ETAS (Elvis Tribute Artists) have been around since before Elvis died. Of course, since his death their numbers have grown considerably. I guess I've been aware of them since forever, but only in a negative way - newscasters only show the more unflattering versions.
The first time I saw an ETA actually perform was at my first Elvis Week where there used to be annual none-EPE sponsored events every year. I don't remember the name of the guy who organized this - I think he was a dentist. There were Elvises of all shapes, types, ages and nationalities. We met Japanese and Korean ETAs. Blacks. Women. It was so strange to see SO MANY people wandering around the place - all in Elvis performance garb, from the '50s to the '70s.
We were contemplating using them in "200 Cadillacs" but I was adament with my partners about not going in that direction (see first paragraph). Anyway, we interviewed a couple of them (for just-in-case) and I have to say the one overriding and sincere point every one of them wanted to make was how much they loved and revered Elvis. Several made sure we understood that they only performed for charity.
That same week I went to Marian Cocke's benefit where I saw ETAs just in street clothes sing Elvis gospel music. My reaction to them was that it was a shame they were spending their time performing as "Elvis" - when they had such talent! Why didn't they just go out and have their careers as themselves?
We met Jamie Aaron Kelley that week, too. I didn't see him perform then - I did at another location. When I did see him perform I was totally impressed. He has the knack of paying tribute to Elvis, singing his songs, and yet he still shows you Jamie. I hope to get to his show in Memphis this year.
Since then I have seen a couple of ETA shows - 2 in Vegas and one Elvis birthday contest here in Seattle (we had a female friend who had entered the contest as Elvis Chestly - she was actually pretty good - but the guy who won was in a fat Elvis costume, belly hanging over his belt. That he could win just demonstrates the bad side of having ETAs).
Today I was reading the EI forum section about the ETA contest EPE has been sponsoring. There has also been a lot of discussion about Trent Carlini on an Elvis loop I get. There is no shortage of opinions about ETAs! So I went to the EPE website to see the preliminary winners of their event. It is very heartening to me that there are so many young men taking this wonderful interest in Elvis. I'm glad to see that - as Scott has said "Elvis sells Elvis" and that should continue for a long, long time.
And there were the professional ETAs - Trent Carlini, Irv Cass. My first acquaintance with Irv (not sure about Trent) and other pros was in a documentary called "Almost Elvis". That was a wonderful film - well done. It followed a number of contestants in a national EPE contest (was it the one in Memphis I mentioned above? I don't remember). This film convinced me to appreciate them for all the work they do to do honor to Elvis. So I really like the good ones. Don't get me wrong - I do NOT mistake them for Elvis.
Having said that, I agree totally with the sentiment Elvis himself wrote in a letter to one contest winner:.."mimcry (sic) is a sincere form of being a fan. Do develop your own special talents and abilities, though.." You can see that letter in its entirety here.