Derrick Barry is the world’s number one Britney Spears impersonator. In 2008, she became an overnight star when her impersonation scored her a spot in the top 40 acts of America’s Got Talent Season 3. From there her career took off!
Underneath the makeup, sequins and wig is a young man who is living his passion. I was so happy to get to talk with Derrick and learn more about his theater background, love of Britney Spears and his growing and evolving drag career!
Listen to the podcast episode above or read the transcript below – there are some extra bits in the podcast that you won’t read below. Be sure to also check out DerrickBarry.com to learn more!
Tim: Hey Derrick, I’m really excited to have you. I hear you been doing a lot of traveling lately.
Derrick: Traveling is my #1 job, so it is what I do most in life and I love it!
#1 job next to drag, right?
That’s in every single job I have – it always incorporates drag somehow. I rarely get a vacation on my own.
You’ve been doing drag since the early 2000s. When did you really start to travel a lot?
It was after America’s Got Talent that I started really traveling. It all kind of lined up perfectly because I had met Amanda Lepore’s manager and he introduced me to the acting agent that did all of her bookings. That all happened in early 2008 or maybe even 2007. I wasn’t allowed to travel back then. I was in La Cage and stuck in a contract six nights a week and he said, “Well when your schedule opens up let me know.” After AGC aired, he met with me and said, “You were fabulous on the show. I really meant that I could get you work and I’d love to work with you.”
I tried managing myself after the show and I had left La Cage so I had an open schedule. I was running into a lot of seedy people or people I couldn’t trust or people that wanted to give me a $500 budget and wanting me to buy my flight and find my transportation. I would make no money to travel, so I thought this is definitely something I would not want to be doing or handling.
I reached out to Amanda’s manager again and he took me on. Then Britney Spears came out with the Circus album and everything just took off. I think December 2008 was when everything clicked – it all changed and I haven’t stopped. I have been traveling every year and it seems like more every year than the last!
With America’s Got Talent you became an internet sensation. You kind of became viral before “viral” was really an internet word. How did people on the internet react to you being a drag queen?
I was really lucky because I had the backing of Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff on AGC. I may not have had Pierce on my team, but I had two out of three judges and it was definitely the two that I think were more in my field. Sharon came from an entertainment background and managed Ozzy, she’s a TV personality, and David has a long career in acting. I didn’t really expect for Pierce to understand what I was doing or where I was coming from in drag in the 2000s. I think because I had such support from Sharon and David the story ended up everywhere.
That next day I was flooded. This was when Myspace was popular, and it just got flooded with messages and friend requests. I will never forget that day. I sat at my computer and I just couldn’t believe how big of deal it was. I was on the premiere episode and the next day it was on the front page of AOL, the front page of Yahoo!, it was on Inside Edition and Access Hollywood and Best Week Ever and Pop Soup and it just BLEW UP! I couldn’t believe that something I’d been doing in Vegas for four years was finally being seen worldwide. America was freaking out and, because it was on the internet, the world was freaking out.
I was very excited at the fact that it kind of happened like that over night. It’s always funny that I have to tell people that before I was on TV I was actually in a Vegas show for four years and doing it six nights a week. That was my drag college; that was the four years I spent getting my degree.
You had a lot of mentoring, correct me if I’m wrong, from Chad Michaels.
Well, Chad was the first – I don’t even know if I knew to call him a drag queen back then because when I got started I was a theater person and this was acting to me. I didn’t know a drag queen growing up, I didn’t see them anywhere in Modesto, California. Even when I moved to LA at 19, I didn’t know of anyone that dressed in drag because I was too young to go out.
When I went for the first time down to Micky’s, in West Hollywood, I met Chad. He was backstage getting ready for his show and I walked in and I thought I was seeing Cher. He had no hair on, just his makeup, but it was Cher’s face. He handed me his business card and I thought, “I just met someone big.” I knew that this was someone at the top of their field. He told that I looked like Britney and I couldn’t believe it. It was almost like the god of drag was telling me that I had a shot at this and I definitely believed him.
