By JB Clark
TUPELO – The final 10 competitors did their best Elvis tributes before a record crowd at the BancorpSouth Arena on Saturday but only one was crowned king of Tupelo’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition.
Ben Thompson was given the trophy, an Tupelo Elvis Tribute Artist guitar from Tupelo Hardware and a $3,500 check Saturday night before being mobbed with congratulatory hugs from nine other tribute artists.
He will go on to represent Tupelo in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition in Memphis.
“I’m going to try not to cry – I don’t want my makeup to run,” Thompson said in his English accent before performing his victory song, “If I Can Dream.” “Just knowing you guys are out here and having a good time makes it all worth it.”
Thompson is Tupelo’s first-ever winner from England. He has been performing as a tribute artist since 2009. He won Europe’s Tribute to Elvis in 2013 and went on to place in the top five in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis.
He said he plans to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and watch video of past performances to prepare for the competition in Memphis where he hopes to bring home the grand prize. Tupelo’s contest is a preliminary event for the big Memphis competition.
This week was Thompson’s first time to be in Tupelo and he said he plans to tell everyone back in England to come visit.
“Going to the birthplace was surreal,” he said. “Seeing where he came from, the humble beginnings. And I learned so much about him I never knew before.”
Judy Hughes of Farmington attended the tribute competition for the first time – a surprise from her husband.
Hughes had numerous connections to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. She and her husband had a private shooting range behind their home that Elvis had reserved for a day of private shooting but died before he could attend.
Hughes said another time Elvis was in attendance when she sang at the coliseum in Corinth.
She was excited to see the tribute artists for the first time but said she was skeptical as to whether they would be as good as the real King.
While fans waited for the winner to be announced, 2008 Tupelo Elvis Festival winner Victor Trevino Jr. performed Elvis songs from his rockabilly era, movie era and country era. Last year’s winner, Jay Dupuis, performed to close out the night.
For the tribute competition’s first year in the BancorpSouth Arena, the final night of competition drew more than 700 fans. The annual competition has previously been held at the Lyric Theater on Broadway Street where seating was limited to 485 fans.
Saturday’s finalists were Glen Bowles, Josh Davis, Lee Memphis King, Dwight Icenhower, Brycen Katolinsky, Jeff Lewis, Kevin Mills, Jake Rowley, Alex Swindle and Ben Thompson.