Jessica Villafane is two inches shorter than Miley Cyrus but everything else about the Florida teenager screams Miley — the short bleached hair, the flashy costume, the tongue hanging out of her mouth.
People who see pictures of her on Instagram think they’re looking at photos of the “Bangerz” singer.
Nope. They’re looking at a community college business student from Tampa who is starting a career as a Miley Cyrus lookalike.
The 19-year-old did her job so well in Kansas City on Tuesday that apparently many of the more than 2,000 people she posed with outside the Sprint Center before Cyrus’ concert thought she really was Miley.
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She made a celebrity arrival at the 95.7 The Vibe tent in a black SUV with “bodyguards” and a costumed mascot (it was her dad) resembling Cyrus’ dog, Floyd, who died in April.
When Villafane heard a local TV reporter telling his viewers that Miley was posing with fans outside the arena she thought, “Oh my gawd, it’s not Miley.”
“We invited fans to get their photo taken with our special guest — never stating it was Miley Cyrus — and let them decide if they thought it was Miley,” said Ashley Coppock, promotions manager for Cumulus Media-Kansas City
“Though some people thought it was actually her, I think most people knew she was an impersonator, a lot of people made the comment ‘Wow, it really does look like her.’”
(And just in case people were confused, the station added a note to its Facebook page on Wednesday that read: “This was a Miley Cyrus impersonator, we just wanted everyone to be able to get a cool picture before the show. We hope you all had as much fun as we did!”)
The similarity was so striking that some people were shaking and crying when they met Villafane.
“One lady, it broke my heart, she came up and she was like, ‘Your music saved me from cancer.’ I almost cried,” Villafane said.
One little boy gave her a rock that he’d decorated with an inspirational quote.
“I know what it feels like to always want to meet your idol but you don’t have the money to do it,” said Villafane, noting that meet-and-greets with Cyrus can cost $1,000 or more. “I’m kind of helping them have that dream even though it’s not real.”
Villafane has been a fan of Cyrus’ since the singer’s days as Disney’s Hannah Montana. She would spend hours in front of the mirror learning and practicing the star’s mannerisms, which of late involves a lot of rump and tongue shaking.
“I think I was about 11, like literally from the first episode, I was hooked,” she said. “There was just something about her that I saw in myself.”
The first heads she turned as Cyrus were those of her grade-school classmates when she dressed like Hannah for a talent show.
“I walked into the school and no one recognized me,” she said. “They were like, ‘Oh my gawd, did they just invite Hannah Montana?’ They completely fell for it. I was like, ‘Man, I like this.’”
She signed up with a talent agency as an official Miley Cyrus impersonator six years ago and appears at birthday parties and meet-and-greets all over the country.
In December Villafane’s friends dared her to dress as Cyrus and crash the annual Jingle Ball Christmas concert in Tampa, where Cyrus was performing. One of the DJs announced that he had just seen Cyrus walk by, but it was Villafane.
Two weeks later Cyrus’ own promotions staff contacted her and invited her to work as an official lookalike for Cyrus’ Bangerz tour in Florida, Villafane told British entertainment tabloid, Reveal, which featured her this week under this headline: “People Think I’m the Real Miley Cyrus!”
So she chopped off her hair, bleached it and was soon posing for thousands of concert fans while sitting atop a wrecking ball.
The Vibe invited her to Kansas City to get fans excited before the Sprint Center show.
“With many of the market’s radio stations competing for the ears and attention of our listeners while on site at the event, we knew we needed to do something big,” said Coppock. “Initially we thought about having a life-size cutout of Miley that people could use to take pictures to share with their family and friends. That idea grew into have an actual Miley Cyrus impersonator with us on site. As you can see in the pictures and the social media posts people loved it.”
Coppock said Villafane’s appearance “was not meant to be deceptive, just a fun experience before the show.” The station referred to her as it’s “special guest.”
“They didn’t mention it was her and they didn’t mention it wasn’t her,” said Villafane.
She didn’t tell anyone she wasn’t Miley, either. When she got into the Sprint Center to watch the show she was mobbed by more people wanting to take her picture.
While singing “Jolene,” Cyrus noticed Villafane in the crowd and “she did like a triple take,” said the teen. “She was like, ‘What?’ She pointed to me in complete awe and then I pointed back to her ... kind of like a mirror reflection.
“Her jaw just dropped and she said, ‘You look exactly like me.’”
Cyrus was effusive with her praise from the stage, telling her doppelganger that “you’re the cutest thing.”
Villafane, who for months has been trying to catch Cyrus’ attention on Twitter and Instagram, cried.
On Wednesday she flew to Chicago for her next gig judging a Miley Cyrus lookalike contest before Cyrus’ concert in the Windy City.
She hopes that people won’t get mad when they learn that they weren’t posing with the real Cyrus outside the Sprint Center. But she believes it just won’t matter to a lot of people.
“It’s like Santa Claus,” she said. “They just want to believe it.”
To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to email@example.com.