Sunday, May 13, 2012 | 6:19 p.m.
They spoke nostalgically of Elvis, and of split pants at the Silverdome.
It was during a break in Friday’s opening night of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest at 3rd Street Stage at Fremont Street Experience. Twenty-one ETAs -- Elvis Tribute Artists -- were competing for $2,500 and a spot in the field at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest finals during the 35th Anniversary of Elvis Week in Memphis on Aug. 10-12.
After Saturday’s show, it was announced that Victor Trevino Jr. would be advancing to the Elvis Week showdown, given a shot at $20,000 and “the opportunity” to sign a contract with “Legends in Concert.” I suppose that means if there is a need for a new Elvis for “Legends,” then the contest winner is the man. The winner from the Las Vegas preliminary contest two years ago, Justin Shandor, wound up claiming the top prize in Memphis. Johnny Fortuno, a longtime Elvis impressionist who has performed at Elvis anniversary events at the Cannery, won the Vegas contest last year.
Among the judges for this year’s competition was Sam Thompson, a member of Elvis’ security team for five years (1971-’76) and whose sister, Linda, was Elvis’ girlfriend around that time. I was honored, giddily so, to take part in the Friday judging, too, along with Envy Talent and Model Agency founder Daniel Mahan and Adele impressionist J.C. Brando, in the lineup as the show was hosted by the “Legends In Concert” production and Brando is about to join that show’s cast in Atlantic City. That crew, absent me but including Doug Elfman of the R-J, determined Saturday’s final-round winner.
Thompson can always be relied upon for a great Elvis yarn-spin. We were seated on the riser looking across the VIP section toward the 3rd Street Stage when photographer Tom Donoghue climbed the stairs to talk to Thompson. Donoghue remembered a night, a quite memorable night, in December 1975 in Detroit. It happened to be New Year’s Eve. Donoghue was working at the time for United Press International in Detroit, and there were two assignments to be had that night: Elvis at the Silverdome and the Detroit Red Wings playing the Washington Capitals at Detroit Olympia.
“I decided on the hockey game,” Donoghue told Thompson and me. “It was the wrong decision.”
That’s because Elvis split the back of the pants in his jumpsuit during the performance. “Right up the back,” Thompson recalled. Naturally, a photo of Elvis dealing with the mother of all wardrobe malfunctions on New Year’s Eve was in high demand. But all Donoghue had were photos of such NHL players as Michel Bergeron and Dennis Hextall skating around the ice for a Red Wings team that didn’t even make the playoffs (but did win on New Year’s Eve, 4-0).
“I had nothing of Elvis,” Donoghue said. “All I had were these hockey players handling the puck.”
Thompson remembered that it took Elvis 20 minutes to find a new costume, one being delivered to the Silverdome from Elvis’ hotel room.
“Col. Tom Parker was really nervous about that, having 80,000 people waiting that long for Elvis,” Thompson said. “But afterward, he said it was the biggest night of merchandise sales in Elvis’ career.”