The winner of the 4th Annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest over the weekend is Las Vegas resident Chad Collins. Don’t be fooled: This is the real Chad Collins, not the guy who portrays Chad Collins in “Legends in Concert.”
The event was produced by Elvis Presley Enterprises and “Legends.” Donning a flat-black leather suit hearkening to Elvis’s 1968 comeback TV special, Collins was awarded $2,500 in cash and a trip to the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest set for Aug. 10-17 in Memphis during Elvis Week. The winner in Las Vegas has once topped the field in Memphis, Justin Shandor in 2010.
Two of the judges also came with a cash haul, at least before Friday’s preliminary round, which I also helped judge. Sam and Linda Thompson were part of the panel of four that night, filled out by “Legends” Michael Jackson tribute artist Damian Brantley and myself.
Linda was Elvis’ girlfriend in the early 1970s and the subject of the TV film “Elvis and the Beauty Queen” (Stephanie Zimbalist played Linda; a pre-“Miami Vice” Don Johnson portrayed Elvis). Linda also was married to Bruce Jenner and, later, producer David Foster. Her son Brandon Jenner and daughter-in-law Leah performed in the folk-rock act Brandon & Leah before the contest Friday. Sam was a member of Elvis’ security team from 1972-’76, meeting The King through his sister.
Sam had judged this contest in previous years, but Linda never had. She was persuaded to attend because Sam has a good time sitting on the riser in front of a few thousand Elvis fans and telling stories about his days with The King. Linda, in particular, was fairly mobbed at the end of the first night.
It took about 20 minutes for us just to walk down the steps from our perch to the street below, as fans craned for photos, requested autographs or just wanted to gush over Elvis’ onetime girlfriend.
“This is a lot of Elvis,” Linda said during the first night’s performances, during which 19 ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists) gyrated and warbled for the crowd massed around the 1st Street Stage. “It’s really incredible.”
Before checking into the contest, Sam and Linda played a pair of Flaming 7s slots machines, side-by-side, at The D Las Vegas. They hit four jackpots within an hour at those machines, including two within a minute of each other. The total take was $4,000, surpassing what Saturday’s winner would be awarded.
“They had a guy come down and check the machines, make sure they weren’t malfunctioning,” Sam said. “It was wild.”
As Elvis (and at least one ETA) put it: Viva Las Vegas.