Elvis was alive and kicking in the Village of Arroyo Grande, as a group of impersonators crooned, wiggled and wooed their way into the hearts of the audience at Branch Street Deli’s first Elvis impersonation contest Saturday. But only one impersonator emerged as The King of Rock and Roll.
The contest was the brainchild of Branch Street Deli owners John and Maureen Gutierrez, judge Hilary Brown said.
“We were together one night and just thought an Elvis competition was a great idea,” she said as she sat at the judging table in the middle of the restaurant’s patio, preparing to listen to the first contestant.
Brown was joined by judges Bev MacLeod of Shell Beach and Karen Hicks of Arroyo Grande, who said she had been chosen to judge the contest because she was recently married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator.
“I guess that means I know Elvis,” she joked as she sipped her wine.
Brown said Saturday’s competitors were being judged on three qualities: overall performance, singing and appearance. Each competitor sang four songs — two in the first act, followed by another two in the second act.
First up was Paul Clayton of Arroyo Grande. In a red bedazzled jumpsuit, black wig and gold sunglasses, Clayton set the bar for his fellow impersonators, bopping along to “Suspicious Minds” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Clayton also showed off his dance moves, complete with the signature Elvis hip wiggle — much to the appreciation of the packed patio and dozens of bystanders.
The next two competitors chose to not don Elvis costumes, but Larry Karagozian of Fresno and Nathan Clay of Santa Maria pleased the crowd in the first act with their renditions of “You Gave Me a Mountain,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
Later in the evening, Karagozian had a standout moment when a young boy toddled up on stage and began swinging his hips to the beat and stomping his feet.
“Everybody give him a hand for that,” Karagozian said while singing Elvis’ “Little Sister.”
When asked why he entered the competition, Karagozian shared a story about a time he and his wife saw Elvis perform in Fresno in the 1970s.
“Who else but Elvis would play to 10,000 seats in Fresno when he could play to 50,000, 60,000 anywhere else?” he said. “There will never be another Elvis, or another like him.”
After Karagozian and Clay, the next two competitors were in full Elvis regalia: Mike Thomas of Arroyo Grande wore a black jumpsuit and a red scarf for his performance of “Teddy Bear” and “Big Hunk o’ Love,” while professional Elvis impersonator Jim Herfurth of Arroyo Grande wore two different jumpsuits: a turquoise and silver concoction while singing “I Want You, I Need You, I Love you,” and then a simpler black and gold outfit for “Peace in the Valley.”
The final competitor of the night, Lyle West of Grover Beach, wasn’t in costume, but his deep voice wowed the audience for all four of his song selections: “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “The Wonder of You,” “Blue Christmas” and “It’s Now or Never.”
At the end of the night, the results were tallied and three of the competitors were chosen for awards. Herfurth won first place overall, Clayton won second place overall, and West took home the “Best Singing” award.
“I got the chance to meet Elvis, and I was impressed,” West said after winning, recalling a story about how his cousin was once a bodyguard for the singer. “Elvis is the best.”