Elvis Tribute Artists Radio


According to an official Harris Poll conducted in August 2002, 8% of Americans (l7 million people) have tried to impersonate Elvis. The key word here is "tried"––and one can only wonder in amazement about the total numbers world-wide!

Last year (click here), we focused on the idea that Elvis’ true legacy is his sonic singing talent and musicianship and that the more an ETA emphasizes the "Elvis as cartoon" aspect of performing, the less he’s paying tribute to Elvis, and the more he’s feeding into the stereotypical negative media image of “Elvis impersonator.”

This will always be the main point of any "do’s and don’ts" list . Above all, Elvis was a singer and entertainer. His music, songs, and charisma have stood the test of time and that is what he should and always will be remembered for.

Again, this year’s “do’s and don’ts” aren’t meant to be the be all and end all, and we’re not expecting everyone to agree with everything. They are just suggestions from those who have seen a lot of ETA’s (sometimes it seems like all l7million!).

There’s more on
"appearance" this year. A reminder that, right from the early days on, Elvis took pride in his public appearance and grooming, was “fashion forward” and conscious of dressing well. In previewing a new book due out in December, "Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas" (Universe Publishing), writer Guy Trebay of the New York Times, notes that Elvis "was a clothes hound,” who chose his clothes carefully and wore them well. Unfortunately, since his death “the legacy of Elvis Aaron Presley as an American style setter and icon has blurred into many others, not least of which is the King as a sequined sight gag.”

Before going on stage, take a good look at yourself and consider whether you are contributing to the legacy of "a sequined sight gag" or to the legacy of someone who was an outstanding singer and entertainer -- the Artist of the Century -- who, incidentally, chose and wore his clothes well. Keep in mind, too, that if there were times near the end of his life when Elvis perhaps didn’t look his best, we know now that he was in need of help. So, for those ETA’s out there who are emulating the appearance of the sick and struggling Elvis -- ask yourself why. The only place for this might be a very small part in a production chronicling Elvis’ career from start to finish, where it is in context.

Thanks to fans who submitted suggestions, and to some experts whose tips have been included. In alphabetical order:
Doug Church, Eddie Miles, Rick Marino -- thanks to each of you!

If you can’t sing, DON’T get up in public and say you are paying tribute to Elvis Presley.

DON’T go on stage looking unkempt and disheveled. Examples: grey sweatsocks and dirty white shoes; stringy and greasy hair; creased, crumpled, ill-fitting jumpsuits.

DON’T enter an “Elvis impersonator” contest and complain about low scores if (choose any one)
: you are bald, you aren’t wearing an Elvis costume, you can’t sing (although strange things have happened here), you don’t know what the judges are looking for, you are in no shape to be wearing black leather, you flub the words.

DON’T throw teddy bears out into the audience while singing
Suspicious Minds. Actually, don’t even sing Suspicious Minds.

DON’T give out scarves and do the whole “Elvis routine” while singing a serious gospel song on stage.

DON’T strut around Memphis during Elvis Week in full Elvis regalia -- or pose for fans and sign autographs on the grounds of Graceland in your Elvis costume.

And this doesn’t just go for Memphis. Once you’re done performing, DON’T strut around in Elvis costume anywhere. Even Elvis didn’t wear his “Elvis outfit” off stage.

At Elvis festivals, DON’T be totally tacky by wearing a foot-high pompadoured “Elvis wig” or signing autographs with a cigarette dangling out of your mouth. And DON’T walk down the street wearing a
skin tight white jumpsuit if you weigh close to 500 pounds, especially if your backside is black from sitting on a dirty surface. Guess what’s going to be on the front page of the papers the next day!

To quote Lisa Marie, DON’T go to one of her concerts dressed as “her dead father.”

DON’T dress as Elvis if you are over a certain age and not credible -- remember Elvis died at age 42. If you can do a
credible impression of an Elvis who is no older than mid-40's max., then definitely more power to you! But, otherwise, accept that many people don’t relate to older amateur ETA’s in full Elvis costume, with all the beads, bangles and baubles. There comes a time to hang up that jumpsuit. We never saw the real Elvis in his older years, so it doesn’t make sense. To put this into perspective: we don’t have older, grey headed “Marilyn Monroes” -- so why Elvis?

DON’T focus so much on your performance that you ignore the audience. Example: standing in one spot and singing entire songs with your eyes closed. As Elvis himself said, “You can’t just go out and stand there like a statue.”

But DON’T overdo the moves so you look like a caricature, spending the majority of your performance time on the stage horsing around with the standard “Elvis impersonator” shtick..and not delivering an entertaining show which focuses on the music and the songs.
This one bears repeating every year as it is an often-heard complaint. DON’T shout your way through a song. Elvis had velvet in his voice, and he didn’t shout when he sang.

DO focus on your singing skills. The rest can be developed, but if you can’t sing, you aren’t paying a tribute to Elvis.

From Doug Church: DO practice, practice, practice. DO record yourself and compare yourself to Elvis with an HONEST, critical ear. DO study how Elvis said his words in songs by breaking them down phonetically and then reconstructing them. DO sing every chance you get!

From Eddie Miles: DO
get several opinions from knowledgeable people (not a fan) about your singing voice. Do you sing on pitch? Can you sing on pitch? If not, you should not be doing Elvis. Elvis was foremost a singer...all the costumes, jewelry, sunglasses, sideburns, looks, stage presence, mean nothing if you cannot sing on pitch.

