Elvis Walks Into Denny's 

click to enlarge art33_music_wrenn_100.jpg

When it comes to Elvis impersonators, you're either a fat ham or not. A noteworthy entry is the bloated geriatric Elvis, doped-up and festering with strange sores, played by actor Bruce Campbell in the 2002 cult flick "Bubba Ho-Tep." But others prefer to remember the King in a more pristine light, as the sleekly handsome country boy who "shook it like a holy roller, baby, with his soul at stake," as Gillian Welch sang in "Elvis Presley Blues." This younger Elvis is the one local musician Wrenn Mangum pays tribute to when he stalks the stage with his jet-black pompadour slicked back and a vintage '52 Fender Telecaster shining in his hands.

"Probably the hardest thing is to look like him, since I'm not by any means handsome," says the 34-year-old Mangum, known for his wild stage antics in the '90s with local rock group Frog Legs and for his current band, Boneanchor. "Emulating his mannerisms and moves would be another challenge. … Trying to perform like Elvis is kinda like doing a really difficult math problem."

Still, Mangum is keeping busy lately performing in Elvis contests and steadily touring his rockabilly solo act through Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. He recently won $1,000 in Fredericksburg as a second-place finisher in a regional competition for the annual Images of the King event based in Memphis.

But he'll soon get broader exposure by performing on an "American Idol"-style show for Elvis tribute artists set to air on Comcast Network (Channel 10 in Richmond) Aug. 16 from 2 to 4 p.m.

"It's a surreal atmosphere. But I was really struck by how nice people were, especially the other performers," Mangum says. "It's like one big family."

A relative newbie at the competitions, Mangum sees the same Elvis tribute artists, or "ETAs," at different events, and some freely give him pointers, such as: Keep the moves subtle on the slower songs. The various Elvises come from all over the world, and former backing musicians or longtime performers who knew Presley's family like to share old stories. It's hilarious when the competition is over, Mangum says, and all the Elvises go out together for dinner at Denny's or someplace. "People freak out and want to get their picture taken with us," he says.

The television contest, which could be seen by a potential 29 million viewers (but let's not kid ourselves here), will be taped live in Washington, D.C. People at work can watch it live online (http://cp.cn8.tv/default.asp), then call in to vote.

Don't worry, your boss is totally down. S

The competition airs Aug. 16, 2-4 p.m. on Retirement Living TV's "Daily Café," Channel 10 in Richmond.

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