When I was asked to write a story about my experience winning the 2002 Isle of Capri “Tribute to the King” contest in Biloxi, Mississippi, no one could blame me for being “all shook up” over winning $50,000! It was truly an experience I will never forget. Being in the business of paying tribute to Elvis is a wonderful job. I have met and made so many wonderful friends who are fellow tribute artists as well as so many unforgettable fans across the country. I have truly been blessed.
I heard about the contest for the first time in October 2001 through an email from a fan of mine who heard about the contest and said that I certainly needed to participate. I have competed in several competitions and have done well, but this one was the big one. With a prize of $50,000, I sure would give it my best shot. I competed in Council Bluffs, Iowa at the Bluffs Run Casino in the “Images of Elvis” contest and won first place in 1998, 1999, and 2000. After winning that contest for three years in a row, I decided to make guest appearances and not compete any more. However, after reading about the Isle of Capri contest, I thought I would go for one more. I am glad I did.
To get to Biloxi for the chance to win the $50,000 I had to pre-qualify at one of the Isle of Capri casinos across the country. My wife, my mom, my dad, and I flew to Blackhawk, Colorado where I won first place, which pre-qualified me to go to Biloxi for the finals in January 2002. The final contest was held on January 11 and 12, 2002 in Biloxi, Mississippi. Several days before the contest, I was traveling performing my tribute show, and became ill with a terrible cold. This was very discouraging, but with the encouragement of my family and my dad pouring hot tea, lemon, and honey down my throat throughout the trip, I was able to perform at my peak and the cold did not restrict me from vocally being at my best. I take the most pride in my voice and I am thankful all the pieces came together for the final performance.
The auditorium in Biloxi at the Isle of Capri was packed with “well wishers” of their various tribute artists and high rollers from the casino. My family did not even have a seat because of the large crowd. My wife was so nervous she stood against the back wall with my mother and other fans. A dozen fellow tribute artists competed in the “Tribute to the King” contest on the first night of the semi-finals. I was very proud to be part of a competition that consisted of such outstanding tribute artists. During the first night, each tribute artist was given 15 minutes to perform his show. I came out in my blue fireworks jumpsuit and performed “Viva Las Vegas” and ended with “The Wonder of You”. It was such a rush to perform songs in that small amount of time. I am used to putting on concerts that last an hour and a half to two hours. I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the five finalists for the final competition on Saturday. During the day on Saturday, we practiced with a live band and the fabulous Jordanaires, who backed all the final five tribute artists during the finals. Saturday, in front of a packed house, I wore the white Spanish flower jumpsuit and did a powerful trio of tunes “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Hurt”, and ended with the incredible “How Great Thou Art”. Having the Jordanaires behind you on “How Great Thou Art” would bring chills to anyone experiencing that moment. Whether you were in the audience or on stage, you could shut your eyes and feel Elvis’ presence in the room. They are a fabulous group and I was so proud to share the stage with them that evening.
You could cut the tension with a knife when they lined the five finalists on stage to announce the winner. Everyone performed incredibly. The contestants were judged on professionalism, appearance, sound, movement, overall replication of the King, and overall acceptance from the audience. After all was said and done and after two nights of singing, I was declared the “King of Kings” and was presented a check for $50,000. What an evening! Winning that title meant so much to me, but more than that, sharing the experience with my family was even more important. My dad was with me on stage and he was the first one I turned to hug when they announced my name as winner. Sharing that moment with him was a great experience.
I have been doing my tribute to Elvis (“Illusions of The King”) for over 25 years traveling throughout the world keeping memories alive of the greatest entertainer of all time, Elvis Presley. This summer I will be performing in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. I have been a huge Elvis fan all my life. My show is a true family performance. I could not do my show without the support of my family. My wife manages and handles all scheduling for my shows. My son, who is now in college, assists with the lights, when he is home. My dad is on stage with me every performance to do scarves, and my mom, who assists my grandmother in making many of my jumpsuits, is always there for support and assistance. One important family member is my daughter, Lauren, who performs with my band and opens all my shows with her incredible voice. She began singing with me in my shows when she was 12. She is now 17 and performed several songs on my Gospel CD with me. We have a great technical and support staff that accompanies us at every performance and I have a terrific band “The Illusions” that I perform with regularly. I am very fortunate to have such great support and most importantly great fans!
This trip to Biloxi was one of the highlights of my career to say the least. I have been so fortunate to perform with The Stamps Quartet as well as working with some of Elvis’ close friends and associates. Elvis Presley has brought so much joy to so many people and his music will never die. I have always been dedicated to keeping his memory alive and positive. I hope generations to come will never forget Elvis and his music.