Saturday, August 18, 2007

Shawn Klush Crowned King of Elvis Tribute Artists

Posted By on Sat, Aug 18, 2007 at 4:00 AM

AP -- Managers of Elvis Presley's Graceland anointed their first "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist" Friday night, ending a worldwide search for a Presley pretender to wear their official crown.

The new make-believe King is Shawn Klush, a 38-year-old Elvis impersonator from Pittston, Pa.

"It's unbelievable," he said of the victory. "It's an overwhelming experience, and it couldn't be in a better place."

Klush was chosen at a concert hall in downtown Memphis in the championship round of a series of tribute contest held around the world.

He won $5,000, a $5,000 shopping trip to Graceland's souvenir shops, $3,000 toward a new Elvis jumpsuit and other prizes. The biggest prize, though, was the "Ultimate Elvis" title, a first in the world of Elvis impersonators.

Klush, who wore a white bespangled jumpsuit and sang "My Way," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "You Gave Me A Mountain," praised the other contestants and the Elvis fans who filled the 2,000 seat hall at the Cook Convention Center beside the Mississippi River.

"The fans are amazing. The longevity they have is incredible," he said.

Presley died at Graceland, his former Memphis residence, on Aug. 16, 1977, and the finals of the tribute artist contest were part of a weeklong string of concerts, dances and memorials focused on the 30th anniversary of his death.

The contest is a big change for Graceland managers who have had little to do with Elvis impersonators over the years, generally regarding them with a mixture of resigned bemusement and outright disgust.

That attitude changed this year, and a series of preliminary contest, begun in March, were held around the country and abroad to send 24 finalists to Memphis. A qualifying round in Memphis on Sunday cut the list of finalists to 10.

Only a first-place winner was chosen, but Klush and two other contestants, Trent Carlini, 37, of Henderson, Nev., and Donny Edwards, 32, of Las Vegas, were called back by the judges to perform a third song each, while the others were limited to two.

The contestants were backed by a nine-piece band and performed before a huge display of red blinking lights spelling out ELVIS, similar to the backdrop for Presley's 1968 TV concert called the "Comeback Special."

Fan Carol Daley, 57, of Ontario, Canada, said she was happy Graceland was finally embracing Elvis tribute artists.

"These guys are fantastic," said Daley, who attended the finals with four female friends from Canada, all decked out in matching Elvis T-shirts. "Everything about them is so good. You're talking about the looks, the sound, the moves. It's the whole package."

Elvis Presley Enterprises, which runs the $40-million-a-year worldwide business in all things Elvis, opened Presley's Graceland to public tours in 1982 and the famous white-columned house now draws almost 600,000 visitors a year.

-- Woody Baird

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