From Rick Marino: DO learn how to sing as yourself first and master the basics...take lessons and learn basic singing techniques: breath and tone control, warmup exercises, etc. Then, DO learn how to sing like Elvis: study, study, study...and pay close attention to Elvis’ phrasing while learning his songs. It's easy to parody Elvis' voice but it's much harder to
really sing like he did, approaching the song as Elvis did – capturing the heart and emotion that Elvis delivered. (for more good tips, see Rick's book, Be Elvis!).

And, sad but true, DO realize that you can have the vocal cords of Elvis himself, but to be a successful “commercial Elvis” you will need to also have a strong Elvis look (either as yourself or with some help). Look at the ETA’s who have been a successful commercial Elvis, and they’ve all had an exceptionally strong Elvis look. DO have yourself assessed and then identify your goals and see if they match up. If you aren’t around 6', aren’t in great shape, don’t have darker colouring, aren’t attractive to women, and/or you have trouble singing on pitch, then being a successful commercial Elvis most likely isn’t in the cards.

If you are wearing stage makeup, DO apply it properly. The aim is to look healthy and not washed out under the lights, and perhaps more Elvis-like -- not to look effeminate, exaggerated, or waxen. Some makeup turns “sick-looking” under the lights too, so study the techniques or take some lessons.

DO pay attention to your outfits. Do they suit you and do they fit you properly? Are they clean, well-pressed, the best quality your budget can afford? It’s better to have one quality outfit than several cheap, tacky ones. DO pay close attention to your footwear and to your hair also -- it’s all part of the “outfit.” Be immaculate.

If you are wearing a wig, hairpiece, or fake sideburns, DO check the quality and realism. There are some great, quality hairpieces out there, and there are some obviously fake ones, too.

Often in a contest setting “everyone” is wearing the standard issue white jumpsuit and singing the same types of songs (dare I mention
Suspicious Minds again!) and no-one stands out or is even remembered. DO invest in a jumpsuit or other outfit that might be a little different from the standard white one and DO choose a few songs that distinguish you from the rest of the crowd.

If you’ve gained a few unwanted pounds, DO try to lose them before they become far more than a few pounds and much harder to lose. If that jumpsuit has become too tight, ditch it and get a new one that fits (same thing goes if you’ve lost weight and your outfit is too baggy. Get a new one or have some alterations done).

If you are doing the young Elvis, consider which jackets suit your colouring. I’ve seen some young ETA’s in jackets which made their skin look sallow whereas a different colour would have been much more flattering. Same goes for jumpsuits.

If you bear absolutely no resemblance to Elvis (height, weight, facial features, body build, etc.) – either as yourself or after dressing up as him - rather than
trying to impersonate, dress and look like Elvis, DO consider paying tribute to him by simply singing his songs well and entertaining well. You don’t have to dress the part, and sometimes it looks just plain foolish if there is absolutely no resemblance. There’s lots of room here for the older singers who want to pay tribute to Elvis and for those who just don’t have the “Elvis look” but love to sing his songs well.

DO remember that there is far more to being an Elvis tribute
artist than wearing sideburns, dying your hair black, putting on an Elvis outfit, and trying to sing an Elvis song.

DO keep in mind that Elvis may have been sensual on stage but he wasn’t raunchy or tacky -- and there’s a huge difference.

DO check your jumpsuit and make sure certain areas aren’t visible for all to see (front and back). Look at photos of Elvis in a jumpsuit. Elvis’ jumpsuits weren’t skin tight.

DO let your fans know that you appreciate them. Fans spend a lot of their hard-earned money going to shows and supporting ETA’s.

DO perform as if Elvis was in the audience -- would he be proud of what he heard and saw? DO show the audience the “best Elvis” that you can be, no matter what the era.

In addition to being a singer first and foremost, Elvis was also the consummate entertainer. DO connect with your audiences. Hone your skills so that you have the audience’s attention throughout the whole show and they feel they’ve connected with you also. That was one of Elvis’ greatest talents.
From Rick Marino: DO remember that there is an audience out there. DO keep in mind that your audience will remember the first and last thing they see, so make a strong entrance and a dashing exit. DO make eye contact. DO always give your very best effort for each audience. DO your homework and be prepared.

Another tip from Rick: DO remember to have a good time yourself. If an ETA is enjoying himself and is happy to be on stage entertaining, it’s contagious and makes the audience feel uplifted.

In public, after a performance, while around fans, and while in costume, DO behave in such a manner that reflects well of Elvis. Excessive drinking, smoking, profanity, obnoxious behaviour, are not reflective of Elvis’ public image and are not appreciated by Elvis’ fans.

And, as always -- for those talented , hard-working ETA’s out there, who put on tasteful, entertaining, uplifting performances which are a true tribute to the “Artist of the Century” and his sonic talent, DO know that your hard work is noticed and your performances are appreciated and enjoyed.

Below, is a good summary co-written by Doug Church and Nance Fox. Thanks to Doug for forwarding it and for the go-ahead to include it here.

1. There was only one Elvis and you AIN’T him!

2. Never impersonate another ETA; you get a watered-down version.

3. Practice, practice, and practice!

4. Never publicly criticize another ETA.

5. Never forget that your fans are the most important people to you. They make you and can break you.

6. Always be honest with yourself in your assessment of your talents. You mother is not your best critic!

7. Never use the “F” word on stage during your performances. Keep your image and that of Elvis clean.

8. Always make sure your costume fits well, is clean, and in good repair. That goes for your person as well. Elvis was no slouch.

9. Always record yourself (whether video or audio) and study your weak and strong points with a critical ear and eye.

10. Compare yourself ONLY to Elvis.