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Ex-Military Police Officer Rakes In $2,000 An Hour As A Mariah Carey Lookalike

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

An ex-military policewoman is fulfilling her "Fantasy" and raking in up to $2,000 an hour for impersonating her idol Mariah Carey – after more than 4,000 fans subscribed to her YouTube channel to see her lip-sync to the diva's hits.

Now Jessie Castro, 39, of Orlando, Florida – who has appeared in a documentary and on US talk shows after her lookalike videos went viral – is preparing for a full-on festive season, when she will come into her own lip-syncing to the singer's Yuletide classic, "All I Want for Christmas is You".

And with multi-Grammy award winning Mariah turning 50 this year, launching a new book this month, and releasing an album in October, mom-of-one Jessie is anticipating a lucrative few months ahead – even though her performing work is just a "side hustle" to her current job as a college administrator at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.

She said:

“I can't say there's an average amount I make each year because I can go for months without doing gigs, but it must be in excess of $20,000 annually, if I do a gig every three months and two a week at Christmas."

It was after a video call with the world number one Madonna impersonator, Chris America, following a lookalike convention in 2015 that Jessie, who has a son, Arian, 12 – having noticed a surge in people saying she looked like Mariah after her album, Butterfly, went multi-platinum in 1997 – 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 among lookalikes."

Jessie as Mariah in Las Vegas (PA Real Life/Collect)

Jessie said:

“She told me, 'You need to charge what you're worth.'"
“And, while there are a million Elvis and Marilyn Monroe impersonators out there, there were not many Mariahs. So, without any real competition, I became the world's top Mariah. I have to thank Chris for showing me how to become the best."
“I charge between $1,500 and $2,000 for an hour-long gig."

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It's never been my main job, but it's a great side hustle. I probably do a gig every three months or so," Jessie continued.

“I have to take time off from my full-time job, so I need to make sure it's worth it."

Recalling when, in the late 1990s, people first remarked on her resemblance to Mariah, Jessie – who lives with her boyfriend who she wants to remain anonymous – says she was thrilled.

People started to notice the similarities between the two when Mariah's multi-platinum album Butterfly came out in 1997.

Jessie recalled:

“I was in my late teens and early twenties and I'd get a lot of comments about how much I looked like her."
“I loved all her old songs. I was a real fan back then. Everyone wanted to be Mariah. She was like a little girl's dream especially when the song 'Honey' came out – it was super popular."

Jessie winning an award for her impersonation (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I remember dancing to that and trying to do my own music videos with my friends using my mom's camera and lip-syncing to the music," she said.

“I was quite a shy kid, but I loved it when people said I looked like her. It felt really good."

Meanwhile, Jessie studied at film school and worked as a videographer at SeaWorld before joining the military police in June 2010.

Jessie in Las Vegas (PA Real Life/Collect)

By then, Mariah had dyed her hair blonde and people stopped commenting on their likeness, as Jessie was a brunette.

She said:

“When I left the military in 2014, I went to work in administration at a college specializing in entertainment degrees, which ignited my interest in showbiz."
“I dyed my hair blonde and started making lip-syncing videos on YouTube, trying to mimic Mariah."

Jessie filming a documentary in London in 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“They proved really popular and the first one had tens of thousands of hits within a month," she said.

“Mariah's fans were super supportive and gave me feedback and advice about what to do with my hands, telling me to open my mouth more. They helped me to mimic her properly."

“They'd tell me, 'You should watch this video of her, It will help you.'"

She explained:

“I was quite shy, but they encouraged me to be more confident and bring out more of the diva in me!"

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 now has more than eight million views.

Jessie as Mariah at Christmas (PA Real Life/Collect)

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!' I had to actually act like I knew what I was doing."
“Everyone was super nice and down to earth. I got to stay in a lovely hotel, and it was a really great experience. It allowed me to build up a bit of momentum for my YouTube videos, too."
“I started to get more traffic and would put up more videos of me lip-syncing and it went from there."

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

Although not making an income from the YouTube videos, Jessie built up a profile as a lookalike and was hired to appear at corporate events and birthday parties across the US.

But things would ramp up during the festive season, as people scrambled to hire a Mariah Carey impersonator, to perform "All I Want for Christmas Is You".

“I usually get two bookings a week throughout December, which is nice as it's some extra money to spend on presents," said Jessie.

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I have to admit I do get tired of 'All I Want for Christmas'. My favorite festive song of hers is 'Oh Santa'. She's got some great songs on her Christmas albums," she added.

“I always lip-sync. I did try singing live once and it was a disaster."

“It's not like you have to try and sound like a good singer, she is one of the best singers in the world with the most recognizable voice. I'm a good singer, but even a good singer cannot sing as well as her."

“I was told by a lookalike friend that if you can't sound exactly like her, you shouldn't sing, as it ruins the illusion," she said.

“It's better for the audience to hear her voice and see you there, so they get the feeling they are looking at Mariah and they have a great time."

Jessie even stood in for the real Mariah – whose album The Rarities is released next month and whose book The Meaning of Mariah Carey is published this week – in a documentary filmed in London in September 2018, helping to recreate scenes from her life.

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I flew to London for a 'behind the scenes' documentary," she said.

“It featured her brother and some people she worked with, so I was there to film some flashback visuals."

“When I got that gig, I realized I'd reached a real moment in a lookalike's career."

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added:

“It's what every lookalike dreams of and it doesn't get any better. You can't get a better gig than actually playing that person in a documentary – it was the icing on the cake."

But Jessie – who has never seen Mariah perform live – never goes out dressed like her idol, unless she is working.

“I don't want to be recognized if I'm not working. I'm not going to the shops dressed like her," she said.

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I don't really get recognized if I'm out as myself and if I haven't got my make up on, although I was in a Walmart the other day and 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."

But Jessie did once cause a storm when she went out deliberately impersonating her idol.

She said:

“I went to the Downtown Disney store in Orlando with some friends pretending to be bodyguards and another pal shouted out, 'Hey, there's Mariah, can I have a picture?'"
“A whole crowd started to form around me. There were girls who really looked like they were going to cry."
“They were all trying to take photos of me on their phone. They were so mesmerized that I felt bad, like I was a great deceiver!"

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

Jessie explained:

“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, who has never had any contact with the real Mariah, does not want to meet her idol in the flesh.

“I know some celebrities are really supportive of their lookalikes. I heard that Boy George sends his clothes for them to wear, but I don't think Mariah would be like that," she said.

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

She continued:

“I'm not sure she would take kindly to being impersonated. I don't have a desire to meet her, because I came to this as a fan first and if it wasn't a positive experience it would taint it for me."

Towards the end of the year, Jessie starts to practice in time for the Christmas season and has an agent who helps with her PR and booking gigs.

“I have to practice her songs," she said. “I like to lip-sync to the live versions, as it adds to the experience, so I have to learn all of the inflections, when she takes a breath and to memorize the words."

Jessie as Mariah (PA Real Life/Collect)

She concluded:

“She has some awesome Christmas songs as well and I'd love to do more of that kind of stuff."

Jessie, who has also appeared on TV morning shows such as The Wendy Williams Show and has modeled a high street version of Mariah's wardrobe, says that impersonating the star has never given her diva ways.

“It looks like a glamorous lifestyle, but it's not really. I go and get the job done and then I go back to my ordinary life as a working mom," she said.

Follow Jessie on Instagram @mariahlookalike.