Elvis tribute artists have left the building 0
It's clear Elvis lives on through the hundreds of tribute artists and fans who filled Collingwood streets over the weekend for the 18th annual Elvis Festival.
The festival concluded at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena Sunday night as Briton Ben Portsmouth claimed the title of overall champ; he'll be headed to Memphis in two weeks to represent the Collingwood Elvis Festival in the King of the World Elvis Tribute Artists world championships.
Portsmouth was also won the professional concert years category.
The three finalists in each category — early years and concert years in non-professional and professional categories — gave their best Elvis performance for the judges.
“They say Elvis has left the building – and he has – but these Elvis tribute artists are kicking in the front door,” said Elvis' former bodyguard and friend Sam Thompson.
Judges look at vocal quality, accuracy of lyrics, timing, costume quality, and whether the performers are singing in the right era for their category when deciding who can claim victory.
There are also rules against using props during performances.
“I think they've become stricter over the years,” said judge Dean Hollin.
Though the tribute artists must meet the criteria, its the mannerisms and subtleties of Elvis that set them apart.
“We really look for the subtleties and mannerism – whether he's got a little smirk on his face, or plays to the audience with his eyes, or moving his shoulder or the twist of his wrist,” said judge Echo Starr Parker. “Some of the mannerisms really differentiates a pro from a non-pro.”
Hollin says the subtleties of Elvis were part of his appeal with the ladies, and tribute artists with that subtle charisma will make it further than those who don't have it.
“A lot of these guys spend a lot of time learning the mechanics, and the next level for them is using those subtle dynamics that Elvis brought to the table,” said Hollin.
Other winners Sunday night were Matt Dowsett from Belleville, who won the professional early years category; Anthony Carbone, who won the non-professional early years; and Brycen Katolinsky from St. Catharines, who won the non-professional early years. Katolinsky also won the Canadian Star Challenge earlier Sunday.
In the junior category, 14-year-old Drake Milligan from Texas won the youth senior category, and seven-year-old Connor Russo won the youth junior category for the second year in a row.
Thane Dunn won the Gospel/Inspirational category, which was decided Sunday morning.
The Elvis Festival is about more than just the competition. Fans could spend the weekend watching various Elvis tribute artists take one of several stages throughout Collingwood.
The festival also hosted 'VIPs' – people who knew and were friends with Elvis. The VIPs reminisced about the King at the Village at Blue Mountain Sunday morning, answering questions from the audience.
When asked about the legacy of Elvis, Cynthia Pepper, a co-star from Presley's 1964 film, Kissin' Cousins, answered:
“He said to me, and he said to many others probably, 'Will they remember me when I'm gone',” she said. “And who knew after 35 years, I think his legacy is bigger now, and it only grows because we get the young ones in.”
Sam Thompson, Elvis' friend and bodyguard, recalled Elvis' love for performing.
“I never knew an Elvis who did not want to perform,” said Thompson. “Backstage, Elvis was like a prowling tiger. He had so much pent-up nervous energy. He wasn't afraid, he wasn't insecure, he wasn't nervous, but it was energy he was trying to control.”
Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis' closest friends and movie stand-in, made it clear that it wasn't easy for Elvis to become famous, especially breaking down race barriers by performing soul music.
“We think Elvis had this great life and he became a great star like that,” said Shilling. “No, he worked very hard against all odds.”