Saturday, June 6, 2009

Elvis Lives

Published in L Magazine, January 2009
Copyright 2009 by L Magazine, used with permission
This is my original, unedited version

Joseph Hall is still getting used to being famous. After finishing in the top ten on the national TV program “America’s Got Talent,” the 24-year-old Elvis Tribute Artist can’t seem to go anywhere without being recognized. While pumping gas or shopping for groceries, strangers congratulate him and tell him they voted for him. It’s still a little overwhelming, considering that around two years ago he was working in his father’s restaurant and had never performed on stage.

His road to fame started in October of 2006, when his family threw an employee Halloween party and opened it up to the public. Hall went as Elvis and sang a few songs. Afterwards one of the guests approached him and asked him to perform at her bar. That led to another show, which led to another show. Six months later, Hall placed in the top ten in an Elvis tribute contest and was asked to headline the first ever Elvis Presley cruise. Because of his success, he decided to quit his job and become a full-time entertainer.

He traveled to Chicago in February of 2008 to do a screen test for “America’s Got Talent.” Two days later he got a call saying he was on the show. He describes his time on “America’s Got Talent” as a “crazy ride” full of long days spent in rehearsals, meeting with tech teams, and a lot of “hurry up and wait.” His top ten finish earned him a spot in a Vegas show before 5,000 screaming fans.

“I enjoyed every minute of it, and I wouldn’t take back anything from the show,” he said. “It was the best time of my life.”

Since returning to Lincoln, his schedule has been packed. His father, Kyle Hall (who serves as his manager) and the rest of his support team are kept busy with booking, production and merchandise sales. Hall had about 30 shows from October through December, and a tour of U.S. cities is planned for the new year. In February he will be performing at the Astrodome with two other contestants from “America’s Got Talent”—Queen Emily and Nuttin’ But Stringz.

“In the beginning our team would go out and push the show, but now we don’t have time for that. We just book a show and then 500 people show up,” Hall said. “What ‘America’s Got Talent’ has done is it’s made me as a known entertainer, so basically the country is ours. Now that we’ve been in the living rooms of America, we want to be in their lives. It’s time to take advantage of the name that I’ve established.”

With over 700 Elvis songs to choose from, Hall will never run out of material. “The King” performed everything from rock and rhythm & blues to Gospel and country. Because Hall was born seven years after Elvis passed away, he never had the opportunity to see his idol in person. All he has are videos, records, CDs and photographs, which he studies to create “Joseph Hall’s translation” of Elvis.

“What I do on stage is pay tribute to Elvis, but at the same time I don’t try to become Elvis. People see Elvis and they see me at the same time. There are over 50,000 Elvis Tribute Artists out there, and everybody does their own show, so it’s just a translation.”

Though he sings a wide variety of Elvis songs, Hall personally prefers the later Elvis music, spanning from 1969 to 1977. His favorite Elvis tune, “Suspicious Minds,” earned high praise from all three judges on “America’s Got Talent.” Piers Morgan, often the more critical of the three, declared “Elvis is back in the building!” after the song, which Hall performed in the classic jeweled white jumpsuit.

Hall finds that most of his audiences prefer the younger look of Elvis, but like the later music. At the same time, they go nuts over the white jumpsuit, which Elvis wore in the later years.
“All my costumes are replicas of what Elvis wore,” he said. “I’ll do the 50’s replica—the gold lame’ jacket--and you get a couple of smiles here and there and people like it. Then when you come out in the ’68 black leather, you get a little bit more reaction. But when you come out with the white jumpsuit—the iconic white suit—people go nuts, because that’s the superhero look.”
After more than 230 shows, Hall no longer gets nervous before a gig. In fact, he finds that the bigger the crowd, the more comfortable he feels. As often happens with performers and actors, he loses himself in the music and the audience and, in his case, the character of Elvis.

What’s it like to entertain so many people? “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. It’s the greatest feeling to bring smiles to so many people’s faces. A 60-year-old woman comes up and she’s got tears in her eyes and she says, ‘Thank you for making me feel like I was 20 years old again.’ It’s a great compliment. And then you see 11 and 12-year-olds in the audience screaming and dancing and they come up to you after the show wanting you to sign their T-shirt. I’ve never seen anything like it, where there’s an act that’s brought every age group together.”

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