Elvis Tribute Artists Radio

_________interview with John Stuart

This interview with John Stuart, the founder of Legends in Concert, originally aired in 2001, when John was the CEO of Legends/On Stage Entertainment. Although he’s now pursuing other ventures in the entertainment industry, John’s remarks in this interview with ETARadio’s Joanna Johnson are as relevant and informative now as they were then.

John Stuart tells us that he has been an Elvis Presley fan since about the age of l5, when he first heard of Elvis. John was an entertainer himself for many years, traveling around the country as a very young child and working as a member of the Beach Boys in California when he was a teenager. He also performed in many musicals and developed a nightclub act. Over time, in his 20's, he started booking other acts...mostly tribute acts...and then started running “tribute contests.” These worked out so well that he took the concept to the next level and by l980 had developed what was to be known as “Legends in Concert.” By l983, he had formalized the show and he took it to Las Vegas where it has been running at the Imperial Palace ever since..the longest running show in Las Vegas.

John states that he feels that entertainment in general has become technically better in the last 20 years -- better sound, music, lights, etc., and that has made the tribute artists’ level of entertainment also better and helps to provide that “entertainment thrill” that keeps audiences coming back.

As John says, he now has over 40 years experience working with Elvis impersonators, and in this interview he offers his insights into what makes a good ETA and entertainer and how the ETA’s are chosen for Legends in Concert.

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He does feel that because Elvis died at age 42, that most ETA’s peak in their late 40's as “they can only look 42 for so long.”

When asked how the Elvis entertainers are chosen for Legends, John states that usually an ETA will send in a videotape to the Las Vegas offices or will give a tape/promo pack to one of the production managers at a Legends’ venue, and if there seems to be potential, a live audition will be arranged in Las Vegas.

What he looks for is someone who has the “personification, style, physical attributes of Elvis Presley and the right vocal potential.” He says that there are about 30,000 ETA’s in the world but very, very few at any given time are chosen to work for Legends in Concert.

Because Legends’ entertainers must re-create the look and sound of the original performer they are enacting, they are called “re-creationists” and not “impersonators.” John says he is very picky about the Elvis performers he uses and says that “in his opinion, any ETA of any value is already signed with Legends in Concert.”

When asked if he could give any advice to aspiring ETA’s, John says he also looks for Elvis performers who can become themselves again once the curtain comes down and who recognize that this is acting and performing. They need to know when they are “Elvis” and when they are not.

He feels that the overall Elvis package which is needed to “portray that magnificent character” (i.e. Elvis Presley) consists of “physical attributes, mental attributes, and vocal attributes.” For those who don’t meet those qualifications, he advises, “have fun with it, but don’t waste your life pursuing something that isn’t possible.” He says he’s seen “too many guys who are great men, wasting their lives..sometimes people aren’t always cut out for this.” However, there is still a good market for those who are cut out for it and they can make good money and have a good life.

John goes on to say, if everyone had an equally good voice, then “look” is the next important attribute -- along with charisma and the ability to create an exciting, enthusiastic theatrical experience for the audience.

In addition, John states that if an ETA has a great voice, but not the look, he would not be hired for Legends in Concert. It is important to Legends that the majority of the audience will feel that an ETA is “the personification of Elvis.” Again, he offers the advice that if an ETA does not have the attributes to be chosen for Legends, that there are other avenues to pursue such as musicals, and other types of shows but, for Legends, it is imperative that they have the look and the sound.

John says he often goes to local contests if they are close enough. He feels they do create a process of elimination and often encourage the contestants to ‘stretch’ a bit, although he emphasizes that most ETA’s chosen for Legends are referred by others or are “walk-ins.”

Finally, John advises that “you have to know what you want and you have to have the attributes to achieve what you want” and emphasizes that he’s seen many people throwing away some good years of their lives searching for something that doesn’t seem feasible.

Many thanks to John Stuart for this candid and informative interview.

Live interview conducted by Joanna Johnson
Foreword written by Carol Hunter

______________________________________Carol Hunter