RIVERSIDE, CA. Pompadour’s purpose is to pay tribute to tribute artists. Therefore, we publicly take a neutral stance on our personal opinions about the negative aspects associated with ETAs, contests and other associations within the ETA industry. However, everything I write about on Pompadour is opinion, but dominantly written in a positive light. Contests, like politics or religion, strikes a passionate, opinionated nerve in most everyone.
Contests are my favorite events in the industry to attend. They are fun and provide opportunity to meet other Elvis fans, network, discover new ETAs, make new friends, and hang out with friends. Contests are also rife with drama which I enjoy indulging because folks are passionate about their ETAs. There is always scuttlebutt before, during and after every contest. It’s a natural expression when the audience is populated by a diverse crowd of family, friends, fans, and promoters. Boy, my boy, it’s a beautiful thing.
I’ve observed a trend, often debated by the passionate, about the fairness of the outcome for some of the contests I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It’s a trend of unfairness which I believe is unintentional, but there are enough bread crumbs on the path leading to enough facts to conclude some contests are unfair.
Elvis changed his style and execution of music three times during his short career. It all began with the sexy, energetic, controversial rockabilly era of the 1950s, then the box office show tunes, followed by the sexy, ’68 Comeback Special and mature concert years of the 1970s. It’s an amazing transformation of a singer’s voice which only became stronger with maturity. Elvis’ nasality, high hiccup voice style would change to the raw, raspy, hard rock voice of ’68 into the deep, rich powerful voice of the concert years. It’s hard to believe it’s the same man singing because there is such a difference in tone and style. There is no comparing the three eras equally or fairly. (The ’68 Comeback and concert years are lumped together in the concert era.)
You can’t judge a 1950’s ETA against a 1960’s ETA against a 1970’s ETA and expect fair results. It’s comparing apples to oranges. The only constant between the three is they are all representing Elvis and the similarities stop at his name.
Since the gap is so wide between the three eras it’s unfair to judge the eras in the same contest. More often than not it is the 1950’s ETA who wins. The top three at the 2013 EP Expo winners were 1950’s ETAs, but there were several concert year ETAs who equally deserved the top spot.
Similar results happened at the Rockin’ Elvis Fest (Pala, CA) and the Ultimate Elvis Weekend (Las Vegas) where first place was taken by a 1950’s ETA. It’s unlikely this is intentional since the judges do not have any known ties with EPE, Inc. As of June 01st only four out of 18 UETAC semifinalists are 1950s Elvis. That’s only a 4:14 ratio of 1950’s Elvis to 1970s Elvis or 22%. Small numbers in terms of all the semifinalists competing this year.
Whether the contests are EPE, Inc. sanctioned for the UETAC finals or local contests for cash prizes, such as the Weekend With the King contest at the Honeymoon Hideaway in Palm Springs, CA, the winners are usually 1950’s ETAs. It is just an underlying, unintentional unfairness affecting the outcome of these contests.
What is the solution? The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Rules and Guidelines does not state there cannot be more than one winner at a preliminary contest. At the very least the contest should be divided between two categories. The first category is the early years (1954-1958) including the movie years (1960-1968). The second category is the concert years (1969-1977) including the ’68 Comeback Special. A first place winner should be determined in each category and sent off to Memphis.
Read more: Elvis Timeline
There is something else to consider and is the driving force behind these contests: money. It ain’t cheap to put on these major, contest productions. The annual Elvis Rocks Mesquite (ERM) seems to do it with three categories and great cash prizes for all preliminary round winners. However, the ERM contest still narrows it down to one winner. It at least gives all ETAs from all three eras a fair chance to compete against each other in their respective category and judged for the appropriate era portrayed.
It’s frustrating for both contestant and fan alike when you know, and believe, a favorite ETA should have been in the top spot. All the time, money, and separation from family can seem like a huge waste. It can be very discouraging, but hope is always waiting in the wings to be renewed when patient endurance is awarded with finally watching a favorite ETA earn his deserved first place win, like Rob Ely. Ely consistently placed in the top five in many contests over several years for the UETAC. He finally won his chance to compete in Memphis after winning first place at the Laughlin Elvis Fest.
I guess, when you get down to the brass tacks of it all, contests are a reminder life isn’t always fair. There’s always hope.
Read more: Rigged or Just Paid Dues?