My Outlook: TJ Rhea, Elvis Impersonator
How did you get started in Elvis impersonations?
My daughter, Christina, wanted to have a “Vegas Casino Night” party for her 16th birthday in 2006. So, we converted the garage into a casino and I did my first Elvis show for her party. It was amazing how well it went. In fact, one of the attending parents asked if I would do a party for them. A hobby was born!
Which “Elvis” do you prefer to impersonate?
Definitely the ‘70s jumpsuit era.
Are you more of a “look-alike” impersonator, a “sound-alike” impersonator, or a combination?
A little of both I guess. I try hard to sound as convincing as possible and I get a lot of comments like “You do look like Elvis.” However, most guys with a big black pompadour and big sideburns probably hear that too.
What does the typical Elvis impersonation consist of?
Certain songs become a trademark of different impersonators. I am told I sound the most like Elvis when I sing the slower ballads. Everyone wants to hear “Suspicious Minds,” “Burning Love” and “Hound Dog.” It is expected that if you are impersonating Elvis then you must do the moves—and I do. There are also famous one-liners like “Thank you—thank you very much” and “Y’all are a fantastic audience.” Mostly it’s the voice. It still amazes me how giddy people can get when I talk like Elvis.
What about Elvis inspires you?
His generosity and selflessness. He took care of so many people that the world will never know about and it moves me to tears. He supported children’s charities, hospitals, civic groups and he took care of those around him. If I won the lottery, I hope I would be as generous.
How do you get in character?
Easy—put on the suit! I listen to a few songs to get the voice tuned in and when I am dressed in the jumpsuit, scarf, boots, jewelry and hairspray…it’s go time! As my entire persona changes, my heart rate goes up a notch and I’m ready!
What’s the best gig you have performed at?
The Elvis Expo at Firelake Grand Casino last year. It was a great event. There were vendors with Elvis memorabilia, movie stars that had worked with Elvis, and the shows were fantastic! Mr. Joe Gurcio, Elvis band director for ’72 through ’77 was there, as well as The Imperials. I’m really looking forward to it again this year.
Who typically requests an Elvis impersonator?
Everyone! I have done just about everything. 80th birthday parties are very popular for obvious reasons. Corporate holiday gigs are popular as well as high school reunions.
Do you have a “day job”? If so, what is it?
I am the president of Hillcrest Clinical Research. My wife, Beth, and I run the clinic and conduct clinical research for major pharmaceutical companies. We enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that our work will someday help many people.
Anything else we should know about you?
I have loved music since about 5th grade. I used to have an old microphone and would sing for hours standing at my dresser where I had made piano keys out of paper. My dad would play guitar and I would keep time by banging on a rolling pin. I also am licensed by the state of Oklahoma to conduct weddings. I have officiated several ceremonies and vow renewals.
For more information, visit www.tjrhea.com.