MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Singer Dolly Parton's music career has spanned decades, produced dozens of hit songs, and created countless fans.
In part of our special series, "Christmas in the Carolinas," Eric Weisfeld met with a very special fan, and saw what it takes to capture the likeness and spirit of Dolly.
Whether Karen Hester is performing for children, senior citizens, or even those with special needs, she says allowing fans to live out a fantasy is her favorite part of the job.
Hester will tell you when some walk away, they think they really just met the superstar herself, and they have - well sort of.
It's a two-hour-plus process. A transformation so precise, each brush of the lip, every stroke of the lash must be on point. For years Hester has graced the local, national and international stages bringing one of country music's brightest stars to thousands who crave the performance. So how did this all begin?
"I did this character several years ago but it wasn't like I'm doing it now," Hester said. "It was basically a little cliché in a Christmas show actually in Virginia, and little did I know about fifteen years later that it would turn into what it did."
Fast forward some and Hester has made this a full-time career for six years now.
For Hester, the decision to take on the role of "The Backwoods Barbie" was really a no-brainer.
"I think a lot of her personality is already some of mine as well," Hester admitted. "I definitely relate to her on a very personal level."
Throughout the year she travels the state, the nation, and even around the world. In fact, Hester is heading to Australia in January, bringing Dolly to fans who have come to expect this unmistakable performance.
But when the holidays role around, it's homeward bound for this "Leading Lady of Country." She still stays in Character, but Hester knows home is where the heart is, and Myrtle Beach comes second to none when the calendar says Christmas.>>>
"The beauty of my schedule is that I can control it so I can make sure I'm home for Christmas and I've always been blessed to be able to do that, and that's important because family is more important to me than career and there's a balance, and when you find that balance, that's a wonderful thing," Hester said.
In November and December, Dolly is a staple at Legends. The Queen of Nashville brings her country brilliance to this local stage. It's a time to see her traditional show and a special Christmas performance as well. That's when these performers combine for various duets. The matinee and after-dark performances are a must for this singing superstar who never strays far from her roots.
So with so much competition…what makes this Dolly unique? Hester said that's easy.
"I think the difference with me is they all have great looks. All of them can sing fairly well, but they're not southerners. And I am a southerner, so that accent comes out a little bit more authentic from me because of that - that just kind sets it apart a little bit for me!" Hester said with a laugh.
Following her dead-on performance, she joins the show's other performers to give you a chance to get an autograph and maybe even ask a question.
Here's one she'll answer for you in advance:
"No...I would not physically alter myself to look like her," Hester said. "It's a personal decision. It's a job, it's a career, but at the same time it's not who I am. So I don't want to lose Karen in a character. When the wigs come off, the costumes come off, I'm still me."