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Elvis Impersonators


An Elvis impersonator is someone who impersonates or copies famed American musician Elvis Presley, either as a hobby, a career in entertainment or occasionally for fun. Elvis impersonators can range in ethnic background, size and talent.

Professional Elvis impersonators can work all over the world as entertainers, and such tribute acts are in great demand due to the unique iconic status of Elvis. There are even a number of radio stations that exclusively feature Elvis impersonator material.

Many impersonators sing Presley's songs. "While some of the impersonators perform a whole range of Presley music, the raw 1950s Elvis and the kitschy 1970s Elvis are the favorites."

Origins

The first Elvis impersonators started to appear while Elvis was still alive, evolving mainly out of small town talent competitions which took their influences from major music artists of that time. It wasn't until Elvis's untimely death on August 16, 1977, that impersonating Elvis started to become popular in the mainstream. The large growth in Elvis impersonators seems tightly linked with his ever-growing iconic status.

Andy Kaufman is considered to be one of the first notable Elvis impersonators, and Elvis himself said that Kaufman was his favorite impersonator. In his act he would use his famous "Foreign Man" voice while dressed in the 1970s Elvis style jumpsuits to discourage guests and attendants, only to reveal that he has singing and guitar playing talents. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism describes Kaufman as a "radical" comic personae, who appeared at some of his early club dates as The Foreign Man, a "completely incompetent comic" who spoke in an Eastern European accent and "would botch the punchlines of his unfunny 'jokes,' then insist on starting his entire act all over again each time he made an error until the audience could stand it no longer. Kaufman did not reveal that The Foreign Man was a fictional construct, but would unexpectedly launch into a skilled impersonation of Elvis Presley that seemed beyond The Foreign Man's abilities and then thank the audience once again as The Foreign Man." Kaufman even "demanded that the audience return items of clothing he had tossed while performing Elvis." As Kaufman gained fame, the act was used less and less.

Types of Elvis impersonator

There are many differing types of Elvis impersonator. Most fall under the following main types which are:
Example of the "fun/comedy"-level Elvis impersonator, seen here "walking in Memphis."




There are differing levels of impersonation which depends largely on who is doing the impersonation and for what purpose. They mainly fall under three main levels of impersonation which are:

  • Professional Full time entertainers who usually do it to earn a living.
  • Amateur Enthusiasts or people who do it for a hobby.
  • Fun / Comedy Usually done as part of a parody.


"There are heavily bearded Elvii, four-year-old Elvii, and Elvis duos; Italian Elvii, Greek Elvii, Jewish Elvii, Fat Elvii, a Lady Elvis, even a Black Elvis. Impersonator impresario Ed Franklin boasts, 'We've had every type of Elvis there is in the world.' " Professional Elvis impersonation can be called a special branch of the entertainment industry. "Michael Chapa, an Elvis impersonator who works in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, helped entertain more than 2500 of his relatives at what is believed to be the country's largest Hispanic family reunion ..."

There are also some Elvis impersonators who specialise in experimenting with gender, sexuality, race, taste and decency. According to social historian Eric Lott, "the widespread embarrassment and innuendo surrounding Elvis impersonation points more directly to the homoerotic implications built into such acts." There are even some performers who satirize other Elvis impersonators.

Elvis impersonation as manifestation of the Elvis cult

According to Gael Sweeney, Elvis impersonation "offers a spectacle of the grotesque, the display of the fetishized Elvis body by impersonators who use a combination of Christian and New Age imagery and language to describe their devotion to The King. 'True' impersonators believe that they are 'chosen' by The King to continue His work and judge themselves and each other by their 'Authenticity' and ability to 'Channel' Elvis's true essence. True impersonators don't 'do Elvis' for monetary gain, but as missionaries to spread the message of The King. Especially interesting are those who do not perform, per se, that is, they don't do an Elvis act, they just 'live Elvis,' dressing as The King and spreading His Word by their example."

However, the Elvis industry includes "professional Elvis impersonator registries." The international guide I am Elvis, for instance, contains "photos, repertoire, and personal testimonies that serve to materialize the phenomenon of Elvis impersonation and further institutionalize it, including female Elvii, child Elvii, Black Elvii, El Vez the Mexican Elvis, and scores of British, German, Greek and Indian Elvii." According to George Plasketes, there are "legions of impersonators. Airlines have offered discount fares for look-alikes on Elvis holidays... His omnipresence hauntingly hovers..."

Contests, festivals and events

There are many Elvis contests, festivals and other events held across the world celebrating Elvis and his many impersonators. Events tend to attract large numbers of Elvis impersonators and fans.

