Elvis Sightings Abound

Elvis impersonator Johnny Thompson has his photo made with Elvis fan Tass Bailey of Memphis at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, Tenn., on Aug. 12, 2007.
AP Photo
Elvis impersonators in bespangled jumpsuits and 1950s sports coats gyrated across a stage in Memphis, Tennessee on Sunday for the opening round of the first "tribute-artist" contest with an official Graceland blessing.

Finals for the contest sanctioned by Graceland's management company, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. (EPE), are set for Friday at the end of a week-long celebration marking the 30th anniversary of Presley's death.

The contest marks a big change for managers of Graceland, Presley's former Memphis residence and the center of a $40 million a year business in all things Elvis.

Since Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977, Graceland managers have distanced themselves from the thousands of Elvis impersonators performing in the concert halls and bars across the world.

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But with a new company, CKX Inc., controlling EPE and the Elvis world, that attitude has changed.

Two dozen "artists" -- Graceland doesn't like the word "impersonator" -- made it to Memphis by winning preliminary contests around the United States and abroad.

Ten contestants from the qualifying round at the Cannon Centre for the Performing Arts, a downtown concert hall, were to be picked for the finals and a chance at the title of official "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist."

Meanwhile, fans are flocking to Memphis for the festivities, some from abroad. "I don't see Elvis as an American idol," says Brazilian fan, Claudia Rocha. "think he is international, because many people in my country don't speak English but they love the songs. I don't know why. They don't understand the lyrics, but they love the songs. I think it is his voice and his feelings. He was a soul singer. I think that's why."