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This weekend brings out competitive side of Elvis tribute artists

Sure, it's a weekend honouring Elvis Presley and his legacy, but it's an important couple of days for competitive Elvis tribute artists as they perform with one goal in mind
Tim E Hendry celebrates his win in the pro-division at last year's Collingwood Elvis Festival ETA competition. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

There are nearly 100 Elvis tribute artists in Collingwood this weekend.

And while scores of black coiffed hair and thick sideburns make for an interesting visual, those tribute artists are here for a golden ticket. They’re here to earn a spot in Graceland where tribute artists from all over the world compete for one title: Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist.

Collingwood’s Elvis Festival is centred around the Elvis tribute artist contest, which is a qualifier for Graceland’s ultimate event. The tribute artist who wins here gets a chance to compete for the title of Ultimate champion.

While Collingwood has always had an Elvis tribute artist competition, Elvis Presley Enterprises only started hosting the Ultimate contest in 2007. Shawn Klush won the first ever Graceland contest, and he is in Collingwood this year as a headliner for the Collingwood Elvis Festival.

Collingwood has had two of its champions go on to win the ultimate title. First Ben Portsmouth won both Collingwood and Graceland in 2012, then Gordon Hendricks won both in 2017. Both are from England.

This year, there are approximately 75 Elvis tribute artists registered to perform. The highest ever number at the Collingwood Elvis Festival was 135 who all came in 2006, the year before the Ultimate contest began.

For the Collingwood competition there are three categories: professional, non-professional and youth.

The judges award a score of 100, 50, and 25 for each category respectively.

The judging panel must award points based on five criteria.

  1. Stage presence and showmanship. The Elvis tribute artist's ability to re-create the gestures, movements, nuances, and charisma of Elvis on stage

  2. Performance. This is the Elvis tribute artist's ability to perform in the style in which Elvis would have performed with respect to timing, melody, and correct delivery of lyrics

  3. Appearance. The tribute artist must match the look, styles, and movements of Elvis in the specific category and era represented

  4. Vocals: The tribute artist's ability to match the sound and quality of Elvis’ singing voice

  5. Full tribute/authenticity. Looking at overall performance, how authentic is the representation in terms of the legacy of Elvis Presley?

This year, there are six judges in Collingwood

Will Chalmers, also known as Scottish Elvis, had his own career as an Elvis tribute artist. In fact, Chalmers was the first tribute artist to have his wedding at the Collingwood Elvis Festival. There have been two more weddings since he was married at the 1996 festival.

Rose Geoghegan is also part of the judging panel, and she comes to the festival because of her passion for Presley’s music.

Donald Luther is one judge who saw Elvis live in concert (twice). He’s visited Graceland five times, and is accustomed to the judges chair, since his day job was as a judge in the courts of Newfoundland and Labrador. He now lives in Collingwood.

Natasha Mrkovich comes to the festival because of her passion for music and her love of Elvis. She’s also an honorary member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Andy Porecki is a lifelong Elvis fan, and is using his experience in music events to help him pick out the best Elvis tribute artist at the Collingwood festival.

Bert Preece has been involved with the Collingwood Elvis Festival since it began in 1995, and has vast experience judging Elvis tribute artist competitions. Preece moved to Collingwood after retirement, having enjoyed the town during past Elvis festivals.

While the semifinal and final rounds of the competition are ticketed events, the qualifying round was free to watch, and took place Friday afternoon on the outdoor stage on Hurontario Street between First and Second streets.

Semifinals take place Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena. This will include the top 30 adult performers from qualifying rounds.

The grand finals event takes place Sunday, July 28 beginning at 1 p.m. at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena. The contest includes the top 10 for the professional division, top five in non-professional division and the top three in the youth division.

Only the professional competitor who wins the grand final will get a chance to compete in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest in Graceland in August.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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