ANAHEIM, CA. The most important Elvis fan is the next generation. These are the young minds exposed to the life, music, and legacy of Elvis Presley who will continue to keep his memory alive for generations to come. Jacob Roman is such a fan, now an ETA, whom we first had the privilege of seeing at the 2013 EP Expo in January. We’ve kept Jacob in our sights ever since he captured our attention along with capturing the hearts of fans and the respect of other ETAs at the Expo.
We have been wanting to interview Jacob for awhile and decided to make a day out of it to get to know the family better. We all have annual Disneyland passes and the Romans invited us to hang out with them for the day. We rendezvoused with Jacob, his younger brother, Matthew, and their parents, Humberto and Anita, at the Golden Horseshow for a show and to start our day.
Our day at the happiest place on earth was spent enjoying the rides and attractions, patiently standing in long lines, but when you’re in good company the time passes quickly. Conversations varied between trivial chit chat and more meaningful topics of family, Elvis, music, and marriage, along with plenty of boisterous laughing. Matthew kept us laughing with his comedic antics. The Romans are a tight knit family with a lot of love between them.
We ended our fun day at Disneyland at the Uva Bar located in the heart of the Downtown Disney District for appetizers and drinks. Jacob and I left and found an isolated table outside of the Jazz Kitchen and talked about his journey to Elvis.
Baseball Pitcher to Elvis Tribute Artist
We first met Jacob Roman at the 2013 EP Expo after he won first place in his first ETA contest at the youthful age of 16. He was as shocked as everyone else when he won first place at one of the largest ETA contests in the United States. It’s extremely rare for an ETA, who has never competed or performed on stage before, to win his first time competing.
His talent has since skyrocketed him with multiple wins and awards.
- Honeymoon Hideaway Weekend with the King Contest – 1st Place
- Elvis Rocks Mesquite – 4th Place & Fan Favorite Award
- Las Vegas Elvis Fest – 3rd Place & People’s Choice Award
- Crème de la King Contest – 1st Place
After winning Fan Favorite at Elvis Rocks Mesquite, one of the show producers, Rich Vickers of Black Velvet Productions, stated Jacob is more talented than Cody Ray Slaughter when Cody was the same age. That says a lot about Jacob’s talent because Cody Ray Slaughter is a superbly talented ETA whom Rich Vickers and many others recognize.
Jacob’s journey to Elvis began long before he was born. His mom’s side of the family is filled with talented singers and musicians who all seem to have a natural knack for music. Anita has been around music all her life and has a keen insight into the world of music and entertainment. Jacob’s uncles, David and Jimmy, seem to have been born with a prodigious rhythm for the drums and have bands of their own. Anita said about her brother, Jimmy, he destroyed four vinyl chairs from his constant drumming on the furniture. The family’s natural talent for music has been inherited by Jacob who can play the guitar, drums, ukulele, bass, piano, and of course, sing, but it was Humberto, Jacob’s dad, who was the Elvis fan.
Like many ETAs, it seems their epiphanies to pay tribute to Elvis comes at the most unexpected moments. Some are Elvis fans first who see an ETA concert or contest and think, “I can do that.” They buy a suit, a wig, some props, a few karaoke tracks, and start their tribute. Kevin Conley was such a fan and is now an ETA. For others, the choice to pay tribute is a deeper, more personal experience. Eric Hawes, aka, E-Rock, almost ended his life at the age of 13 before he saw Elvis in concert and it changed his life. Jacob’s epiphany came to him when he was nine years old during a family vacation in Laughlin, NV.
Tickets were given to the family to see an ETA performing at the Ramada Inn Express. Unfortunately, no one can remember his name and efforts to identify him have also been unsuccessful. He is a mystery to the family and there is only a single photo of him with Jacob.
As providence would have it, the mysterious ETA was a good one and not a caricature of Elvis. Jacob’s epiphany came during a song as the ETA mingled about the audience, passing out scarves and kisses to the girls. He stopped at the table where Jacob sat with his family, shook his hand, then moved on, but after a few steps he suddenly stopped. The mysterious ETA turned around and walked back over to Jacob.
Jacob paused at this junction of the interview. There was a small smile on his face, his eyes shifted away from me, lost in thought, as he privately remembered the experience and relived it. He nodded his head up and down in some sort of agreement with his thoughts and continued with the story.
