I recently caught one of Robert’s shows with my wife and kids; we heard audience members exclaim things like, “This takes me back to when I was a teenager!” Let’s face it, most impersonators either look like their hero, or sound like them, but rarely both. But this guy has the look, the voice, and the dance moves to boot!
Watching him is like taking a totally tubular trip back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, when George Michael ruled the radio with his silky-smooth, reverberating vocals and energetic dance beats. It’s music that transcends time. Case in point: during the concert, I was standing next to some twenty somethings when midway through his set, Robert volunteered a familiar word, “Jitterbug!” The crowd went nuts. But to my suprise, so did my young friends! I asked, “How do you guys know this song?” “From Zoolander [the movie]!” they replied. “Oh,” I said, “I know it from 8th grade.”
As a teenager, Bartko sang George Michael covers in local talent shows. Then, he began writing and producing his own dance music, opening for popular groups such as the Spice Girls. As his fame grew, he was often told by concert promoters how much he looked and sounded like George Michael. Then, after the passing of Michael in 2015, the casual mentions of his likeness turned into, “Man, if you could put together a tribute show now, I could really book that!” So, he created the “George Michael Reborn” tour, which has an impressive 24 bookings left this year. He even sold out the House of Blues in Anaheim, CA, in one month.
So, how convincing is George, errr … I mean, Robert, as George? After former “Wham!” bassist, Deon Estes, (Wham! was George Michael’s first chart-topping group) was asked to play a show with Robert, he said, “I felt like I was with George again.” In fact, Deon enjoyed playing the show with Robert so much that he decided to drive five hours the next night to do it again.
Robert attributes much of his current success to the support of his wife, Sammie, who creates most of Robert’s costumes for the show. “She does lots of research online, and goes out and finds all these trinkets that capture the different eras of George Michael’s music. Then, she ties them all together, adding her artistic touch,” says Robert.
“I like creating and making things,” says Sammie, who attended art school in Miami, Florida, before admittedly becoming a little disillusioned with art. “As a kid, I sketched all the time. Then, I went to art school. And, it seemed to me like they were trying to take away my creativity by telling me what to do. They were like, ‘It’s got to be like this.’ It really just kind of soured me on art. So, for the longest time, I just kind of put my art away.” Then, one day, things changed. “I discovered face painting, and thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ So, I decided to buy a kit and give it a shot.” Sammie’s “shot” was more like a cannon blast, with her award-winning face and body artwork soon being featured in magazines and on the main stage at places like the Sundance Film Festival. She even landed a role as a contestant on season two of the TV show, Skin Wars, where she competed in artistic body art challenges. “It was definitely a very unique experience, living in a house with all these artists, each with a totally different personality,” she says.
How does this Heber Valley power couple balance two demanding entertainment careers while raising their adorable family? “We don’t,” Robert says, jokingly. “Many times, we’re like two ships passing in the night,” Sammie admits. Robert adds “I ask if she’s got the kids, while I run to the airport to get to my next show!”
This jet-set lifestyle is not surprising, considering how these two first met. They literally met on the freeway between Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, Florida! Robert explains, “I was going down the freeway. My friend was driving and we were on our way to meet with a record label, when I saw this cute girl driving a beat-up Toyota Tercel next to me on the freeway. I rolled down my window and started a conversation with her … at 70 mph! For 30 minutes, I begged her to give me her phone number, and she kept saying, ‘No.’ Eventually, she reluctantly agreed and three weeks later, she agreed to meet up for our first date.”
23 years later, these two lovebirds are still continuing their high-speed romance. Sammie recalls the moment in 2006 when they decided to relocate to Heber Valley. “Robert wanted a different change of pace, and he’s like, ‘Let’s go!’ And I’m like, ‘O.K!’ I’ll go anywhere because I’m an adventurer.” For Robert, it was the fulfillment of a dream he’d had since he was a young child. “I remember the first time I saw this beautiful mountain setting. I was eight years old and traveling with my parents from South Florida through Colorado and Utah, and I started crying. The mountains just enveloped my heart like a warm blanket. And ever since then, I’ve always looked for a way to get back to the mountains.”
We are fortunate to have such talented artists living here in Heber, at least for now. Robert admits his other dream is to have his own Vegas residency. If that happens, I would highly recommend making the trek there to catch their act. But “wake me up before you go-go, cuz I’m not planning on going solo.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.
CURIOUS TO SEE ONE OF BARTKO’S PERFORMANCES?
CHECK HIM OUT ON YOUTUBE!
(with husband, Robert Bartko)
Sammie is an award-winning body and face painting artist who has been featured on tv shows, in magazines, and at the Sundance film festival.