Elvis Presley fans flocked to Tupelo, Mississippi on June 4-5 to get a glimpse of the 43 Elvis tribute artists competing here to win the coveted Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest. These preliminary contests are held throughout the country but the Tupelo contest is unique in a couple of ways. Three of the winners of this contest have gone on to win the national contest including last year's winner, Bill Cherry. The other thing that makes this particular event special is that it is held in the city of Elvis' birth. Even the Lyric Theatre where the event is held is rumored to be where thew King had his first kiss.
Some 800 of these fans waited outside the doors of the theatre, many with tickets. However, there were quite a few fans who made the journey to Tupelo in the hopes a snatching a ticket in the event of a cancellation or no show. For those fans who made it into the Lyric there awaited a treat. They were offered the chance to see the cream of the crop of Elvis tribute artists give their all for the chance to win and move onto the UETA semi-finals in Memphis, Tennessee during Elvis Week in August.
Contestants were graded on the sound of their voice, stage appearance, overall appearance, and other categories. Former Tupelo resident Tom Brown, now Executive VP of Original Productions for Turner Classic Movies, emceed the event and kept the audience pumped and laughing. However, most of the time the fans competed with Brown as they screamed and gave standing ovations for every performer. By the time the final ten performers were selected, the fans were in a frenzy.
Scott Wattles, a middle school teacher from Mattoon, Illinois, made the final cut and has been competing as an Elvis tribute artist. This was Wattles' second year to come to Tupelo. He said he has been a huge fan of Elvis since he was a child. "God gave me a gift and I figure I have to use it for others," he said. Wattles has his own band, the Blue Suede Crew and travels around the country performing. His last big event was in Las Vegas at the Global Gaming Expo. His daughter, Kirsti, said her dad was "pretty cool".
Wattles wife, Sonja, related that they were bargain hunters. "We have to be," she said. "The expenses to come to Tupelo and all of the other places we go are tough. We have to make it work so Scott can follow his dream." This was a theme that ran throughout the contest. All of the tribute artists scrimped and saved to make their dreams come true. There is no one who pays their way, so losses are especially tough, emotionally and financially.
Once on stage though, all thoughts of the hardships disappear. Cody Slaughter, a finalist from Harrison, Arkansas said he had a good time on stage. "I could feel the groove of the music," he said, noting that it made him feel a connection emotionally with the audience. The contest was followed by concerts by Brandon Bennett and Bill Cherry, both former UETA winners. After all was said and done, Kevin Mills won the contest and the chance to compete in Memphis. He sang "Suspicious Minds" as his victory finale and wowed the crown one last time. "When I go to Memphis", he said, "I will do my best to make Tupelo proud".
Foe more information, go to www.tupelomainstreet.com.