“He put his hand on my head and didn’t say anything to me. It was like he was giving me his blessing. My Elvis blessing.”
The choice had been made. He told his parents about his desire to sing like the King, but they didn’t take him seriously and his journey to Elvis would temporarily deviate. He was only nine, and baseball was the journey Jacob was taking with dreams of playing in the majors.
In baseball, Jacob developed a reputation in little league as a strong pitcher to be feared. He was known as Dr. Jake because of how he “operated the ball” or Jake the Snake for his ability to make the “ball slither into” the strike zone. Baseball occupied the Roman’s life, especially with Humberto as the team’s coach, but after ten years of baseball he traded in his leather glove to focus on Elvis. He was only 14 years old when he stepped back on the path and moved forward with his journey to Elvis.
You would think Jacob’s parents would encourage him to continue with baseball. After all, they spent a lot of time and money to develop Jacob’s skills. In comparison, at least baseball provided potential, future financial success and fulfillment. Entertainment, especially as an ETA, is a challenging career where success can be elusive. However, Jacob’s parents are the type of people who encourage their children to make their own choices about what they want to do in life. Humberto and Anita measure the success of their children by making sure they are doing what makes them happy, but doing it to the best of their ability. It was one of the reasons they chose to home school Jacob. He wasn’t happy in a public school setting, so Anita gave up her child development career to educate Jacob at home.
He admits, “I would be the complete opposite of what I am today if I stayed in a public school.”
What is Jacob like? He has a healthy, driven ambition to pay the best tribute to Elvis he can. He is humble, courteous, an independent and analytical thinker, intelligent, loving, and a self-proclaimed “mama’s boy.” Sort of like Elvis and Gladys. Of course, he is interested in girls and is presently single, but not (really) looking because he is focused on Elvis. He asked me what some of my best pick up lines were, but I had to tell him that unfortunately I wasn’t much of a “ladies man.” The only pick up line I could remember ever using was, “Baby, you smell better than a cheeseburger.” I stole that line from some other wannabe Casanova. It never worked. Jacob laughed at me, like the girls would, then shared some of his potential pick up lines with me. I’ll let him share those with the gals who catch his attention.
Baseball was out and Elvis was in; however, Jacob incorporated the same dedication to becoming the best little league pitcher to becoming the best ETA. Though the journey to Elvis was temporarily deviated it was never far from Jacob’s mind. Over the next two years he focused on Elvis by studying YouTube videos, movies, and adding Elvis songs to his music library. He performed Elvis for his immediate and extended family at birthdays, holidays, other family gatherings, and with his uncles. Jacob’s performances at family get-togethers would soon make it onto a very big stage.
The Journey into the Elvis Subculture Begins with First Place
There are two elements of the ETA industry. First, there is the business aspect of merchandise, musical productions, and related entrepreneurial pursuits of producers, managers, and individual ETAs making a living being Elvis. Second, is the subculture of Elvis and ETA fans. The subculture is a global one populated by the personal friends of Elvis, his sole surviving heirs, movie co-stars, ETAs, Elvis impersonators, and of course, fans. It is a virtually unknown world for which most folks, including me and the Romans, stumbled upon. Neither Jacob nor his family had any idea there was an ETA industry and Elvis subculture with its diverse population from all over the world. The 2013 EP Expo, and one of the show’s producers, Ryan Wood, would serve as their introduction into this world keeping the life, music, and legacy of Elvis Presley alive.
Jacob’s tribute to Elvis is solely the early years of the 1950’s. His approach to studying Elvis is to find video of his early performances on YouTube, and carefully watch the body movements, facial expressions, feet positions and observe the clothing styles. Instead of using a full length mirror to watch himself imitate Elvis, Jacob finds a YouTube video for the song he is practicing and records himself simultaneously. Afterwards, he reviews his video side-by-side with the Elvis video, and then makes the appropriate adjustments to give as real of an Elvis illusion as possible.
It was during one of these YouTube searches Jacob came across the EP Expo. Anita contacted Ryan Wood and after a three hour phone call Wood asked them to send a video and photos for him to review. The whole thing was all but forgotten until six months later in September when Wood contacted them and tells them Jacob is in the Expo. Panic mode! They weren’t expecting to get in. They were starting from scratch and only had four months to prepare.
