Though the King officially left the building nearly 38 years ago, you wouldn’t know it from the floor of Kansas Star Casino on Saturday night.
In fact, it appears he has multiplied.
Audiences flock to see Elvii – the plural of Elvis, some people online claim – metamorphose into the man whose gyrating hips were too much for “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
There are online radio stations dedicated solely to playing music by Elvis impersonators.
No other artist or group, except maybe The Beatles, enjoys such a monopoly over the impersonation game.
But it’s not easy being Presley.
The six tribute artists who made it to the finals of the Kansas Star Casino’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist event were an elite corps, composed of Kings from multiple states.
The event at the Kansas Star was one of the few nationwide that is officially endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, said Sonya Jackson, public relations manager at the casino. So that means these guys are the big cahunas.
Matt Joyce, of Little Rock, Ark., was one of the finalists.
He said he got his start waiting tables in Little Rock, when one day, he “popped up the collars and did a little ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’” he said.
“The first time I did a 30-minute performance, I got $100 – that was a lot more than I was getting waiting tables,” Joyce said.
Getting all gussied up to portray the King is not a brief process, he said. It takes him almost two and a half hours most times to get the hair and makeup just right.
“Baby, it starts with a good, warm shower – get a little scrub down,” Joyce said.
And the costumes these artists wear are far from Party City fare, said Matt King, another one of the finalists Saturday.
King, 36, said embroidered Elvis costumes can run up to $4,500.
The one he was wearing Saturday cost about $2,000, and it included a cape. King said he has won more than 20 first-place awards at shows across the country to date.
Why spend all that time and money to win contests at casinos across the country?
“Elvis is still popular and relevant,” King said. “We’re the closest they can get to seeing him live, so it’s like they can see him vicariously through us. They pretend they’re seeing Elvis, and we do our best to represent him accurately. It’s all about the King.”
Josh Davis, a 21-year-old Elvis tribute artist from Sulphur Springs, Texas, said it is encouraging to him to see other young people interested in Elvis.
“He’s a legend,” Davis said. “God took him away too early, and a lot of people want to see him back. The fan base is growing and growing.”
All of the casino’s 900 seats in the Star’s new event center were taken for the show Saturday night, Jackson said.
“Everyone’s still longing for Elvis,” said Vickie Gipson, one of the attendees on Saturday. “He will always be the King.”
“Between Elvis and the crowd out there, there ain’t nothing else that matters,” Joyce said.