Do you need to impersonate Barack Obama to get a gig these days?

Twenty years after the Performance Series debuted at the old Stapleton International Airport, entertaining harried holiday travelers as they flew to and fro, the program has been grounded. That means that for the first time in two decades, no carolers will greet you at check-in; no mimes will mimic your pain as you wait, and wait, in the security line; no bagpipes will distract you from the pileup at baggage claim.

The program, which managed to survive even the paranoia after 9/11 (although there was a brief holding pattern during the Thanksgiving 2001 rush), has been cut from Denver International Airport's budget as part of a $50,000 cost-saving measure, which eliminated administrator Meredith Gabow's fees as well as the stipends paid to the dozens of groups that provided entertainment every year. One memorable holiday season, that lineup included a folk duo featuring Don Mares, former city auditor and current director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

"We'll miss it," says airport spokesman Chuck Cannon. "I enjoyed a lot of them. They put the place in a festive mood."

Bah, humbug.

Obama-rama: America may have talent, but Barack Obama impersonator Pete Peterkin's got the look and the voice — so much so that the longtime entertainer was recently hired by the Tavern Hospitality Group to star in its first-ever TV commercial campaign, which began airing last month. But this isn't Peterkin's first starring role. The comic performer, who lives in Greeley, drew laughs — and praise — from the judges on America's Got Talent this summer, drawing cheers from the audience when he appeared first as Obama and then as Obama singing and dancing to James Brown's "I Feel Good."

The 55-year-old Peterkin eventually lost to the Texas Tenors, but his Obama act was enough to win over the folks at the Tavern Hospitality Group — which includes the Tavern Wash Park, the Tavern Lowry and three other Tavern restaurants, as well as the Soiled Dove Underground and the Cowboy Lounge — who were already considering an Obama-themed campaign pushing a football food "Stimulus Package" deal ($1 sliders, 50-cent wings, etc.). "Our goal was to make a commercial that was humorous and memorable and to get our message across," says THG marketing manager Helen Wood. The ad airs on ABC, Fox and various Comcast cable stations, such as ESPN, and has been seen during NFL football games, MLB baseball games, The Late Show With David Letterman, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Although Peterkin couldn't chat about the campaign because he's on the road, the Greeley Tribune ran a story this summer that outlined his interesting background: Born with a congenital foot deformity, he spent much of his childhood in the hospital and in a wheelchair. But rather than hide from life, "he turned to impressions, jokes and a natural ability to be a class clown," the paper said. Today, Peterkin's ability to do 300 different impersonations, including Ray Charles, Prince, Chris Rock, Stevie Wonder, Elvis and MC Hammer, is keeping him busy traveling around the country with his one-man show.

And so far, the job performance of the nation's number-one impersonator of its number-one citizen gets good ratings from THG. "It's always a risk to try something new, but we've been happy," Wood says. "We were glad we took the risk, and we think Peter did a great job."

 
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