Yes, I get that question all the time. Season 7 was the first time that I auditioned and they had asked me season 1 and season 2. During season 1 I was filming AGT so I couldn’t contractually audition for anything else and we were filming at the same time, so there’s absolutely no way that I could have done season 1. And season 2 they reached out again and I was following Britney’s Circus tour and I couldn’t take however long they needed me to film because I had already had so many dates booked with that – it was my first international tour – so I didn’t want to cancel anything.
Then, as years went by, I was getting so into traveling, Divas opened in Vegas, I started impersonating Gaga and traveling doing shows as her and Britney. If one was on tour I was following their tour and if the other one was on tour I was following theirs. It just didn’t feel like the timing was ever right.
I auditioned for 7 because I thought it was my time. Britney’s was gonna be here in Vegas and Gaga was probably gonna be taking a break around this point, so I thought it would be a good time to do it. Season 7 to me was slot machines – I thought 777 so I thought this was my jackpot time.
What is your relationship like with Britney Spears? I know you’ve met her and spoken with her.
Right after America’s Got Talent and during the whole Circus era her website was posting about me. They would post videos of where I was doing shows and they even came to my show at Rage when I did the Dreamgirls show. Then they reached out to me and said, “We’d love to do something with you on BritneySpears.com. If there’s something that you wanted to put out to the fans, what would that be?” And I said “My transformation!”
On America’s Got Talent I never got to show myself as a boy. They never aired any of the stuff with me as a boy and I kind of thought it was a disservice to what I do because middle America doesn’t get it. I don’t wear makeup like this and I don’t live my life this way. This is what I do. This is my uniform. I have little bit of a different costume other people do when they get up and go to work, but it’s the same thing. I’m playing a character and it’s theater. So when I got to do my transformation for BritneySpears.com and they put it on her YouTube (watch below), I felt like it finally set the story straight. That’s been on her YouTube since and that’s kind of all I needed to have the validity.
I have a fan question that comes from superfan Justin Herring. He wants to know what has been your biggest challenge and your greatest success while impersonating Britney Spears?
I think my biggest challenge was creating a YouTube and having to go through the struggle of reading the comments. That was very messy.
I remember, one of the first videos we put on, I did a performance at a club called Oasis in the Riverside area. I did a ‘Break the Ice’ intro, ‘Piece of Me’ and ‘Gimme More’ and when we put it up there was no live videos of Britney doing those songs, so people thought it was Britney in a club or they thought it was a Britney impersonator. When it went online, it was getting like 10,000 hits a day and I couldn’t believe it. It just climbing and every day was more and more and more! It went up to over a million relatively quickly.
I was reading through comments and it was just all so negative – I mean, there was some positive ones in there, but unfortunately when this happens for the first time the negative sticks. Even if there’s one negative to nine positive comments, it’s that one that just got stuck in my head. That was like the darkest time to go through and read those.
I had to stop. I had to stop reading it and I had to continue to just focus on my performances. I’m glad I got over it quickly though, because that was nothing compared to what went out when I was on America’s Got Talent. You just can’t please everybody.
Now what has been your greatest success?
The greatest success for me is being able to travel the world and reach out to so many different fanbases and countries. I think I’ve traveled to about 14 countries, and some of them several times. I’ve gone to Mexico a couple, I did two tours in South Africa, Canada about six times at least.
For me, when I got out of high school, the one thing that I was told by my drama teacher, she said that you’ve made it when you are a paid performer. That’s when you have made it, when you are working and making a living solely by the work that you are doing in theater for film, television, whatever your passion is. If that’s what’s supporting you, then you’ve made it.
My greatest accomplishment is being able to travel and see the world by doing something that I love.
You worked and recorded a show, so can you tell me a little bit more about that?
I got cast in a show called Dig and I am playing the role of Julie. She is a singer in a gay club in Jerusalem. I had to learn a Hebrew song and I have a scene with the two male leads in the show. It’s my first real acting gig outside of doing things as Britney or as Gaga. It’s still in the drag field, so I was very comfortable doing it. I get to play a semi-darker role and I hope it leads to much more.
The show airs on Thursday nights at 10pm on USA and I think my episode premieres the first week of April. This is season one, which has 10 episodes, and I’m on episode five.
Awesome! I’m looking forward to watching that, so you’ll have to send it to me.
Alright hun, we’re out of time, but for those who want to connect with you, where else can people find you online?