The real Elvis Presley performed his last public concert at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana on 26 June, 1977. There's every chance one of thousands of Elvis impersonators will be performing within a hundred mile radius of your present location next Friday night. If you've been anxious to hear an overwrought version of "American Trilogy" performed by a jumpsuit-clad man with a jet black pompadour, mutton chop sideburns and over-sized aviator sunglasses, here is your golden opportunity.
So why are there so many Elvis impersonators working around the world today? In a nutshell, there is still a significant amount of money to be made in the service of the King, and one could do worse than pay impressionistic tribute to someone who brought a lot of happiness to millions of fans while he was still alive and in good health. Any sincere Elvis impersonator, regardless of vocal talent, is generally well-received by his or her audience, many of whom still have fond memories of the real Elvis Presley.
One reason there are so many Elvis impersonators is the availability of costumes, props and musical backing tapes to support the effort. Elvis's appearance changed dramatically over the years, but many impersonators focus exclusively on his later years, when he performed in Las Vegas and public arenas almost exclusively. An Elvis stage costume would consist of a heavily sequined white jumpsuit with an exaggerated collar and a neckline which opened to the navel. This type of costume can be readily duplicated on a shoestring budget, provided a basic 1970s style white jumpsuit can be located.
Other props for a proper late-Elvis impersonation include over-sized aviator sunglasses augmented with sequins, and a jet-black wig shaped into a pompadour. The natural growth or application of thick mutton chop sideburns completes the Elvis look. It is not unusual to see older Elvis impersonators grow their own distinctive sideburns and adopt the Elvis pompadour hairstyle in real life as well.
Another reason why there are so many Elvis impersonators is his iconic status. While a male singer with a strong baritone voice could most likely impersonate other performers such as Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck, those other artists do not have the same impressive musical catalog and personal charisma of Elvis Presley. Audiences of appreciative fans may return time and time again to a venue to hear a quality Elvis impersonator, while impersonators of other music legends are often relegated to occasional novelty shows and oldies concerts.
Many Elvis impersonators also find his vocal range to be fairly easy to duplicate, especially in an over-the-top exaggeration of his later stage persona. Punctuating performances with the occasional Presleyism such as a drawled "Thank you, thank you very much" between songs can go a long way towards establishing the role of true Elvis impersonator. Professional backing tapes can also provide the proper ambiance for an Elvis-inspired performance.
The annual fan pilgrimages to Elvis Presley's Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee have no doubt inspired several generations of Elvis impersonators. Presley's personal life may have been troubled, but his public image of a poor Southern boy who became the King of Rock and Roll still resonates with fans. It shouldn't be surprising to see some of those fans contribute their own vocal talents as Elvis impersonators in order to perpetuate his music in live performances after his untimely death.