Q&A: 2015 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist David LeePosted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on Aug 28, 2015 | 9 comments
Dreams came true for David Lee on August 13, 2015, when he was named the 2015 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, and a big Elvis fan, David advanced to the Semifinal and Final Rounds during Elvis Week after winning the Ocean City Elvis Festival’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Preliminary Round. David won the title of 2015 Ultimate ETA, a contract to perform for Legends in Concert, the 2015 Ultimate ETA Contest belt designed by B&K Enterprises, and a cash prize of $20,000.
Let’s get to know David Lee better.
Q: When and how did you become a fan of Elvis Presley?
A: Of course, like most people, I heard Elvis at a young age, and knew something about him was different. But I became a die-hard Elvis fan thanks to a guy named Kevin Muir, who I worked with in my early 20s. He introduced me to the more obscure songs and I was hooked instantly! I now have a huge Elvis collection – well over 10,000 pieces. I even have over 1,000 Elvis 8-track tapes!
Q: How did you become an Elvis Tribute Artist?
A: Simply put, my love of everything Elvis was so strong that I had to have an outlet to express that. It was the early ’90s and karaoke was really becoming very popular, so I would go and sing at local establishments. The first time I can remember actually dressing the part was when a coworker was leaving the company we worked for, so myself and another friend actually bought a cheap Elvis costume and performed in front of about 100 people at his going-away party. I must have had half of those 100 come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you sound like Elvis,’ ‘Can you come and sing for daughter’s birthday?’ and so forth and so on. I knew that day that things were going to change. I just had no idea how much and that there was an Elvis world out there!
Q: What are some of the highlights of your ETA career thus far (besides being named the 2015 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist)?
A: Wow. Great question. This is my 20th year as an ETA and I have had a lot of great things happen to me. I have been fortunate enough to win the biggest competitions in the world. In 2004, I was and still am the only person to win the International Images of the King and the largest Elvis festival in the world, Collingwood Elvis Festival. At the time, they were the two biggest competitions. In 2012, I was so honored to be named the winner of the Tupelo Elvis Festival’s Ultimate ETA Contest Preliminary Round. Those were all great and they are many more great memories I could mention, but for me right at the top of the list would have something that happened earlier this year. I was chosen to be the model for the new Elvis statue at the Elvis Presley Birthplace that now stands on the hill on the property there overlooking the city. In addition to that, I was given the Key to the City of Tupelo and the state flag that flew over the Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, the day I was there. I was in Jackson to help secure the $1 million that was needed to complete the statues and other work going on at the Birthplace. I am happy to say we were successful that day. It was my only million-dollar show to date…. lol.
Q: What was it like to win the 2015 Ultimate ETA Contest?
A: It has been roughly two weeks since that night that my name was called, and I still have moments where it just hits me that I won! I worked very hard for years trying to win it. It is an incredible and humbling feeling to win. However, my life changed over the last few years, and I realized that although that I still wanted to win this year, my main objective would be serving God, and using every opportunity that I had on stage and off to represent Him to the best of my abilities.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the upcoming year as the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist?
A: With this title there is already a lot more exposure on the horizon, and I hope to use it to meet and help create some new Elvis fans, and of course continue to get the word of God out there.
Q: What’s something a lot of folks may not know about what it’s like to be an Elvis Tribute Artist?
A: One thing for sure is that ETAs are the biggest Elvis fans. We spend thousands of hours working trying to be the best we can be to give the fans just a little taste of what it might have been like to see him in person. And trust me, we realize there was only one Elvis Presley. It’s just the way we choose to express our love for the man.
Q: What’s it like to make the transition from David Lee to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley?
A: I don’t ever think I am Elvis on stage or off. I know some others have taken that approach but that never appealed to me. But when the jumpsuit and jewelry go on and I’m about to go on stage for a local show or the Ultimate competition, I always feel an incredible responsibility to “get it right.”
Q: Let’s talk favorites. What’s your favorite Elvis song? What’s your favorite Elvis song to perform?
A: Favorite song …I go in cycles where I just get hung up on a certain song. But it’s a well-known fact amongst the fans that I have two all-time favorites. The first is “Promised Land,” from 1974. When it comes on the radio I reach over and crank up the volume. It always puts a smile on my face as I sing along to every word! The other is “Unchained Melody,” from 1976-77. It was one of two known songs that Elvis sang the day he died. When I watch the video of Elvis singing it, it still just mesmerizes me. His voice was so incredibly strong and passionate on this song. You could really feel that his heart was in it. It just never gets old to me and probably never will. A side note, and I’m proud of this: I performed both “Promised Land” and “Unchained Melody” in the Ultimate this year!
Q: You had a lot of fans cheering you on while you competed in Memphis, as well as a lot of fans cheering you on online from around the world. Any final words for these fans? If fans want to see you live, where can they find you next?
A: I competed for five years in the Ultimate. Every year I met and became friends with more and more Elvis fans, and this year it really showed. The fans were electric and the atmosphere in the Orpheum was the best I have ever seen it. I would like them all to know how much I appreciate them being there. Whether they were cheering for me or not, in the end we are all there to support Elvis and help carry on his legacy, and the fans play a huge role in that – so thank you!
I currently have several offers to headline upcoming Elvis festivals all over and, of course, we are currently in negotiations with Legends in Concert. So there will be a lot of possibilities to catch us somewhere on the road. In closing, I would just like to thank Elvis Presley Enterprises and Legends in Concert and all those who made it possible for me to have the opportunity to achieve my dream – and most of all, my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through whom all blessings flow. God bless!
Learn more about the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest on Graceland.com!