LAS VEGAS HOTEL. All the ETAs have left the building and the Facebook feed tickering through my page since leaving Las Vegas shows everyone made it home safely. The word is out and the top three winners of the Las Vegas Elvis Fest Heart of the King ETA contest have claimed their prizes. Congratulations to Jay Dupuis (1st), Ted Torres (2nd), and Jacob Roman (3rd). In addition to winning third place, Roman was voted Fan Favorite.
The final event was the poolside Blue Hawaii Farewell on Sunday. Just like the meet and greet, ETAs and their entourages of family, friends, and fans hung out for a last hoorah and said their goodbyes. ETAs entertained us by singing more Elvis hits, as sun bathers drenched in sun tanning oil surrounded the pool sipping on cold drinks or waded in the pool to beat the heat.
Staying out of the sun was easier inside a cabana equipped with a ceiling fan to circulate the hot air. D.B., whose father has ties with some of the key founders of Las Vegas, graciously invited us to share his cabana along with ETA Mark Stevenz and his lovely wife, Nikki. The 2012 UETAC winner, Ben Portsmouth (pronounced port-smith), stopped by for a chat and drinks. The jet lag, coupled with the hot Nevada sun, were having its toll on the Londoner and his crew. They graciously accepted D.B.’s invitation to step inside the cabana for a respite from the heat.
Farewells continued inside the casino as the sun set. Cigar smoke swirled about while spirited conversations about contests were debated. Often, raucous laughter erupted from nearby tables over a funny story or joke. My abs and jaw still hurt from the laughter. The late night transitioned into early morning and ended with Eric E-Rock Haws eloquently preaching his passion, respect, and dedication for the King of Rock & Roll.
E-Rock is one of the most impassioned ETAs in the industry. In fact, calling E-Rock an ETA doesn’t seem to be the correct adjective. He is more of a messenger proclaiming the music and memory of Elvis for any one who will listen. It seems people are listening attested by the some of the best ETAs standing around him during his discourse: Cole, Tyler Hunter, and Cody Ray Slaughter. It was the perfect way to end a rockin’ weekend.
Day 1 – ETA Las Vegas Bus Tour, Jam Session, Meet & Greet
The LV Elvis Fest started off with a complimentary bus tour of Las Vegas. Our knowledgeable tour guide was Susan Abramson, who once worked on the Ed Sullivan Show, provided the details for many of the iconic Las Vegas sites.
Later in the evening was a closed jam session for the ETAS, but I couldn’t schedule it to attend. No pics, but I heard it was a great time of camaraderie.
Closing the day and taking us from early evening to the early morning hours was the meet and greet. The meet and greet is one of the best times of the competition. It’s informal, relaxing, and a time for ETAs from all over the world to catch up with each other. Of course, since it’s a competition, the meet and greet also serves as a way to size up the competition during karaoke. This year’s contest included 28 strong competitors.
Day 2 – Prelim Round 1 & 2, Heart of the King Awards, Elvis & Friends After Hours Concert
The LV Elvis Fest is not for the weak or undisciplined. What I mean is the meet and greet ended at 11:00 p.m., then Round 1 started at 9:00 a.m. with each competitor singing two songs. It’s Las Vegas and it’s a city that never sleeps; therefore, if your party continued on after 11:00 p.m. it may have been a tougher competition for lack of sleep.
Round 2 prelim took place inside the LVH Showroom where all 28 sang one song each before the Top 20 were selected. The LVH Showroom houses the stage where Elvis performed 837 consecutive sold out shows. It is dubbed as Elvis’ house or a sanctuary by many ETAs and fans. The stage and showroom have been remodeled, but the spirit of Elvis Presley is still felt upon the stage. When Jacob Roman was asked to express in one word how he felt to stand upon the same stage as Elvis. He had none and was simply speechless.
The pressure of competing was set aside for the Heart of the King Awards (HKA) and Concert and the Elvis & Friends After Hours Concert featuring Ben Portsmouth. The HKA Concert was a spectacular production showcasing each of the recipients talent as an ETA. They are simply the best of the best. We were treated with each recipient performing a short set of three to four songs. If there were any doubts about why each one was being honored they were all erased after they sang. Moreover, if there are forefathers for the ETA industry, then Doug Church, Garry Wesley, Johnny Harrah (deceased) and Johnny Spence (deceased) would be named among them. Each one received the Heart of the King Lifetime Achievement Award. Following in their footsteps is Justin Shandor and Ben Portsmouth receiving the Heart of the King Award.
