Ronny Craig and I looked at each other and smiled - we were on our way to Memphis for Elvis Week. As we drove the first few miles of our 500 mile trip, we discussed the different ETA's and assessed each of them and their chances of winning this year.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Sunday night and began the enjoyable pastime of greeting old friends. Throughout Monday, ETA's, families and fans arrived from all over the world.
Mario was not at Memphis this year - he is starring in a musical in England called Jailhouse Rock! He called later in the week to say "hello" to all the fans and promised to be there next year. Elvis Jr. is back from Belgium after a few years’ absence. He has lost weight and looks wonderful! Irv Cass and Jim Barone are in England performing in the Elvis Experience in Blackpool.
The contest opened on Tuesday night with 11 ETA's. The first contestant was George Rock, a Japanese ETA who wore a kimono! Wednesday and Thursday saw 40 more contestants vying for spots in the finals! Thursday night, at 1:00 AM, the finalists were announced. The prequalified finalists (who won an Images contest during the previous year) were: Jesse Aron, Shawn Barker, Ralph Elizondo, Paul Halverstadt, Dwight Icenhower, Matt Joyce, James King, David Lee, Johnny Loos, Jason Sikes, and Billy Wayde. Matt King and Chris Solano were also prequalified but were unable to attend. The other finalists were: Jeff Bodner, Danny Dale, Butch Dicus, Darryl Dunhill, Elvis, Jr., Bob James, Rob Langsford, Kurt Lechner, Todd Martin, Chance Michaels, Terry Price, Fernando Rodriquez, Dean Vegas, Jason Whited, and Chris Wilson.
Friday afternoon, the Franklins threw a sock hop in the atrium of the hotel. ETA's and fans spent the afternoon dancing to Golden Oldies and eating hamburgers and ice cream sodas. What fun!
Friday and Saturday nights, the finalists sang their hearts out! There was so much talent in the room, it was scary... Also, throughout the 2 nights, past winners entertained to the delight of the audience. Steve Chappell, Doug Church, Michael Hoover, Stephen Kabakos, Robert Washington, and Mori Yasumasa brought back wonderful memories of the years they won. Eddie Miles paid a surprise visit and sang one song.
The tension built all Saturday night. The room was so packed that "standing room only" tickets were the only ones available. As Robert Washington sang his last set as the 2003 Champion, fans pushed to the front and began to chant their favorites' names.
Finally, Jackie Franklin stepped on stage and called each finalist up to receive his participation plaque. When all 25 finalists were on stage, Jackie announced the winners: