Why are There so Many Elvis Impersonators?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Las Vegas famously has a large number of Elvis impersonators.
Las Vegas famously has a large number of Elvis impersonators.

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.

Elvis Presley has sold over 1 billion albums worldwide.
Elvis Presley has sold over 1 billion albums worldwide.

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.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I have a talent, too. I sing like Elvis. I was born in 1976. I too have his voice. I can sound like Elvis. My voice is amazing, too. I've been doing karaoke since I first discovered I had an Elvis voice. I have his sound. It's a gift from God to have his voice.

One day, I'd like to go on a TV to show everyone my amazing voice of Elvis. No one has my voice. My voice is unique, too. I went to do a record for my voice of me sounding like Elvis Presley and I sang 9 songs in a studio. It was the first time I've recorded my voice and they told me I sounded like Elvis, too.


I am an Elvis impersonator, and singing with Elvis's correct timbre is the hardest for people to do. If it doesn't come natural then it waivers from song to song. And if you think buying professional jumpsuits from $800-$2,000 is cheap, not to mention belts at $200 etc., then why don't you buy me a few Christmas presents?


Elvis is the greatest performer ever. I have a tribute online.


If there is, as rumoured, something like 78,000 professional Presley impersonators, worldwide, then the statement about "many of them" finding his vocal range fairly easy to duplicate falls flat on its face, for two reasons, if not more.

Firstly, of the 78,000 there´s about 10 of them, worldwide, that can replicate his 50 voices. Of course, it is easy to try to sing "Teddy Bear," but how many can do a true replica of "If I can dream," which incidentally is not a song where he reaches his full octave range.

I´ve yet to hear one perfect rendition of "Ïf I can dream", one where I can say, "Gee that´s almost like the original".

Secondly, on, say, 200 of his songs, I´ve heard perfect, and I mean perfect replicas by about 30 of his impersonators. That´s the easy part. But when it comes to impersonating Presley, not even the two best Elvis impersonators in the world, the ones that get paid six figures in Vegas, attempt what Presley could do when, on a second's notice, he´d fall to the floor, intentionally, while at the same time delivering a seven second, uninterrupted high B note, at the end of "Hurt" and all of it ending with his back to floor, as he did in Pittsburgh, on 31 December 1976, for the 18,560 to witness. There´s all sorts of reasons why there are so many of them, but it is not his vocal range that most find easy to replicate.


Charisma. He epitomized cool and what every man wanted to be. His voice had honesty, purity and power as if God wanted to sing through him. Many great vocalists can outdo his range (Tom Jones and Humperdinck) but none can match his charisma, stage presence and ability to entertain. 95 percent of all Elvis impersonators are a sad insult to his image. God gave the total package to Elvis (looks, personality, talent, heart, and charisma) and that's why there's been no one else like him or even close because all we have now are the "leftovers."


Why they are so many Elvis impersonators? because Elvis was and still is the best entertainer in the world!

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