By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Cellphone displays glowed at the Lyric Theatre as fans captured video of David Lee’s performance of “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
“God bless you,” Lee said, as audience members gave him a standing ovation for his salute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll during the first round of Tupelo’s 2012 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest on Friday.
“We go to a lot of these. I perform all over. When we were making our plans, I told my wife that of all the places, we were going to Tupelo,” said Lee, a 39-year-old Birmingham, Ala., resident. “Tupelo fans are the best. Tupelo fans love the entertainers. They love Elvis.”
Lee was one of 20 tribute artists competing in Tupelo’s sixth annual contest. The winner will represent Elvis’ hometown during the UETA finals in Memphis.
The competition was cut down to 15 artists on Friday. They’ll perform this afternoon, and 10 will make the cut to compete at 7 p.m. today. If you want tickets for today’s rounds, you’re about five months too late.
“They sold out in January,” said Roy Turner, an Elvis Festival volunteer. “This is a hot ticket.”
Matthew Spalding, 35, of Atlanta, spiced things up during his homage to the movie, “Blue Hawaii.” He wore a floral shirt and stripped down to a short pair of swimming trunks for “Bossa Nova Baby.”
His dance moves were inspired by years of studying his idol, but stepping on stage is like stepping into the unknown.
“When you go out there, it’s like you’re in another world. If you’re thinking about what you’re doing, you’ll lose it,” he said. “My body knows what to do on stage. Afterwards, it’s kind of like you don’t remember what you did. Something takes over.”
Jeff Barnes, 49, of Evans, Ga., went a more conventional route with long pants and a pink sports coat while singing “Such a Night.”
“Trying to look the right way is hard because I don’t look anything at all like him,” Barnes said. “The singing and everything is just pure fun. That’s the easy part.”
He picked up the Elvis spirit years ago by listening to three or four albums a day and singing along. He started sharing the show with crowds in 1998. Before that, it was more a personal affair.
“By myself, I was signing in the shower when I was 10,” he said.
Josh Davis, 19, of Sulfur Springs, Texas, made his Tupelo debut with “Polk Salad Annie.”
“I’ve been an Elvis fan since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I’ve been a tribute artist since I was 14.”
He’s capable of putting on a show from any of Elvis’ musical eras, but he’s partial to the 1968 “Comeback” special and the 1970s.
“I love the jumpsuits,” he said.
Davis said he’s impressed by the camaraderie among the tribute artists, who are quick with kind words for their competitors.
“To me, we’re all paying tribute to the greatest entertainer of all time,” he said. “It really is like a big, happy family.”
VETERANS PARK – 5k race, 7:30 a.m.; Fling with the King disc golf tournament, registration starts at 7:30 p.m., tee off at 10 a.m.
DOWNTOWN TUPELO – Elvis Festival Parade, 10 a.m.
BROADWAY STREET – Elvis Lookalike Pet Parade, 11 a.m.; Tupelo High School Structure Show Choir Band, noon; North Mississippi Dance Center, 1:30 p.m.; Civic Ballet, 2 p.m.; Christian Dance, 2:30 p.m.; Sky Bowlin, 3:30 p.m.; Jack Curtis & the Suspicious Minds Band, 4 to 6 p.m. These events are free.
FAIRPARK – Cody Slaughter, 6:15 p.m.; David Nail, 7 p.m.; Randy Houser, 8:30 p.m.; Little Big Town, 10 p.m. Tickets are $20, plus fees.
LYRIC THEATRE – 2011 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Cody Slaughter and finals of Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, 7 p.m. The show is sold out, but you can watch a simulcast outside on Court Street. Tickets are $10.
INFORMATION – tupeloelvisfestival.com.