He was an unlikely candidate for the lead role in Fame: yes, Madhu Singh is no twinkle toes.
And falling at the first hurdle on the road to life as a pro dancer, the portly Singh was turned away by the director of a highly-anticipated Bollywood movie on the grounds he was "too fat".
Yet together with his dance partner Sulaiman Mirza and his energetic Michael Jackson-inspired moves, Singh's shot at fame as a slightly overweight but nimble dancing caretaker was suddenly in back in sight, thanks to Britain's Got Talent.
As a sceptical Simon Cowell looked on, they finally got the big break they'd been hoping for. Mirza broke into his moves to be joined on stage by Singh complete with broom and "wet floor" warning sign.
Winning the popular UK talent show in 2008 wasn't to be, pipped at the post by 14-year-old breakdancer George Sampson, but Signature, as their stage act is known, have nonetheless become something of a phenomenon.
Their audition alone exceeded five million hits in a single day on YouTube and the pair now perform more than 300 stage shows a year, from LA to London.
"We're a couple of ordinary guys with extraordinary dreams," said Mirza speaking ahead of their first gig in Dubai tonight at Chi. "It's unbelievable," says the 29-year-old with a boyish giggle.
"We've always been determined, but we still thought we'd be lucky to get through the first audition. Yet it seems to have taken on a life of its own."
Less than 18 months ago, Mirza was studying for his law exams while Singh shifted computers at PC World at London's Heathrow airport. In their spare time the university friends would practice dancing together.
‘Celebrating MJ's life'
Mirza has been a Michael Jackson fan since childhood and remembers wearing out his parents' carpet in a desperate bid to perfect the famous Jacko moonwalk.
Singh leant more towards Bollywood moves and for 10 years the best friends struggled to make a go of dancing professionally.
But they wowed the crowd, won over Cowell followed by an entire nation and the rest — as MJ said through his music — is History.
"Our show celebrates his life," said UK-born Mirza. "To get the Michael Jackson stamp of approval was mind-blowing. He actually recognised me at the This Is It press conference and asked where the guy with the beard was. It was all very surreal. Our show appeals because it's not just about Michael but about fusion and the joining of cultures."
Both of Asian descent — Singh's parents from India and Mirza's from Pakistan — the pair wanted to lead by example and show living in unity.
"I guess doing the whole Michael Jackson thing I represent Western culture. Then here's Madhu coming into my space and I'm suspicious, in the way we are of many immigrants. But we dance and create something special as one."
Since then Signature have appeared on Oprah, were invited to Vegas by Jackson's producer David Foster and are in contact with the Jackson family on a regular basis.
"Looking around in the green room on Oprah I saw pictures of the chat show host with Brad Pitt and Barack Obama and it all hit me," he said. "I was sat revising for a law exam the next day in my sequin glove."
Genuinely taken aback by his newfound popularity, Mirza makes it all about Michael whenever possible. Fitting then, that Signature has been booked to commemorate the anniversary of MJ's untimely death on June 25 last year.
"I was sat with friends in my car outside the O2 Arena in London when a friend texted me the news," said Mirza in a soft voice. "We had been out and were grabbing some food and were saying how lucky we were MJ was coming to our city. I didn't believe anyone until I got home and saw the news and even then I thought it was a joke. Such a loss. I had been doing my dance for more than 20 years at college events and local pubs. I did it because I love Michael Jackson and that will never change no matter how famous we may be now.
"I want to keep his legacy alive and will always strive to do just that this week in the UAE."
Don't miss it
Signature perform at Chi @The Lodge tonight. Tickets cost Dh100 and are available at the door. For more information or bookings, call 04-3379470.
Katherine goes ‘home’
The childhood hometown of Michael Jackson is planning a tribute tomorrow at his former house to mark the one-year anniversary of his death, and the mayor says his mother is among the people expected to attend.
Gary Mayor Rudy Clay says Katherine Jackson will attend the event along with her granddaughter, Genevieve Jackson, the daughter of Randy Jackson. The event will include speeches, performances and a candlelight vigil. - AP
Jackson 5 celebrated
A Jackson 5 exhibit has opened at the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, marking the one-year anniversary this week of Michael Jackson’s death.
The public is able to view photographs, awards and uniforms the group wore throughout its career.
Museum chief curator Lina Stephens says the exhibit celebrates the life of Jackson and acknowledges the Jackson 5’s “contribution to the Motown story”. It will be open through to October. - AP