STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Michael Jackson had an original style of music and dancing that made people stop what they were doing and take notice.
Unfortunately, his life became tabloid fodder and the last 15 years of his life also got plenty of notice. So 2004 — when Jackson was still alive — was a problematic time to be starting a tribute band celebrating the performance art of the King of Pop. Just ask Vamsi Tadepalli, the creator and saxophone player of Who’s Bad, who have two shows Nov. 1 at the Sellersville Theater.
“Michael Jackson tribute band — don’t bring your kids” was the running joke in the deep south when Who’s Bad played their first shows there, he recalled.
“There was definitely not a lot of great press for Michael when we were starting out. In the beginning, it was met with a lot of skepticism,” Tadepalli said.
However, a slow start — six shows in a span of six months — was followed by an explosion of 62 shows in the following six months. Later, when Jackson passed away in 2009, “it really felt like now we have an obligation,” Tadepalli said.
Even as seemingly inimitable as Jackson was, Who’s Bad has had six different performers in the MJ role in its 10-year history. To keep up with the show’s fast pace and costume changes, they have not one, but two, Michael Jackson performers — Taalib York, who left the group but came back after Jackson’s death, and Joseph Bell, who played Jackson in the TV movie “The Jacksons: An American Dream.”
“In order to put on a proper Michael Jackson tribute, we had to have two people to do it. They have skill sets that compliment each other,” said Tadepalli, who is part of the backing band that also dances during the show.
Studying video of Jackson’s “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours inspired Who’s Bad’s stage show. “Michael was a perfectionist, and the shows we do … took countless amounts of hours (of study and rehearsal),” he said.
The hits-focused set list includes “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “everything from The Jackson 5 to the present.”
“My favorite is seeing one or two skeptics in the crowd with their arms crossed … and by the end of the show, their hands are in the air and they’re singing along,” said Tadepalli, who formed the group with his musician friends from the University of North Carolina, thinking it was only going to be a two-year project.
In November 2009, close to five months after Michael Jackson had died, the band got a backstage visit by the famous entertainer’s former manager, Frank Dileo, who was so moved by their show that he spent 45 minutes with them telling MJ stories.
According to Tadepalli, La Toya Jackson has seen their show as well, and noted that Who’s Bad not being contacted by the Jackson family is a good thing. “They tend to reach out only when they don’t like something,” he said.
“He was such a well-loved figure across the world. We’re here to bring people together of all ages, genders and ethnicities.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Who’s Bad Michael Jackson tribute concert.
WHEN: 3 and 8 p.m. Nov. 1.
WHERE: Sellersville Theater 1894, Temple Avenue at Main Street, Sellersville.
TICKETS: $25 and $40.
INFO: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com.