WINTERHAVEN, CA. You’d think it would get old seeing the same guys over and over again; singing the same Elvis songs over and over again, but it doesn’t. It never does. You never know what you’re going to see or hear or who you will meet at these competitions.
There is the excitement of the venue. Casinos are the best venues and usually the most expensive, but also some of the most elaborate. Las Vegas set the standard and casinos all over California and Arizona make every effort to bring the glitz and glamour of a Vegas show to their venue. This is Elvis with his fans filling in the seats to see their idol and momentarily take in the notastalgia and relive it as they remember it or imagine it.
This is the first year the event is being hosted by Quechan Casino & Resort after years of playing at Cocopah Resort and Casino. The Q, as it’s called, did a fantastic job bringing the King of Rock & Roll to Winterhaven. The corridor leading to the theater greets the fans with replicas of the famous jumpsuits and jewerly unique to Elvis. On stage is the official tribute band to Graceland, EAS, backing the contestants. AE Productions (formerly Audio Excellence), with its experienced crew of young individuals, recreate the sound of Elvis and radiates the stage with an array of dazzling lights. The enthusiatic crew love what they do and it shows on the stage and off the stage during the after party at the Q’s Sidewinder Bar and Grill.
Showcasing day one was ETA Jay Dupuis “recognized as one of the top ETAs in the world by Elvis Enterprises, Inc.” It’s always a thrill to see if the ETA headliner lives up to the hype and Dupuis superseded expectations.
Adding to the anticipation is discovering new talent. I’m always looking for the next ETA who has the talent to give us a perfect illusion of Elvis. Day one introduced the fans to Lloyd Aron Douglas who has the right stuff for the pefect illusion. I traveled to Merced, CA to see his Totally Elvis show and the long drive was worth it.
Douglas Bryan is another newby ETA from Central California who has been performing just over 2 years. I met Bryan at the Image of the King show in Merced, CA. He brings to the contest a fresh flare along with youthful enthusiasm to pay honor to Elvis. Fortunately, he has the chops to become a great ETA and is one to watch.
There are my personal favorites like Joe Bullock, whom I’ve mentioned many times before, because I enjoy watching his progression. He surprised me last night when he came out on stage wearing the gold lamé jacket. Bullock said this was the first time he performed as an early Elvis.
Attending these concerts provides lots of opportunity to see ETAs progress in their ability. I first saw Cody Campbell at the 2012 Ultimate Elvis weekend during the Fremont Street Experience and he was good, but not good enough to win. Since then he has significantly improved, put on an impressive performance, invested in a few jumpsuits and is good enough now.
It never gets boring. The 25 contestants sing their hearts out and put it all out there for the fans to enjoy and judge. The top prize is a $2,500 purse, but for many of the ETAs it’s not really about winning. There’s much more to it and winning first place is simply validation they are paying tribute to Elvis and doing it right.