Have you ever noticed that ELVIS and LIVES are spelt with the same five letters of the alphabet? A very appropriate coincidence in the case of a rock-'n'-roll singer whose iconic image still haunts American culture 33 years after his premature death at the age of 42 in August 1977 — and whose palatial colonial-style mansion called Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee is a National Historic Landmark and a museum which attracts millions of adoring visitors!

So intense is the subconscious desire in the collective American psyche to see the music of Elvis Presley re-born that thousands of handsome young men in the United States (and some even abroad) have found it possible to become successful and popular Elvis impersonators, not only as amateurs but even as professional musicians.

In fact, so formidable and relentless has been the tidal wave of the legendary singer's posthumous popularity that the very expression 'impersonators' has been discarded in American music circles, where such enterprising musicians are now respectably known as 'Elvis Tribute Artists' (ETA).

And quite naturally, there has been a proliferation of contests and competitions all over the U.S. to identify the best of the ETAs. The latest and most prestigious one of them all is the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, which is being organised annually by the successors to Elvis Presley's estate who had refused to recognise the trend for all of 30 years before eventually giving up their resistance in 2007.

Tough criteria

The objective of the Utimate Contest is to discover the finest performers among the ETA clan in the world, and honour them "for the best representation of the legacy of Elvis Presley". Twenty-four winners of local contests in a preliminary round organised across the US (and even in some places abroad) assemble in Memphis, Tennessee during Elvis Week in mid-August for the semi-final and final events. The norms for the competition are very tough, and are uniformly enforced at all stages.

The criteria for judgement are the following: 40 % of the score for vocals (overall singing ability); and 20 % each for appearance (looks and style representing Elvis), stage presence (charisma reminiscent of Elvis). and overall quality of performance. The judges are distinguished persons with strong Elvis connections. The top cash prize is very modest by American standards (only $ 20,000); but the winner — and indeed, all those who make it to Memphis — stand to gain enormously in terms of further opportunities and future prospects.

The winners of the four annual contests organised so far are: Shawn Klush from Pennsylvania (2007); Brandon Bennett from Louisiana (2008); Bill Cherry from Illinois (2009); and Justin Shandor from Oregon (2010). Do look for them all — and also other competitors figuring in related videos — in YouTube (Ultimate ETA Contests), and see and hear for yourself how vibrantly the Elvis Presley cult still lives on!