Hanging With a Pitbull Impersonator at Dolphin Mall Is an Only-in-Miami Experience
It's the dinner hour at Dolphin Mall, and the food court is a busy hive. Teenagers guzzle from Smoothie King cups while tables full of abuelitas fire Gatling-gun Spanish over steaming plates of Lotus Express. At the Segafredo Zanetti Espresso kiosk, a young girl in black shirt and pants offers a sample tray, her face wearing a look you'd see in a dentist's waiting room. People snatch toothpicked mini-sandwiches off her plate. She stares off, bored and brooding. Then an immaculately white suit sleeve crosses her vision.
"Hola, linda," comes the scratchy growl. Her head snaps like a jack out of the box. Is it? There's the cue-ball dome, the jester's grin, the sunglasses hiding half his face like a limo's tinted window. "Oh my God," she purrs. "OH MY GOD!" She locks bugging eyes with the stranger. "I love you!"
Passersby rubberneck the scene, spotting Miami's own multimillionaire recording artist, Pitbull! The Cuban-American Armando Pérez went from cornrowed Uncle Luke protégé to current Top 40 pop sensation. Now he's posing for photos with the starstruck sample girl. Then he's moving on down the mall's corridor, calls of "Pitbull!" and "Armando!" chasing his squeaking Hugo Boss heels.
But Pitbull -- strangely -- doesn't turn around until it hits him that he should probably, uh, acknowledge his own name. "Dale," he barks.
Of all the signs by which you can measure Pitbull's success -- including the 5 million albums sold and the endorsement deals with blue-chip companies like Kodak and Bud Light -- the real one is right here: a Miami actor/realtor/trainer named Ariel Tojo scratching out a burgeoning career as the artist's professional doppelganger.
Officially dubbing himself "Pimpbull," Tojo's fake-out act is on point enough to fool those visiting the commercial epicenter of Latin Miami. "I do this for the fans," Tojo explains. "And because I love Pitbull."
Today, Tojo is sporting a blinding-white three-piece suit and dark-collared shirt. Heads follow his every move like iron filings pulled by a magnet. A -two-person camera crew, security muscle in an oversized blazer (all New Times college interns), and a cloud of Salvatore Ferragamo cologne trail his steps.
But pan in close and you'll see Tojo is ten years older than the 33-year-old genuine article. Also, behind the hater-blockers, you'll find dark marbles, not Pitbull's baby blues. But the physical resemblance is only half the equation, Tojo explains. Like Pitbull, he's God-gifted with a full tank of Cuban swag.
"Armando, what makes him so popular is he gets along with everybody," Tojo explains. "I have the same charisma. I'm a personality. I love people."