My journey as an ETA (Elvis Tribute Artist)

A story by Jessi Mallory from 2014-2024

Jessi Mallory Performance

I come from a musical family. My father, Lee Mallory is a musician from Maine. His father, Ralph Mallory used to sing in an Irish quartet on the radio here in Maine as well.

I grew up immersed in every kind of music. When I was four years old my mother Lynn gave me my very first Elvis record. It was Elvis' Golden Records. I had never seen or heard of Elvis Presley before. I was captivated by the man on the cover. He had black hair, was wearing eye shadow and a bit of eyeliner. I remember thinking that I wanted to look like him one day. Afterall, he was a pretty man! Of course I wanted more after my first album, so my mother gave me Elvis In Concert. This was the soundtrack to Elvis' last TV special aired on CBS in 1977. This album was different from the first album I'd listened to. He seemed grander, more polished. He sang bigger notes that gave me chills. I played both albums until they were unplayable.

As I grew up, my love for Elvis grew larger. I read every book, watched every concert, every video, and listened to every song. There was always a pull towards Elvis that I still can't explain. I'd spend countless days and nights studying his mannerisms, wit, voice, and influence. When I became an adult I put that all aside to pursue my own music. Opportunities to go national with my music presented themselves, but life always found a way to hold me back from pursuing them.

One Halloween I dressed as Elvis to try to win a costume contest. I sprayed my hair black and got all dressed up, and won. People were very taken with the look and suggested I try my hand at being an Elvis impersonator. It wasn't a long shot for me, as I grew up singing along with Elvis, and our voices were similar. The first time I performed as Elvis was at a variety show in Portland, Maine. My act brought the house down, to my surprise. I thought then that there was definitely something to all of this.

I began looking into other impersonators and realized that the serious ones referred to themselves as ETAs. (Elvis Tribute Artist) Setting themselves aside from people in cheap costumes and wigs, and taking the act much more seriously. I liked that. I began to find and make my own replicas of Elvis' wardrobe from the 1950s-1970s. I dyed my hair black, worked on my show and took it on the road. I started doing competitions and placing.

It's been a ten year journey and one that I enjoy immensely. I've met so many amazing Mainers and people from all around the world. Most of the Mainer's that come to my show end up telling me their story about how they had tickets to see him for his show in Portland, Maine in 1977. I always felt so sad for these people. My mother was one of them. She'd bought two tickets to see him and was very excited, only to find out soon after that he'd passed away on the day he was scheduled to arrive in Portland. It has always felt like a personal thing for me, this Maine connection. His only Maine appearance was in Augusta, Maine and he passed just before the kick off of his tour in Portland, Maine. Having grown up in Maine myself, I see how that has grabbed Mainers by the heartstrings. On one hand you have those here who were able to see him, and those who just missed the chance.

When the Augusta Civic Center presented the idea of breaking the world record of the most Elvis impersonators in one place, I knew I might have my shot at performing in the one venue that I'd always dreamed of performing in. Throughout my life, I've attended many events at the ACC. Each time, I felt like the only one in the building thinking about Elvis and about how his big voice once filled the space. It was customary for me to take a picture with the plaque of Elvis in the lobby every visit. I never thought I'd be able to sing there, but I really dreamed about it.

The ACC asked me to emcee the world record attempt, and I offered to recreate the exact show that Elvis performed there on May 24, 1977. To my amazement, they said yes.

Performing that show was the highlight of my career. Taking the stage in the same building, in the same spot as Elvis was unreal. Hearing my voice fill the ACC was emotional. I was filled with such pride and I was very humbled. The fans were amazing, lining up three people deep to stand at the stage to watch me. What a night! Time seemed to stand still for me, which was a wonderful way for me to soak it all up. My love for Maine, Elvis, and the ACC all came together for a magical experience for me and for the fans.

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