Catching Up With Jon Lovitz

Comedy Features
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There’s a singing competition show that airs all around the world called Your Face Sounds Familiar, but it’s not your normal singing competition show. There are no spinning chairs. There are no Ryan Seacrests. The one thing the show does have is celebrities…celebrities impersonating singers. I know what you’re thinking: when will a magical show like this come to the United States? Well, the wait is over. It’s called Sing Your Face Off and it premieres on ABC on Saturday, May 31. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, one of the celebrities competing is Jon Lovitz.

In the series premiere, Lovitz is joined by Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, soap star Lisa Rinna, teen actress China McClain and basketball pro Landry Fields in a competition where all of them perform as musical icons like Michael Jackson, Little Richard, and Katy Perry. And they aren’t just “performing”; they are totally made over to look like them and they’re actually singing. Of course, it’s a no lip syncing zone. Each week they sing a hit song and one by one they get eliminated until there is one winner. This is pretty damn serious folks.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Lovitz singing? I mean, this is the guy who played Tommy Flanagan, The Pathological Liar. But you’d be surprised. He does spot-on imitations Pavarotti and Billy Idol with impressive dedication (and Lovitz-brand humor of course). We had a chance to talk to Lovitz about the show and his budding singing career.

Paste: How did you get involved in ?
Jon Lovitz: I just got a call that wanted me to do it, and it sounded like a combination of what I used to do – playing characters on Saturday Night Live, but imitating a real person. But I like to sing, too.

Paste: Like musical icons no less.
Lovitz: It was way harder than I thought it was going to be. You know, they’re the greatest singers and you listen to a certain song over and over and notice the nuances in their voices and everything. You’re not just singing their song, you have to act like them and look like them with costumes, make-up, and prosthetics You have a vocal coach, a choreographer, and doing a caricature of the person, but really do an imitation. It’s a real challenge.

Paste: Can you still inject your own humor into your performance?
Lovitz: You’re trying to imitate them and sing their hit song, as opposed to doing a caricature. Although, in my case, they said, “You can be funny, too,” so I was funny, too.

Paste: When you saw the people who were going to be joining you on the show, what was your reaction?
Lovitz: Well, Lisa Rinna, I’ve known her since I first got Saturday Night Live. I was friends with her. I knew of Sebastian Bach. Then the other two, Landry Fields and China McClain, I’d never heard of – and they were all great. Sebastian’s really funny; China’s really sweet. Landry’s a basketball player, not a performer and he was amazing on the show.

Paste: Was there a sense of friendly rivalry?
Lovitz: Everybody was very supportive of everybody else, you know? It was nice. The competition part was kind of the least important part of doing the show. It was more like trying to be these people.
Forgetting myself, I was so impressed by everybody, and how well they did. It’s kind of shocking. China McClain is fourteen years old and literally one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen in my life. Everyone was just floored. She’s like a phenom.

Paste: What is your experience with singing in front of a crowd?
Lovitz: Well, yeah, I grew up singing, and my dad was a doctor but wanted to be an opera singer. I’ve sung, I’ve just always sung. I’ve sung the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium, in the U.S. Open, and I got to sing on an album with Robbie Williams, but it was more of a hobby.

Paste: You tackle some very big musical voices in the competition. At one point you don the face and voice of Pavarotti.
Lovitz: Clearly I can’t sing like Pavarotti, but it’s all about going for it and trying to somehow capture his spirit and his tone. That song was hard to sing, and there’s a high note at the end. I kept trying to get it, and I couldn’t get it all week; it was tough. But it’s amazing because when they announce, “Here’s Jon Lovitz!” and you come out of this tube in the ground, and you float up and there’s all this smoke, and you’re supposed to be this person, it’s very dramatic, fun, and surreal. In performing, you’ve got to take risks, and so the whole show was like a giant risk for me, but it was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to go for it.

Paste: You’ve been in the business for a long time. In terms of performance, how did you approach this show versus doing comedy.
Lovitz: It wasn’t completely out of my wheelhouse. On Saturday Night Live, they’d have a Presidential Election sketch, so they’d say, “All right, you play Michael Dukakis.” The only reason I was picked to play Michael Dukakis at the time was because they said, “Okay, you look the most like Dukakis, you’ll play Dukakis.” I didn’t even know who he was! [laughs] It was like that. Then you study tapes of the person, and listen, and you study them like a character that you’re going to play. Being on Sing Your Face Off is like that, but instead of talking, I’m singing, which is harder.

Paste: What is one thing that you are taking away from Sing Your Face Off?
Lovitz: What it really did was make me appreciate the talent of these singers a hundred times more. You realize from studying them why they’re so great, and what great means, and they’re just phenomenal. Then you’re like, “What am I doing?”

Paste: Is there one person that you wish you could have performed as on the show?
Lovitz: Tony Bennett. I think I could do him really well.