, there's a science behind it," he jokes. "I'm a performance actor, so I constantly practise and train. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication."
Man in the mirror
Wizz's MJ career came about quite by chance. While still a teenager in LA in the early 1980s, during the "whole breakdancing craze", Wizz would perform with others in front of shops that stayed open late.
"Then Thriller came out and everyone had curly hair at the time, you can see even in the album cover - it was a very natural picture of Michael, so people used to tell me I resembled him and that I should dance like him," says Wizz. "So, I finally decided to give it a try and it's now been regular for 28 years, since 1984."
Learning the moves proved a challenge. This was in the days before YouTube and other social media sites, so Wizz relied on magazines, footage and images from Jackson's performances to piece the moves together. The learning experience kept him "humble", he says.
"I used to study his movements through still photos and try to understand his continuation or what he did right before that specific move, and listened to live albums without any visuals. You know, VCRs were introduced, but there was no way to record," he says. "Now, you have the smartphones, you can look his performances up on the computer, etc, but 25 to 30 years ago, that was unheard of."
Dressing the part
For Wizz, the show is about providing a "production in the purest and most entertaining way".
Being an art student when he began the performances proved helpful for Wizz, who recreated some of the iconic costumes himself.
Today, he still keeps the very first jacket he made - the military band jacket Jackson wore to the American Music Awards.
"They weren't elaborate costumes, but I sewed them myself so there was a real appreciation I went through as I was doing the best I could," says Wizz. "Sometimes I do my own make-up still, and make items of clothing like the gloves, because that's what I'm used to."
It also helped seeing Jackson perform live a few times. "Michael always gave more than 100 per cent performing each and every song, you never see him slack off," says Wizz. "Every song I do in the performance has a different emotion attached to it because that's the way the songs were written."
True fans of the late King of Pop, he says, often attend his shows dressed up in Michael Jackson attire and he encourages Dubai audiences to feel free to do the same and have fun with it.
"His music carried so many different generations right from the 1960s, and that says a lot about the huge impact he has," says Wizz. "We love it when people come dressed up and we love having people who are real fans of Michael and of his music."
After the performance, there will be an opportunity for a meet and greet. So, it would be a good time to bring out that Bad T-shirt.
Michael Jackson History II Tour runs from tomorrow until February 20 at Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Tickets cost Dh185-250 and are available through the Madinat Theatre box office and www.timeouttickets.com