Collingwood, Ontariomarker Canadamarker holds an annual Elvis festival

In the UKmarker, the seaside town of Blackpoolmarker in Englandmarker is home to Europe's largest Elvis impersonator contest and convention. This contest is officially licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. The contest is held annually in early January (currently at The Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool) to coincide with Elvis's birthday. Blackpool also features a busy Elvis Wedding Chapel based at the Queens hotel on the south promenade where couples can have their wedding vows renewed by Martin Fox.

CKX, INC which now owns Elvis Presley's Estate and will have full control including the grave of Elvis Presley and his Family members along with his home Graceland in early 2008 has seen the impact on what Elvis Impersonators and contests have on the media and marketing industry. They began using the contest to brand along with their Elvis brand in a way by licensing anyone wanting to have an Elvis contest charging a fee to do so. These have produced incredible quality contests.

Other contests include Images of the King which in 2006 the longest contest producer died is now run by an Elvis impersonator, they license their contests for $150.00 per regional site at various places such as VFW's, casinos and festivals with their finals being held in Memphis each year during Elvis Week. These contests have shown poor attendance figures since CKX,Inc has included itself in the contest industry and having their contest the same week.

Controversies about special impersonators

In August 1996, Elvis Herselvis, a lesbian Elvis impersonator, who had been invited to take part in the Second International Elvis Presley Conference held at the University of Mississippimarker in order "to test the limits of race, class, sexuality and property...," was banned from this event by the conservative sponsors of Elvis Presley Enterprises. This ban and some other complaints and controversies concerning unorthodox Elvis impersonation show the powerful influence the Elvis industry still has on mass-media related activities of professional impersonators.

Literature

A number of books are available on the topic of Elvis tribute artists. One of the first books to document the phenomenon was, I Am Elvis: A Guide to Elvis Impersonators released by American Graphic Systems in 1991. More recent titles include photo essays, Living the Life by Patty Carroll and The King and I: A little Gallery of Elvis Impersonators by Kent Baker and Karen Pritkin.

Novelist William McCranor Henderson wrote about his attempts to learn the Elvis trade in, I, Elvis: Confessions of a Counterfeit King.

A more scholarly examination of Elvis impersonation is, Impersonating Elvis by Leslie Rubinowski released in 1997. On "the thriving phenomenon of Elvis impersonators", see also Gilbert B. Rodman, Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend (1996). In the Summer 1997 issue of The Oxford American magaine author Tom Graves wrote an acclaimed article, Natural Born Elvis, about the first Elvis impersonator, Bill Haney, the only tribute artist Elvis himself ever went to see perform. The article has been published in the anthology The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing.

There are also two "how to" guides, Be Elvis! by Rick Marino, a well-known tribute artist, released in 2000 by Sourcebooks and the more recent, The Elvis Impersonation Kit by Laura Lee, released in 2006 by Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers.

There are also several university studies, for instance, Eric Lott's critical essay, "All the King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity," published in Harry Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel, eds., Race and the Subject of Masculinities (Duke University Press, 1997). The author, professor of American Studies at the University of Virginiamarker, has also written a long piece on Elvis impersonators and the EPIIA (Elvis Presley Impersonators International Association) to be published in his next book. For this paper, he interviewed many impersonators and draws parallels with minstrelsy. "It is indeed one place minstrelsy ends up; where 19th-century white guys imitated what they thought of as slave culture and Elvis took from R & B performers, the impersonators copy the copy, if you will—it's minstrelsy once-removed." In her paper, "Women Who 'Do Elvis' ", Cornell Universitymarker researcher Francesca Brittan deals with female Elvis Presley impersonators and finds them to be "campy, cheeky, and often disturbingly convincing." According to Marjorie Garber's academic study, Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1992), Elvis impersonation is so insistently connected with femininity that it is "almost as if the word 'impersonator', in contemporary popular culture, can be modified either by 'female' or by 'Elvis.' "

Films

3000 Miles to Graceland is a 2001 thriller film, starring Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courteney Cox Arquette, David Arquette, Bokeem Woodbine, Christian Slater, and Kevin Pollak. It is a story of theft and betrayal, revolving around a plot to rob the Riviera Casinomarker during a convention of Elvis impersonators.

