So much for getting to the Meshulash(triangle) Café early to get a good seat. Forty minutes before the show, every available chair had been taken. We opted to stand on the street and lean against a light pole. We had arrived just in time to get a good standing position for the 2nd Annual Elvis Presley Impersonator Contest!
The competition took place outside so passersby could stop and enjoy. Waiters and waitresses milled about the crowd filling beer orders, and it looked as though everyone(except the 8 year old in the front row) had an Israeli-made Goldstar beer in his or her hand. Even cars and buses waiting at the light could enjoy the show.
The first Elvis impersonator walked to the front. He spoke to the crowd in English, like Elvis, but with a thick Israeli accent. I looked at my American friends. This was going to be good, I thought, as smiles crept over our faces. Elvis #1 started to sing “Big Hunk o’Love”, which he was definitely getting from the crowd, although I’m not sure he even knew the words. As I sang along, I realized we weren’t matching up. But he played the part well, open shirt under a white vinyl jacket bedazzled with gems and sequins. He must have been going for the older Elvis, not cute Elvis from Blue Hawaii or Girl Happy(two of his earlier films). When he finished his three songs, we all enthusiastically cheered, hooted, hollered and clapped.
But I was waiting for the real thing.
Look, I’m a miniature expert on Elvis. I know his birth date(January 8, 1935), when he died(August 16, 1977), where he was born(Tupelo, Mississippi), his full name(Elvis Aaron Presley), some family history(born to Gladys and Vernon Presley; his twin died at birth), and a vast majority of his songs. I grew up with Elvis; he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. My Dad played Elvis tapes on every family road trip we ever went on. We(my mom, my sister and I) were the Sweet Inspirations(Elvis’ back up group) and my dad was, of course, the King himself. He used to play the piano and sing as I danced around the house. I. Know. Elvis.
I tell you this so you know that I know a good Elvis when I see one. I was waiting.
The other contestants weren’t hard to miss as they roamed through the crowd saying in typical Elvis style, “Thank you, Thank you very much for coming.” Some of the lyrical interpretations of the contestants made us laugh more than once and Elvis #2 sang “Flaming Star” which is a Johnny Cash song. Later in the night we heard Chuck Barry’s “Johnny Be Good”. But, even though they weren’t sure what Elvis sang, they definitely knew who he was.
Elvis #3 was a woman from Holland who sang “If I Can Dream”, and I’m not sure if that made the real Elvis howl like a Hound Dog, or if he had a suspicious mind, but I wasn’t exactly hoping for an encore.
Without a doubt, of the 15 contestants, Elvis #4 stood out among all the impersonators. It wasn’t just because he looked like Elvis, but he had the sweet smile of Elvis that made girls go crazy and he had the best voice, by far. When he sang “Always on my Mind”, I thought that if I squinted I might be able to fool myself into thinking it was the real thing. If he couldn’t find a career as an impersonator, he should at least try out for Israeli Idol!
Towards the middle of the show, it became impossible to walk on the sidewalk and people who happened to be passing by had to walk into the street to get around us, but many people stopped to watch. Some of the Elvi(plural of Elvis) were literally out of control. A skinny old man put on a black wig, and a pink satin shirt with jewels all over it, started a dance routine and then proceeded to LIP SYNC “My Way”, only it was the Frank Sinatra version.
But the couple visiting from the Ukraine standing near to us didn’t mind. They were “big Elvis fans” and sang along to every song they heard.
I turned to the woman next to me who I was sharing the pole with and asked her, in Hebrew, if she spoke English. “I’m sorry, I only speak English!” she responded. I said, great! That’s what I asked! She told me she had just been walking by and had to stop to watch.
“It’s a scream! I can understand why people are so passionate about this country. Tel Aviv is a great city. Israel is a small country but there’s so much variety, so much architecture and history.” It’s true. Where else(besides maybe Vegas and Graceland) can you walk down the street and see an Elvis impersonator contest going on? This is Tel Aviv, every night.