Augusta holds qualifier for national Elvis impersonation contest

In preparation for the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, impersonators across the world are perfecting their acts and entering qualifying competitions with hopes of making it to the big stage for the King of the World competition in Memphis, Tenn., in less than two months.

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David Lee sits for some makeup applied by his wife, Tara, before the fifth annual Visions of a Legend Contest on Saturday.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
David Lee sits for some makeup applied by his wife, Tara, before the fifth annual Visions of a Legend Contest on Saturday.

It will also be 18-year-old Alex Swindle’s first time competing as a pro on the big stage, thanks to his second-place finish at the 5th Annual Visions of a Legend Contest held Friday and Saturday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3200 on Gunclub Road.

“I’m elated,” Swindle said. “It was a fantastic competition.”

The Birmingham, Ala., native has been impersonating Elvis for nine years, since before he was 10 years old. He competes as ’50s era Elvis because he would have been closer to his age then.

On Saturday, Swindle sang four songs, including Hound Dog and Trouble, to place second behind 15-year-veteran professional performer Dwight Icenhower, of Orlando, Fla. Icenhower won King of the World last year, which meant he was already qualified to return and defend his title this year. Swindle’s second-place finish qualified him as next in line.

David Lee, who came in third, is also already qualified for the August competition.

The contest took two days, producing 12 finalists who competed for more than 200 people Saturday night.

The competitors are judged in multiple areas, including vocals, stage presence, moves and costume, said judge Arelia Sayer.

“He made it look easy,” she said. “That’s what we look for.”

In 1968, Sayer’s brother worked at WAPE radio in Jacksonville, Fla., and knew Elvis. Since then, she has been fascinated by the King.

“He’s bigger now than he’s ever been,” she said. “And I get to travel around and watch men become him.”

Icenhower was in Augusta to check out the competition and to see some of his friends. Winning was just a perk.

“We all know each other,” he said. “We’re all friends. Most of the time, we only get to see each other once a year in Memphis.”

Icenhower has been competing since he turned 16, and in the last 15 years, he has covered a few different Elvis eras from the ’50s to the ’70s. He performs 150 to 200 shows a year across the world. Most recently, Icenhower returned from two weeks in Japan.

“They love his music there,” he said. “Some of them learned English through his songs.”

While life on the road can be hard for some in his line of work, Icenhower’s wife travels with him, doing his hair and makeup.

The white rhinestone suit he was competing in Saturday came from the same suit maker Elvis used, B&K Enterprises Costume Co.

“There’s never going to be another Elvis,” he said. “None of us think we are him. But we try to get at close as we can.”

Even after competing on a stage in front of thousands in Memphis, Icenhower still finds comfort in performing in front of a few dozen fans in Augusta.

“You can interact with the fans here,” he said. “In bigger venues you don’t get to mingle much.”

Fellow competitor William Stiles said all the competitions this year are a little tougher than previous years in preparation for the 35th anniversary.

“This is like the preliminary for the heavyweight fight,” he said. “Competitors are tightening it up and getting it together.”

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