Dean Vegas, Elvis tribute artist

There are Elvis fans all around the world from all different walks of life; lawyers, doctors, the people who collect the rubbish, everyone loves Elvis …

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s fair to say that Dean Vegas is a living breathing tribute to Elvis The King Presley. In fact, he’s made an entire career of it. Two decades ago, Dean swapped the high-vis for a sequin-encrusted jumpsuit and hasn’t looked back. A local celebrity, Dean’s uncanny likeness to the man himself has taken him around the world and is widely regarded as one of the best Elvis impersonators on the planet, he even has the trophy to prove it. Dean Vegas will lace up his blue suede shoes for Viva Surfers Paradise, which takes over from July 10–19. The Weekend Edition Gold Coast caught up with Dean to chat about marriage, running for mayor and memorable moments.

We have to ask, what is it about Elvis Presley that you love so much?
What isn’t to love about the king? He was probably the coolest human being ever put on this earth! He had charisma, style, he could sing, he always got the girls, he was truly one of a kind. He was also very kind and humble, which a lot of people don’t realise. Towards the end when he passed away he didn’t have a lot of money left because most of the time he just gave it away. He was an incredibly kind and generous human being.

Take us back to the beginning, when did the fascination with Elvis begin?
The first time I ever saw Elvis on television was when I was about 12 years old and from that moment, that was it for me. For my 16th birthday my father got me the Readers Digest box set of six cassettes that were filled with Elvis songs and I absolutely loved it.

When did it go from casual fondness to a full-time career?
I started doing Elvis about 20 years ago but prior to that I didn’t really know it could be a job. I have always loved Elvis and have always mimicked him but I never thought of going that next step but over the years one thing led to another and I finally put a show together after years of singing in the closet, so to speak. The first five years were really tough, being an Australian and promoting the show as an Australian show was probably my biggest downfall because clubs want to hire shows from overseas. I physically had to go overseas, win a competition which just so happened to be the largest Elvis competition in the world at the time to come back and get people to see that I am good at what I do.

In 2000 you were crowned the World No 1 Elvis Tribute Artist. That must have been a pretty amazing moment?
It was, it really was. Especially when it got down to three of us, there was an American, a Canadian and an Australian. I honestly thought there was no way that they would give it to me so when they called me out as the winner the knees buckled and it was a wonderful feeling. I couldn’t believe it!

You’ve toured the world and have performed in Dubai, China, Sweden, Indonesia, Lebanon, Canada, America, London among others, what have been some of the highlights?
I got presented the key to the city of Elvis’ birthplace as well as a guitar from Tupelo Hardware store where Elvis’ mum bought his first guitar – it was absolutely amazing! Winning the title of World No 1 Elvis Tribute Artist was also another highlight but in the same competition I also won the award for the person that best depicts Elvis, which is voted by the entertainers themselves so that was pretty great as well.

How did you go about perfecting Elvis’ signature swagger?
I grew up loving the guy so I naturally began mimicking him but when I first started performing, I was terrible! I looked more like the Italian Elvis, I had this short wavy hair and short sideburns but over the years it’s just evolved and you just perfect your craft. It’s like anything, if you do it for long enough you just keep getting better and better over time. If I didn’t have love and respect for the guy it would be very difficult to survive 20 years but honestly I love what I do, I am so blessed.

What’s the first thing people generally say when you tell them what you do for a living?
Sometimes people will come up to me and ask if I just really love Elvis or if I’m a performer, once I tell them what I do they say that they thought it was the case. The hair and the sideburns give it away! Some people get a bit embarrassed and think they might be offending me by asking but I’m used to it, and at least they say I look like Elvis rather than Tina Turner or someone!

You do bear an uncanny resemblance to the man himself. Do you ever find people in the street do a double take?
Always! If you want to have a really good chuckle, come down the street ten metres behind me and have a look at all of the reactions. People nudging and pointing and carrying on, it gives me a laugh. If they know me they’re saying, “there’s Dean Vegas”, if they don’t know me they’re saying, “there’s a guy that looks like Elvis”, so either way it’s good.

What do you think of his movies?
I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the movies he wouldn’t be recognised around the world. He never went outside the USA but you can go to any country around the world and find a reference to Elvis. I’ve been to the Middle East and people have called out Elvis. So for me, even though he didn’t love doing those movies because he wanted to be a serious actor and Colonel Tom never allowed him to, I believe that’s what is keeping his image alive.

You once ran for mayor of the Gold Coast. Tell us about that?
I did run for mayor and everyone asks why but if you see things going wrong in your own backyard, do you leave it to someone else to take care of or do you just put your hand up? I’ve never been one to just sit there and let it happen. Unfortunately I’ve done such a great job at Elvis that people can’t see me doing anything else!

You’re also a marriage celebrant! You must have been part of some pretty unusual weddings, what has been the most unusual?
I’ve been part of rock ‘n’ roll weddings, Elvis and Priscilla weddings, Blue Hawaii weddings, you name it! I did a wedding for a couple and the groom had huge rings in his ear lobes and tattoos everywhere but they absolutely loved Elvis. It just goes to show there are Elvis fans all around the world from all different walks of life; lawyers, doctors, the people who collect the rubbish, everyone loves Elvis.

Obviously the legend of Elvis is one that transcends time. What’s something that people might be surprised to know about Elvis Presley?
The majority of people probably don’t realise how talented he really was. He played guitar, he played drums, he played piano and he played bass. Apparently he could listen to a song once and get up and record it, which is just unheard of. The people I’ve been blessed to work with sung backing vocals for Elvis and the stories they tell are absolutely amazing!

Do you have a favourite Elvis song?
Too many to mention! ‘In The Ghetto’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ are great and there is a couple that unless you’re an Elvis fan you wouldn’t know, ‘Make The World Go Away’ and ‘Just Pretend’ are definitely among my favourites.

If you could perform for anyone anywhere in the world, who and where would it be?
If I had the money I would contact everyone who has seen the show more than 200 times and I would take them somewhere and put on a show to say thanks for their ongoing support. There are some people who just keep coming back over and over again; you’d be amazed at how many shows they’ve seen! I’d also invite all of the people that I’ve married over the years.


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