Impersonating Elvis

Impersonating Elvis
Donny Edwards impersonating Elvis.
Photograph by Francis George

NAME: Donny Edwards | AGE: 35 | HOMETOWN: Lake Jackson | QUALIFICATIONS: Performs more than two hundred shows around the world every year / Is one of three tribute artists to work for Elvis Presley Enterprises / Performs in Conroe and New Braunfels this month in honor of Elvis’ seventy-fifth birthday

• Ever since I was a kid, people have told me I look like Elvis. Friends would even call me Elvis. I’ve always been a fan, so I got a kick out of it.

• I went to Elvis Week, in Memphis, one August and met the Jordanaires, who used to play with Elvis. They said to me, “Wow, you’ve got a great look. Where do you perform?” And I said, “I don’t. I’m in college.” The same thing happened a few years later when I went to Las Vegas. I was at the Elvis-A-Rama Museum, and people kept asking me where I performed.

• It wasn’t until 2002 that I started playing around with some of Elvis’ songs on my dad’s karaoke machine. My friends signed me up for a contest in Lake Jackson, and I ended up beating out fourteen other guys. It was my first time onstage. I did a few more contests and then got hired to perform at a casino in Oregon for three months. On my way back to Texas, I stopped in Vegas and ended up getting a gig at Elvis-A-Rama. I’ve been in Vegas ever since.

• I was apprehensive about being a tribute artist at first. You look at those guys and think they’re odd, that they want to be something they’re not. But I’ve learned that it is a great tribute to a man and that it takes people back to a good time in their life.

• The hardest things to pick up have been his mannerisms: the way he walked or the way he stood, with his chest up a little bit, and the way he moved his hands. Or his facial expressions: Elvis could express songs so vividly just with his face.

• A typical show is about ninety minutes. I come out to “Shake, Rattle and Roll” or “Heartbreak Hotel” and some of the other hits that made him famous. Then I do ballads, like “Love Me Tender.”

• At intermission I fluff up the hair, put on the jumpsuit, and touch up the makeup so I look a little older. When I go back out, I play with my tone. I can go higher and sound like Elvis did in the fifties, and then I can drop my tone and sound like he did in the seventies.

• I have ten jumpsuits and about eight 1950’s outfits.

• Elvis couldn’t walk around without people rushing him, and every so often people react in a similar way to me. It’s awkward.

• I’ve met a lot of the people he worked with—Sonny West, Joe Esposito, Charles Stone, D. J. Fontana. So I’ve found out what he was really like—his sense of humor, how humble he was.

• As long as you never get to where you think you’re as good as Elvis—which a lot of guys do—then you’ll be fine.

• The best compliment is when someone says, “When I watch you, I feel like I’m watching Elvis again.” You want to sell that illusion you create with your voice, your look, your movements. If for a split second someone forgets they’re watching a tribute artist, that’s the greatest thing.

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