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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

A whole bunch of hound dogs

Famous Dave’s upcoming Elvis Impersonator Show and Contest reveals what one might think: The world of Elvis tributes is strange.

The King passed more than 35 years ago, and his legacy lives on in the form of hundreds of impersonators and tribute artists, not to mention the likes of die-hard fans whose stand-by karaoke songs are “Blue Moon” and “Love Me Tender.”

There is no model for who can and cannot show their appreciation for that hip-shaking mega-star of musical legend, though there are a number of professional and amateur associations for those Elvis tribute artists, or ETAs, who care to join.

Anthony Shore, for example, dons a jumpsuit and sideburns for a typical late-1960s Elvis look, but his heavy London accent prompts a double-take.

“I loved the flashy clothes,” Shore said. “I used to wear these clothes as a kid thinking I looked cool, and I looked like an idiot.”

The colorful, iconic image of Elvis aids impersonators who have a wealth of costumes to choose from. Some impersonators focus on late, post-comeback Elvis, while others go for the younger, Army-era Elvis. 

Everett Atherton has $20,000 in his closet in the form of Elvis costumes and apparel. There is a company, B&K Enterprises Costume Co., Inc., that exclusively deals in reproductions of Elvis’ wardrobe.

“I’ve been mastering this voice for 40 years,” Atherton said. “I’ve had women cry. Peoples’ jaws drop. A lot of people never got to see him.”

Seeing Elvis perform can leave people so shook up; they feel propelled to jump on stage and try their hand at the Pelvis’ discography.

“I saw [Elvis] in concert here in Minneapolis on Oct. 17, 1976 — that sealed the deal,” Robert Foley, a participant in last year’s contest, said. “When I look back at all the shows and concerts I’ve ever been to or involved in, nothing ever transformed an audience like that one guy.”

For many, the desire to do Elvis is a natural byproduct of childhood nostalgia.

 “I don’t have any aspirations to be famous; I have the talent to sound like him, but I don’t try to be Elvis,” Chuck Dillinger, another contest participant, said. “I’ve been singing with his records so long people say when I try to sound like myself I still sound like him.”

Yet, there remains a certain degree of showy tackiness to the world of ETAs. It stems from the meta-caricature that Elvis was and is, especially in his later life.

If Elvis were alive, it’d be an intriguing exercise in perception to see if he could be as Elvis-y as some of his award-winning impersonators.

Not to be cruel — as Elvis asks — but the realm of ETAs carries with it the same atmosphere as a great-aunt showing off the baubles on her crowded living room shelves, all while wearing her favorite faux mink stole.

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