LAS VEGAS, NV. It’s been a week since the Fremont Street Experience and the 4th Annual Ultimate Elvis Weekend contest. Controversy, debate, drama, stunning performances, disappointments, and great times filled Mother’s Day weekend, making it a rockin’ good time.
Day 1 – Rehearsal, Introductions, Parade, Competition
The excitement of the event began as the competing ETAs gathered near the stage wearing their casual clothes. It wasn’t too difficult to identify the competitors. Most had pompadours, sideburns, Elvis shades, and were all too happy to pose for pictures.
Rehearsals followed as each contestant took their place at the mic for sound checks, and synchronized with the band. We all got a taste of the talent that would entertain us for the next two nights.
Each contestant sang their opening song they would perform in the contest. It was essentially a full, live rehearsal stripped of all the Las Vegas glitz and glamour. An amazing site to behold because of the incredible transformations each contestant undergoes from average Joe to the King of Rock & Roll when the glitz and glamour are added. Some of the transformations are dramatic changes.
The makeup was on, the jumpsuits donned, the lights shone brightly over the stage, and the music cued. Every ETA sung their hearts out as if their lives depended on it. Most of the performances were spectacular, but a few were unique in their own ways. CJ Charlton is a short Cherokee Native American with a wonderful sense of humor, whose deep, rich voice surprised us all. Chris Johnson, aka the Counterfeit Elvis, is always an entertaining addition to the show. Johnson is well aware of his talents and Elvis’ magnetic draw to fans. He can be seen on Fremont St. earning tips posing with tourists for pictures.
Day one started on a Friday night and blended into Saturday morning. We hung out with ETAs, Eli Williams and Brian Simpson, until 4:00 a.m. talking for hours over a late meal followed by playing a few slot machines.
Day 2 – The Top 10
Pancakes were on the mind when we awoke after three hours of sleep. Our good friend, Zach Lieberman of ElvisEvents.com, bragged about Du-par’s, located inside the Golden Gate Casino. He said, “They have the best frickin’ pancakes in the world.” He wasn’t frickin’ lying. We met more good friends, Mike & Sheri, at Du-par’s and ate to our heart’s delight.
Breakfast was topped off with Starbuck’s coffee and hanging outside the coffee bistro in a cloud of staunch cigar smoke where we discussed our predictions, opinions, and gambling losses. Others did a bit of site seeing and souvenir shopping along Fremont St. We all stayed up late the night before and after a couple hours of socializing, we went our separate ways to nap and get ready for the finals.
Day two’s events started off with another parade to the stage and the announcement of the Top 10. Cheers, hisses, guffaws rumbled indistinguishably among the audience as their favorite’s name were called out one by one. The predictions shared earlier in the day at Starbuck’s were discussed again in opining chatter. The majority seemed to agree nine of the ETAs selected were the right choice while one competitor was questionable. Such is the nature of contests. A few folks are elated, a few folks satisfied, and a few folks get their jumpsuits ruffled when the results are called. It makes it all very exciting.
The Top 10. L-R: Tyler James, James Kruk, Eli Williams, Paul Monroe, Bobby Simkins, Chad Collins, Brian A. Simpson, George Thomas, Tim Welch, Jimmi Ellis. Each finalist sang two songs until the final three were chosen.
First prize: $2,500. Second prize: $300. Third prize: $200. You would think a contest held in a city which earned $10.86 billion dollars in gambling revenue could give a larger prize for second and third place. Just sayin’.
Chad Collins took first place and won his ticket to Memphis to compete in the UETAC.
James Kruk (R) placed second and George Thomas (L) placed third.
The contestants were judged by (L-R) John Katsilometes (Las Vegas Sun editor), Damian Brantley (actor/entertainer) Lynda Thompson (Elvis’ former girlfriend), and Sam Thompson (former Elvis body guard/Linda Thompson’s brother).
Mimicking American Idol© each judge gave their opinions about each ETA’s performance. It was obvious by some of the comments from Katsilometes and Brantley they knew more about the mythical Elvis rather than the authentic Elvis. However, this is not unusual during these contests for some judges to comment on the mythical aspects of Elvis’ stage presence rather than the factual as Elvis becomes more removed from popular culture.
Linda Thompson knew Elvis intimately which is much different than knowing Elvis personally as her brother did. Throughout the contest I would look up to the judges stand, observe her face, and she often seemed lost in time. Her expression was somber. Her eyes reflective. Was it regret? Boredom? Exhaustion? Sometimes it seemed she would rather be somewhere else rather than dwelling in the past. Actually, her brother seemed to have the same expression. Can we really blame them?
There were some beautiful, touching moments during the contest. James Kruk sang a moving rendition of My Way (video) and knelt down to give Allison Scholz a scarf followed later when Tim Welch did the same thing during See See Rider (video). Scholz was overjoyed.
These are the magical moments I try to capture on the camera which makes these contests/concerts special. Elvis will have been dead for 36 years this coming August and he still has an emotional impact on people.
The Fremont Street Experience is an oasis of entertainment in the middle of downtown Las Vegas. If it were not for the redevelopment of the famous area, and renovations of the iconic Fremont Street’s casinos, the area would have long become a memory of the city’s past. Much like what could have happened with Elvis if not for the ETAs. Thank you to all the ETAs who entertain us and keep the memory of Elvis alive for years to come.