By Rachel Belle
Tom Nelligan is a house painter by day, and an Elvis impersonator by night. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to say he’s an Elvis Tribute Artist.
Helen Anne Gately (pictured), also an Elvis Tribute Artist here in Seattle, filled me in on the proper lexicon. Both will be competing at the 15th Annual Elvis Invitationals this Saturday, at the EMP, in honor of the King’s 77th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his visit to the Seattle World’s Fair.
“I don’t do a very good impersonation of Elvis,” Tom admits before singing me a few tunes. “But I enjoy his music, I play his songs. I’ve been playing his songs for 20+ years.”
When Tom did his first Elvis Invitational, four years ago, he vowed to avoid the cliche white suit. That is, until he realized it’s what the people want.
“I made my own white suit, I grabbed a pair of blue jeans and an old dress shirt. I painted them white with white house paint, I’m a house painter. I stenciled stuff on it. It’s studded and full of glitter and bling.”
This is Helen Anne’s 15th year singing at the Invitational, and she was pretty much paved the way for other female Elvii in Seattle and beyond.
“The whole idea of Elvis Tribute Artists being male dominated kind of changed when I saw an ad in the local paper, here in Seattle, and it said ‘Looking for a few good Elvii I didn’t think twice! I love Elvis and I like to sing so I went down to the old Crocodile, they were doing auditions, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. ‘What’s a girl doing here?’ I got up and sang a song and that was it, I’ve been in it ever since!”
Helen decided not to do drag King Elvis, pun intended, but rather embody Elvis with her own feminine version.
“I have a friend who makes my suits now, she’s a costume designer, and she makes it so they fit the curves and they have the Elvis-y style with the high collar. My favorite is probably the first one she made and it’s emerald green sequins. It really went well with my red hair. I don’t try and imitate Elvis, I just try and have the spirit of Elvis come out in my performance and I just sing with my regular voice.”
What was it about Elvis, that more than 30 years after his death, the entire world still buzzes about him?
“That guy was pure energy and rebellion,” Tom says. “John Lennon said something like ‘Before Elvis, there was nothing.'”
“When you get Elvis fans in one room, and Elvis performers, there’s a high energy,” adds Helen Anne. “People get really excited and that’s the thing, you know, we’re not Elvis! We’re just singing Elvis songs and people still go crazy.”