Jacob did not have a single thread of Elvis clothing and had no idea where to buy “Elvis clothes.” Mom and son hit the vintage clothing shops looking for the vintage styles of a 1950’s Elvis. Eventually, after a bit more research and a bit of luck they put together an ensemble of white jacket, black shirt with white tie, black slacks, and white shoes. It was the classic, early Elvis look that fit Jacob’s image he wanted to portray for the fans.
The EP Expo is a major contest attracting some of the most talented ETAs from the United States and Canada. The 2013 event was headlined by two of the most talented ETAs in the industry, Dwight Icenhower and Jay Dupuis. Jacob was competing with experienced, award winning ETAs, some who have been paying tribute to Elvis before Jacob was born. His parents cautiously advised him not to get his hopes up because it was unlikely he would place, let alone, win. Not only were his parents cautioning him, but so were a few of the veteran ETAs, especially Seve Botello, who took an instant liking to Jacob and began mentoring him. Botello shared his first impression of Jacob when they first met.
Jacob couldn’t care less about winning. He was there for the experience and grateful just to be around so many talented ETAs.
“I was excited to just pay tribute to Elvis and be around all these guys.”
Nevertheless, the 16 year old did the impossible and won first place. Jacob made his mark in the ETA industry and made EP Expo history as the youngest ETA to win the contest. It’s rare for someone so young and inexperienced to win a major ETA contest. I was shocked when his mom told me his age after the contest. I thought for sure he was in his early 20’s. It’s a testament to Jacob’s talent, and winning the EP Expo served as validation that he chose the right path.
“It was a sign to be Elvis.” Of course, he meant as an Elvis Tribute Artist.
Since then, he has become fully vested in his ETA career. I asked Jacob if he missed baseball.
“I miss it, but being an ETA is a lot like baseball.”
“It’s like a brotherhood. The guys all support each other. When someone messes up on a song we tell them, ‘It’s okay’ or ‘You’ll get it next time.’ When they do great, or someone wins, we congratulate them. It’s like that in baseball. I also like to make people remember Elvis.”
“With so many talented ETAs, who are your role models?”
“Dean Z and Cody Ray Slaughter.”
That makes sense. Dean Z and Slaughter are both Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest winners and superb early Elvis performers.
Jacob and the rest of the family are now part of the Elvis world and the ETA industry. They have carefully, yet passionately, embraced it and are on the same journey with him.
Jacob is now a 17 year old, senior high school student.
“Any plans for college?”
“No, not really. I’m taking my time and I like where I am. My focus is on Elvis for now.”
The future looks bright ahead for Jacob. Since January 2013 he has already won several major contests and awards, and is in demand. The annual charity event hosted by Elvis fan club, All Shook Up N Vegas, invited Jacob to perform at the Gold Strike Casino in Jean, NV. He will ring in the New Year at the Grove Theatre with Chris Luna and the TCB Flash Band. He has been hired to perform on the Love Me Tender Elvis Cruise with fellow ETAs, Seve Botello and Joe Bullock. He is returning to the 2014 EP Expo and headlining with Bill Cherry and Jay Dupuis.
“How do you keep from letting all this go to your head?” Jacob paused to think about the question before answering.
“I just keep in mind I am not Elvis. I love Elvis; this is a dream come true, but there is only one Elvis.”
In addition, to keeping the right perspective his Dad, Humberto, keeps his eldest son in check as only good dads can do. Mom, Anita, is familiar with the entertainment business adulations and keeps it real. There is also younger brother, 9 year old Matthew. He is intelligent, quick-witted, and if you have siblings who know the best and worst about you, well, you know what I mean. They all work together to keep Jacob grounded.
It’s something Jacob appreciates. Despite all his talents and personal accomplishments, Jacob attributes all his success to his family.
It’s been a fantastic year for Jacob Roman. His sights are on qualifying for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, TN when he turns 18, but for now he is taking it one day at a time. For now, one leg of Jacob’s journey to Elvis has come to an end: he is living out his dream of being Elvis. Fortunately, Elvis was a multifaceted human being with a huge fan base and continuous impact on American culture 36 years after his death. His life offers many paths for Jacob to explore as he continues on his journey to Elvis.
Thank you to Humberto, Anita and Matthew Roman, Seve Botello, Rich Vickers, and Ryan Wood for their contributions to the article. Of course, I couldn’t do this without the careful editing of my wife, Jeanne Marie. Y’all rock!