Bubba Ho-tep is the title of a novella by Joe R. Lansdale which originally appeared in the anthology The King Is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-Mortem (edited by Paul M. Sammon, Delta 1994) and was adapted as a 2002 horror-black comedy film starring Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley - who escaped the pressures of his fame long ago by impersonating an Elvis impersonator and is now a resident in a nursing home. The film version also stars Ossie Davis as Jack, a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy. He says he was patched up after the assassination in Dallasmarker, dyed black, and abandoned by Lyndon Johnson. The film was directed by Don Coscarelli.

Honeymoon in Vegas is a 1992 comedic movie which was directed by Andrew Bergman. Jack Singer, played by Nicolas Cage, encounters a group of "Flying Elvises" (skydiving Elvis impersonators) while trying to reunite with his fiancee.

Almost Elvis is a 75 minute 2001 documentary film that follows a variety of Elvis impersonators as they prepare for a large annual contest in Memphis, Tennessee.

Television

The plot of the Father Ted episode "Competition Time" revolves around the three main characters Father Ted Crilly, Father Dougal McGuire and Father Jack Hackett entering the "All Priests Stars in Their Eyes Lookalike Competition". Due to confusion about who is going as Elvis all three do it, appearing in sequence as Elvis at different stages of his career, winning the competition.

Jeff Yagher played an Elvis impersonator (as well as Elvis himself) in an episode of The Twilight Zone called "The Once and Future King". The man who played Elvis' boss at the Crown Electric company was Red West, a real life schoolmate and best friend of Elvis.

In the Sledge Hammer! episode "All Shook Up", Hammer (David Rasche) investigates a string of Elvis impersonator murders by becoming one and participating in a contest to nab the murderer.

Plays

One of the most popular modern plays dealing with Elvis impersonation is Lee Hall's Cooking with Elvis (1999). The comedy centers on the family life of Dad, an Elvis impersonator who was paralyzed in a car crash and is forced to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair. Climaxes of the play are surreal fantasy scenes in which Dad's hallucinatory Elvis dreams are bursting into popular Presley songs as a reminiscence of his one-time persona of Elvis impersonator.

Quotes

  • "The phenomenon of 'Elvis impersonators,' which began long before the singer's death, is one of the most startling effects of the Elvis cult." (Marjorie Garber)
  • "Impersonating Elvis may seem a tad bizarre, but it is a human rationale that deserves articulation." (Eric Lott)
  • "No phenomenon makes the performative character of Elvis clearer than the impersonators. These people are not known for their musical abilities. The culture's interest in them is not in how they sing or play an instrument, but in their bringing to life the character Elvis Presley first performed." (David Shumway)
  • "... the masculine anxiety that requires Elvis performers' self-verifying self-protection overdetermines its proletarian struggle for self-validation. The 'secondary identification' (to borrow from Freud) with Elvis through which self-projection occurs seems something like a theatricalized Oedipal introjection of him - necessary to the achievement of identity but never securely accomplished." (Eric Lott)
  • "Elvis impersonators and fans create an ever-evolving Elvis folklore and collectively sustain a deep distrust for those mass-media versions of Elvis from which his estate and their official licensees continue to profit." (Rosemary J. Coombe)
  • "If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators dead"--Johnny Carson