Keeping the memory of Elvis alive for the next generation of Elvis fans is Tyler Hunter and producers John Stuart and Edward Doc Franklin (deceased). Hunter currently stars as Elvis in the Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s and was awarded the Heart of the King Horizon Award for Best New Tribute Artist. Stuart is Legends in Concert founder currently celebrating 30 years of tribute artist entertainment. Franklin is renowned as the man who is the genesis for annual ETA contests produced throughout the world with his Images of the King contest beginning in 1987. Both producers were awarded the Heart of the King Producers Award.
You’d think two prelim rounds and a spectacular awards show would be enough to fill the day, but this is Vegas, baby! Following the awards show was the Elvis & Friends After Hours Concert featuring Tom Jones (Irv Cass), Elton John (Dwight Icenhower), Elvis Presley (Ben Portsmouth). It was an epic, entertaining concert featuring the three iconic, world renowned artists.
Wearing tight pants, curly hair, and an open shirt flashing chest hair and a flashy, gold necklace was Cass shaking his groove thing on the Shimmer Cabaret Room stage. He perfectly captured Tom Jones’ unique music style, humor, and obvious sexual innuendos to the delight of the girls.
Icenhower, dressed in a sparkling reddish-orange suit, platform shoes to match, and large, white sunglasses was the mirror image of Elton John. He even had the prominent, gap toothed Elton John smile to add to a perfect illusion. Moreover, he had the vocalizations perfected in song and speech. It was a hilarious, entertaining set from a talented singer who made you believe it was Elton John.
The star of the concert was Elvis Presley embodied on stage by Ben Portsmouth, the 2012 UETAC winner. He is the first non-American to win the contest. Ben is an incredible, perfect illusion of the King of Rock & Roll in his prime. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
Day 3 – Semi-Finals, Grand Finals, Shawn Klush and Cody Ray Slaughter: That’s the Way it Was, Then and Now Tribute Concert
The semi-finals whittled the Top 20 down to the Top 10:
Left to right:
- Jay Dupuis
- Tyler James
- Brad Boice
- Joe Bullock
- Jim Westover
- Eli Williams
- GaryElvis Britt
- Joey Franklin
- Jacob Roman
- Ted Torres Martin
Now it was time to get down and dirty; boy, my, boy. Maybe it was the stage, but every ETA sang with the conviction they were Elvis for that brief moment. They wanted the audience to believe it and each one made extraordinary efforts to convince us. Looking through the camera lens there were times when I did see Elvis, and hopefully, with the pictures posted on this blog you see Elvis, too.
The contest closed with a final tribute concert featuring the first UETAC winner, Shawn Klush, and the youngest UETAC winner, Cody Ray Slaughter. Slaughter portrayed early Elvis singing the signature songs which shot him to the top of the rock and roll charts. Singing into an original mic Elvis used in 1970 was Klush representing the concert years. Warming up the audience before the show was the man who made Elvis laugh, Sammy Shore.
I thought this would be just another contest. Fun, exciting, and filled with opportunity to meet new, interesting folks is what I always expect and look forward to at every contest. However, it wasn’t ordinary. The wave of emotion I felt when the first ETA stepped upon the stage where Elvis stood was unexpected and took me by surprise. It was a surreal moment and for the first time I really missed Elvis. This really was Elvis’ house and we were all walking in his footsteps on stage and throughout the showroom floor. Elvis was an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent whose influence reached beyond his music accomplishments.
I can’t imagine what it’s like for the people who saw Elvis in concert on that same stage. I can’t imagine what his friends feel each time they come to the LVH. It must be overwhelmingly sad each time they share their memories with us. Part of me believes they don’t want to be there reliving the memories over and over again. Another part believes Joe Esposito, Jerry Schilling, Estelle Brown, Joe Moscheo, and others are simply doing what Elvis wants them to do—continue entertaining his fans. Maybe that brings them joy and balances out the sadness.
Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I suppose it’s just an Elvis thing.
Thank you to the Las Vegas Elvis Fest, Ambassador Enterprises, Las Vegas Show and Events, and Sherry Management for producing a wonderful, memorable event. It rocked. Our gratitude extends to the Las Vegas Hotel for hosting the event and bringing the statue back inside the casino. Thank you to Terry Collins for administering a fantastic contest. A huge thank you to all the ETAs who keep the memory of Elvis alive. Without you, Elvis would have been forgotten and we appreciate your dedication to keep us entertained. Keep rockin’ it like Elvis.
Until we meet again, adios and God bless.