By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The men who would be king were nervous backstage at the Lyric Theatre on Friday.
The rules for the Tupelo preliminary to the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest changed this year.
Emcee Tom Brown, who opened the competition with his own rendition of “C.C. Rider,” told the crowd this year’s competitors would sing only one song to impress the judges during the first round. They’ve had two songs in past years.
“They’ve got to bring it right now,” Brown said, “because this is Tupelo.”
Jay Dupuis, 38, of Baton Rouge, felt the pressure during his rendition of “Mean Woman Blues.”
The crowd noise swelled when he performed Elvis’s signature windmill move across the stage, then he ripped his pants below the knee during a slide.
“You can’t hold anything back,” Dupuis said after his performance, as sweat dripped down his face. “If I had two songs, I would’ve paced myself, but you have to give it all.”
Dupuis was one of 23 tribute artists who hoped to be among the 15 to compete in today’s second round.
When competitors performed on stage, others, dressed in pink jackets, white jumpsuits or black leather outfits, surrounded a backstage monitor. As they watched, they practiced their own Elvis moves or quietly sang along.
“Oh, Lord, have mercy,” was the first thing Glenn Bowles, 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio, said after walking off stage.
Bowles, who performed “Suspicious Minds,” said he fell in love with Elvis Presley’s music when he was a kid.
“I was always an Elvis fan. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an Elvis fan,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much at the time, but that was a life-changing experience.”
He was impressed by the crowd’s response and the weight of the occasion.
“If there is any kind of place to do this kind of thing, Tupelo would be the ultimate place,” Bowles said. “All of the history is here. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Joey Trites, 32, of Memphis, said he sensed the Lyric Theatre’s history when he sang one of Elvis’ gospel hits, “He Touched Me.”
“It’s mesmerizing,” he said. “Elvis used to watch movies here. Elvis used to be in this building.
“The fans here, they love Elvis so much. They treat us with respect when we get on stage. It’s amazing.”
Jack Curtis, 50, of Tupelo, is well-known to Elvis fans in Northeast Mississippi, but Friday was his first time to perform during the Tupelo Elvis Festival’s preliminary to the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.
He dipped into Elvis’ gospel catalogue for “How Great Thou Art.” Afterward, he said he relished the chance to sing in front of the EAS Band, the official backing band for the contest finals in Memphis during Elvis Week, Aug. 10-17.
“That was awesome,” he said. “You don’t have to tell them anything. They knew what they were doing. They killed it.
“The back-up singers – oh, my gosh. Elvis would have been proud to have them behind him.”
Just after Christmas, Frank Werth, 21, of Hays, Kan., decided to try his Elvis-inspired skills in the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s hometown. After months of waiting, he got to perform “Make the World Go Away.”
“It was amazing. The crowd was great. I was hot,” he said, actually referring to the temperature. “I don’t know if it was my nerves or what, but it was hot out there.”
7 a.m. – Running with the King 5k at Veterans Park.
9 a.m. – Pet Parade and Pageant (online registration is 8-8:45 a.m.), Broadway Street outdoor stage.
10 a.m. – Conversations on the Ultimate with Tom Brown, Brandon Bennett, Bill Cherry and Cody Slaughter, at The Lyric. SOLD OUT.
1 p.m. – Round 2 of Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist preliminary competition, Lyric Theatre, SOLD OUT.
6 p.m. – Gates open for Fairpark Concert. Tickets are $20.
• 6:30 p.m. – Cody Slaughter
• 7:15 p.m. – Surviving Allison
• 8:30 p.m. – Skylar Laine
• 10 p.m. – Montgomery Gentry
7 p.m. – Tribute artist concert and final round of competition
at Lyric Theatre. Concert includes Tyler Hunter, Cody Slaughter, David Lee. SOLD OUT. It will be simulcast live for $10.
10 a.m. – “Ultimate Gospel for the Soul” Brunch with Shawn Klush, The Blackwood Quartet, Joe Moscheo of the Imperials, Tupelo Unity
Choir and The Landmarks at Lyric Theatre. $25, includes brunch.