Popular culture

  • The EAS band is considered worldwide as the top Elvis Tribute band. They perform over 600 songs and have toured with every major musician that Elvis Presley used in his bands over his entire career. They are the official band of Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises.
  • Elvii is a plural for Elvis impersonators (this, however, is not grammatically correct, as the name "Elvis" derives from Old English. Even if it somehow were a third-declension Latin noun, the plural form would be Elvēs). This term was popularized by a Saturday Night Live sketch where Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi respectively impersonated the younger and older versions of Elvis.
  • In Memphis, Tennessee, the term Elvira (plural, Elviras) has been used to refer to female Elvis impersonators.
  • The Led Zeppelin tribute band Dread Zeppelin has an Elvis impersonator named Tortelvis as their lead vocalist.
  • The book Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy by Mark McGinty tells the satirical story of the 1969 moon landing, where Elvis Presley accompanies astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface and becomes the first man to walk on the moon. An accident on the surface causes NASA to abort the mission and broadcast a version of the landing without Elvis, later dubbed a "hoax" by a little known reporter named Dani Mitchell.
  • There is a lot of speculation as to how many Elvis impersonators are out there, with experts reckoning that the number of Elvis Presley impersonators has reached an all-time record high.
  • On the show Full House episode "Mad Money", Jesse(John Stamos) moonlights as an Elvis impersonator.
"There are now at least 85,000 Elvii around the world, compared to only 170 in 1977 when Elvis died. At this rate of growth, experts predict that by 2019 Elvis impersonators will make up a third of the world population."
  • Some professional Elvis impersonators have taken a dislike to the term 'Elvis impersonator' and prefer 'Elvis Tribute Artist' instead. The reasoning behind this is to try and distance themselves from very bad amateur attempts that might harm their professional image. These requests have had little effect over the years and 'Elvis impersonator' still remains the most popular phrase used.
  • Billionaire Robert Sillerman, owner of the TV show American Idol, bought an 85% stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005. Among other things, this gives him control of Elvis Presley's name and likeness in the US, this however does not include Britain (where the Elvis image is in the public domain), Europe and most other countries in the world.
  • Three Elvis impersonators make a cameo appearance in the Babylon 5 episode "Epiphanies" [38474], indicating that the Elvis-impersonating tradition is still alive and well in the 23rd century.
  • The UK radio presenter Steve Wright includes a comedy feature on his show entitled "Ask Elvis". An Elvis impersonator (Mitch Benn) provides answers to listeners' questions — particularly those of a scientific or technical nature.
  • Elvis impersonator Trent Carlini won the summer 2007 reality show The Next Best Thing on ABC. A second impersonator finished in the top five.
  • In an episode of Jackass, Phil Margera dons an Elvis costume.
  • In an episode of Married... With Children, the character Peggy Bundy claims to have seen Elvis at a mall, prompting a large number of Elvis Impersonators to come to her home so she can share her "experience."
  • In an episode of the American sitcom The Golden Girls, the characters of Blanche and Rose are considering hiring an Elvis impersonator for their "Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Fan Club," yet Rose mixes up the Elvis list with the guest list for the wedding of the character of Sophia. As a result, Sophia's wedding reception is filled with Elvis impersonators instead of members of her own family, and Rose exclaims, "Either I got the Elvis list mixed with the guest list for the wedding or everyone in Sophia's family appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show!"
  • In the WWF (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment), a character named The Honky Tonk Man had the gimmick of an Elvis impersonator.
  • A case of conjoined icons occurs on the Star Trek fan series, "Star Trek Phase II", where the executive producer is professional Elvis impersonator James Cawley. As Captain Kirk, Cawley still retains his "Elvis" look, but does not impersonate either Elvis or William Shatner.
  • In Jack Womack's Dryco quartet, Elvissey (1993) depicts a future world wracked by climate change, where Elvis Presley has become the central messianic figure in an alternative religion, and where Elvis impersonation has become a sacred rite of spiritual possession. Therefore, the central protagonists are tasked with retrieving an alternate history Elvis, who turns out to suffer from psychosis, has murdered his mother Gladys Presley and who is also a Valentinean gnostic, who reacts adversely to his perceived messiah role.


See also



References

  1. Eric Lott, "All the King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity." In Harry Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel, eds., Race and the Subject of Masculinities (Duke University Press, 1997), p.198.
  2. Waking Andy Kaufman, The Village Voice
  3. Steven Connor, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p.108.
  4. Eric Lott, p.194.
  5. Kristine L. Blair and Libby Allison, Cultural Attractions/Cultural Distractions: Critical Literacy in Contemporary Contexts (2000), p.88.
  6. Eric Lott, "All the King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity," in Harry Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel, eds., Race and the Subject of Masculinities (Duke University Press, 1997), p.202.
  7. See Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide (1999), p.332.
  8. See Gael Sweeney, "The King of White Trash Culture: Elvis Presley and the Aesthetics of Excess." In Annalee Newitz and Matt Wray, eds., White Trash: Race and Class in America (1996), p.262.
  9. Sweeney, "The King of White Trash Culture," p.262.
  10. George Plasketes, Images of Elvis Presley in American Culture, 1977-1997: The Mystery Terrain (1997), p.3.
  11. For more details, see David S. Wall, "Policing Elvis: Legal Action and the Shaping of Post-Mortem Celebrity Culture as Contested Space."
  12. Gadfly Online: David McNair and Jayson Whitehead, "Love and Theft."
  13. Francesca Brittan, "Women Who 'Do Elvis': Authenticity, Masculinity and Masquerade", published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2. (August 2006), p.167-190.
  14. Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1992), p.372. See also Matt Hills, Fan Cultures (2002), p.164.
  15. Marjorie B. Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1997), p.369.
  16. Eric Lott, "All the King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity," p.194.
  17. David Shumway, "Performance". In Bruce Horner and Thomas Swiss, eds., Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture (1999), p.197.
  18. Eric Lott, p.222.
  19. Rosemary J. Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropiation, and the Law (Duke University Press, 1998), p.99.


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