When Cote Deonath was a toddler his grandma figured out the perfect way to settle down the rambunctious two-year-old. She flipped on an old Elvis Presley movie. “It was mesmerizing,” says Cote, who at 19, is the youngest competitor in the preliminary round of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition at the Tupelo Elvis Fest, June 2-5, 2016.
Dan and I got to meet Cote, of Ocala, FL, and his 11 fellow competitors at a press event at Elvis’ birthplace this afternoon in Tupelo, MS. We traveled here from Iowa to watch Trent Harmon, the Season 15 American Idol winner, perform his first headlining concert tonight as part of the fest. But this afternoon it was all about Elvis.
Elizabeth Russell of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association was so kind to fill us in on what goes into the contest. Each competitor sings classic Elvis songs in two rounds, narrowing the group down to five finalists. The top winner progresses to the national Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest held during Elvis Week in Memphis, August 10-16, 2016.
The contestants are musically talented and focused on accuracy and style while paying a respectful tribute to The King. Elizabeth said she has noticed the tribute artists take their queues for dance moves, mannerisms and other stage presence subtleties very closely from Elvis. Whether it is the way a contestant holds a microphone or swivels his hips, “they aren’t going to do it unless he did it,” she said.
Jimmy Hutchins of Columbia, MS, is a grandfather himself of seven. He has been an Elvis tribute artist for the past 12 years and a fan his whole life. “I grew up singing a lot of Elvis and everyone said I sounded like him,” he said. Jimmy is performing My Way and Let it Be Me during the contest. Generosity and an excellent ability to communicate are two of Elvis’ most endearing traits, according to Jimmy.
Speaking of endearing, just a year after Cote’s grandma stuck him in front of an Elvis movie, he performed his first Elvis tribute. He recalls the crowd responded so positively to his performance and tiny Elvis suit. It was “the bite” that put him on a path to becoming a tribute artist, he says.
Besides meeting the tribute artists, Dan and I enjoyed our time at the birthplace and museum.
The photo in the upper left of the composite shows me with Greg Burgess (left) of Jasper, GA, and Doug Church (later named winner) of Mishawaka, IN. In the lower left, Dan is reading about Elvis’ first public performance, singing Old Shep at a dairy cow competition. The small white home in the upper right two photos was the original birthplace. Jimmy Hutchins is shown in the top photo, peaking out behind my fly-away hair.