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Monday, August 24, 2009

Elvis Lives in Collinsville! (Sort Of.)

Posted By on Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 3:45 PM

The sublimely Onion-esque headline in Saturday's Post-Dispatch probably says it all:


But let's elaborate.

The local man is named Bill Cherry. He hails from Collinsville. On August 13, at the culmination of Elvis Week in Memphis, he won the 2009 Ultimate Elvis Tribute contest.

Like everything else Elvis, the Ultimate Elvis Tribute contest is a serious business. (If you have any doubts, just take a drive down I55 and check out Graceland.) A panel of judges reviews each contestant's similarity to the King in terms of vocals, appearance, performance, stage presence and overall performance, and a Memphis accounting firm tabulates the results.

As this year's Ultimate Elvis, Cherry wins $20,000 and a three-week engagement at the Legends in Concert show at the Lumière Place casino. It is a culmination of a career in Elvis-tribute that began in childhood, but really took off in the early 1990s when Cherry won a series of contests at Blueberry Hill. This year, Cherry got laid off from his job as a welder at American Steel in Granite City, which, he told the P-D, gave him more time to work on his Elvis.

Let's be clear: Cherry is not an Elvis impersonator. He is an Elvis tribute artist. The differences are crucial. As he explains in this video, he doesn't think he is Elvis. He doesn't want anyone else to think he is Elvis. He just wants to honor the spirit of the man.

Cherry prefers to enact Elvis ca. 1970, the not-quite-fat-but-still-jumpsuited incarnation. Appropriately, his competition-winning number was "Suspicious Minds", originally recorded in 1969.
Sadly, a video of that performance does not seem to be available on the Internet. We must content ourselves with Cherry's rendition of "Just a Little Bit":

For the record, Cherry's all-time favorite Elvis song is "If I Can Dream", which debuted in for the television comeback special in 1968 and which allegedly prompted Elvis to vow never to sing another song or act in another movie he didn't believe in.

Happily for lovers of Elvis movies, the vow apparently didn't take effect until after he filmed Change of Habit, a true classic of the genre. It co-stars Mary Tyler Moore as a spunky young nun who starts to seriously reconsider her vocation after meeting Elvis-playing-a-doctor. (What greater test of faith is there?) It culminates in a dramatic church scene with dramatic jump cuts between an anxious Sister MTM, an oblivious Elvis a-strumming his guitar and belting out a ditty called "Let's All Pray Together" and menacing-looking stained-glass images of the other King. It's a sight not to be missed by any fan of both Elvis and Catholic kitsch.

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