The man about to become America's most-watched Michael Jackson impersonator grew up scared of the legend. Yet people kept telling him that...

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LOS ANGELES — The man about to become America’s most-watched Michael Jackson impersonator grew up scared of the legend.

Yet people kept telling him that he reminded them of Jackson. (“Little Mikey,” a waitress called him.) So he powdered his face and won a costume contest at 17.

He threw a turned-up fedora next to Jackson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and danced for spare change. He performed at the Hollywood Wax Museum. He played high-school halftime shows and birthday parties. Then he made “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Then a cable series. Then a movie role.

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Finally, wearing the garish white makeup that has been his second skin for nearly a decade, 27-year-old Edward Moss was sitting at the defense table Monday in a Mid-Wilshire television studio that had been converted into a mock courtroom. In the subculture of Michael Jackson impersonators, this was the role of a lifetime: playing Michael in E! Entertainment Television’s nightly half-hour re-enactment of the Jackson child-molestation trial.

News cameras and microphones have been banned from the Santa Maria courtroom where Jackson faces 10 felony counts stemming from the alleged molestation of a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland Ranch.

So E! and a British TV partner have created an exhausting process to bring the day’s highlights to viewers.

In addition to Moss, actors have been cast to play Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, the lawyers and some of the celebrity witnesses that Jackson’s attorneys may call.

The re-enactments will be shown Monday through Friday, with a one-hour wrap-up show broadcast Saturdays.

Ted Harbert, president of E! Entertainment, pledged that the show would remain faithful to courtroom testimony and said E! would have a “courtroom observer” in Santa Maria who would convey details on “style, mannerism and tone” of trial participants to the producer in Los Angeles.

Which is where life may get tricky for Moss.

Moss, 6-foot-2 with a lanky, athletic build, has made a living copying Jackson’s vaunted physicality. But what is there for this impersonator to do but sit still or take occasional glances at a witness? Frequent camera cuts to “Jackson” will be irresistible and expected by the audience, but what in Moss’ career has prepared him for this?

Confident and effusive, Moss said he wasn’t worried. “I’ve learned his mannerisms,” he said. “I know by looking at him when he’s nervous or happy. It’s like researching any other character. I’m good at it.”

The idea of re-enacting the trial came from across the Atlantic.

Harbert said he was attending a television sales conference in France last fall when a representative of Sky TV in Britain told him that the network was thinking of doing a Jackson re-enactment similar to one the network had broadcast to cover a 2003 British government inquest.

In auditioning actors to portray Jackson, E! was influenced by Moss’ recent career spike: In 2003, he played a Jackson impersonator in the FX series “Nip/Tuck.” Moss appeared as Jackson in “Scary Movie 3”: Charlie Sheen took the white veil off his oddly acting daughter, only to find a shrieking Jackson.

When Moss was little, Michael made him shriek.

He was 5 years old when Jackson became the world’s hottest entertainer with his “Thriller” album and music video, in which Jackson turned into a werewolf.

“I didn’t want anything to do with him,” Moss said. “My mom would be like, ‘Oh, Michael Jackson!’ and I’m like, ‘Scary man!’ ”

Moss said he was working at a Los Angeles McDonald’s in 1996 when the manager threw a costume contest, offering $200 to the winner.

“So I dress as Michael — I wear gray jeans and I smear paint and powder on my face. That’s how it started. I won the contest.”

He says he never felt like a Jackson fan but eventually was captivated by Jackson’s talent as an entertainer.

Within the Jackson impersonator ranks, there is a suspicion that Moss has crossed the line between honoring Jackson and exploiting his bad publicity. Joby Rogers, a Connecticut impersonator, says he wouldn’t have taken the “Scary Movie” part, and says he also has turned down offers to appear as Jackson wearing handcuffs.

“I don’t think Michael needs any more problems,” Rogers said.

Said Moss: “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that was in bad taste. There are a lot of [impersonators] who think they have a connection to Michael. … This is my job. It’s what I do. … When I go home, I’m Eddie at the end of the day.”

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