LAS VEGAS – The white-suited, chest hair-baring, blue contact-wearing men posing with fans outside the showroom of the former Las Vegas Hilton don’t want to be called Elvis impersonators.
The correct term is Elvis tribute artist – or ETA for short – to distinguish their studied performances from the dime-a-dozen characters trolling the Strip.
“It’s not a gag,” said Jason Sherry, producer of last weekend’s Elvis Festival in Las Vegas, one of several sanctioned by Presley’s estate that lead up to Elvis Week in August in Memphis, Tenn. “It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it. But we’re not making a mockery of Elvis.”
Some three dozen ETAs took their gyrating hips and curled lips to the stage over the weekend to see who could do the most convincing portrayal. Prizes included $2,500 in cash for the top performer and a chance to represent Las Vegas in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition during Elvis Week.
Eli Williams, a Vancouver, British Columbia, resident who placed second in the contest, said he took up karate just like the King.
“It made a lot of what he did make sense,” said Williams, 26, of the singer’s stage movements.
Like many ETAs, Frank Werth from Hays, Kan., buys his suits from B&K Enterprises, a company that employs the man who designed jumpsuits for Elvis. An intricately embroidered suit might cost $4,000, while the matching cape could run $500.
“We try to re-create (shows) as closely as we can,” said Werth, 32, who finished in third place. “Nothing is out of taste.”
Licensed events help Elvis Presley’s estate cultivate a fan base decades after radio stations stopped playing “Love Me Tender.”
The intergenerational allure of Elvis was on display among the dozen or so people of all ages who came from Penticton, British Columbia, to Las Vegas to watch hometown boy Adam Fitzpatrick, 29, take home top honors at the fest.