Dogs in Wigs and Men in Jumpsuits: The Tupelo Elvis Festival

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All rock stars have fans, but only a few have cults. And the number who inspire intricate societies of professional impersonators and hoards of weeping fans to their homes 33 years after their death? There’s only one: Elvis Presley (although Michael Jackson may be next). Last weekend was the 11th annual Elvis Festival in Tupelo, Mississippi, and the King’s look-alike fanbase (pets and children included!) was in full effect. You had to see it to believe it, so we’ve posted an image gallery after the jump. You can thank us later.

Driving into Tupelo, it’s not hard to guess who the town’s favorite former resident is. The tiny one-room house Elvis was born in has become hallowed ground for Elvis fans, who travel there to buy Elvis toothbrushes and peek inside the Presley family’s outhouse. The festival is a three-day event, boasting a “Queen for the King” beauty pageant, a “Fling with the King” disc golf tournament, and a parade of pets in Elvis costumes. But the star attraction at this year’s festival was, of course, the Elvis tribute artist contest. On the Elvis impersonation circuit, the Tupelo contest is to the enormous King Week tournament in Memphis what the Screen Actor’s Guild awards are to the Oscars: those on the inside track use Tupelo to predict how well tribute artists will do in the big event. The pool winnowed down from 40 hopefuls to the grand winner in three grueling rounds of competition, and visitors from all over the Southeast — and even further — gathered to root for their favorites.

Click through the gallery to see some of our favorite moments from 2010’s Tupelo Elvis Festival:

5-year-old Nicholas Das and his dog won the prize for Most Like Elvis in the pet parade. He and his 3-year-old brother, also dressed like Elvis, treated the crowd to a Kidz Bop version of “Hound Dog.”

A welcome parade that wound through town featured the winners of the Elvis Festival beauty pageant and the tribute artists posing on classic cars. Bonus: a float with the 4-H club dressed in striped jumpsuits, performing “Jailhouse Rock.”

The Tupelo Hardware store staged re-enactments of Presley buying his first guitar, starring 13-year-old Elvis enthusiast Cote Deonath, who’s been performing as an impersonator since he was a toddler.

For most of the tribute artist contestants, Elvis impersonation is a hobby. One contestant was a minister by day; another was a furrier.

Miss Elvis Fest outside the Lyric Theatre, where Elvis supposedly had his first kiss.

Michael Rose — whose signature number is “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” — has been performing as Elvis for 37 years.

Elvis’ Vegas years were a favorite for dogs and tribute artists alike. We’re guessing that the bedazzled capes are hard to resist.

Boomer, a Boston terrier, traveled all the way from Missouri to steal the trophy. His owner calls him “the number one Elvis tribute dog in America” (he has his own website) and plans to add a belt to the costume next year.

Kyle Richardson, a 20-year-old tribute artist, pulls some moves that look like they would tear the Vegas-era Elvis’ rotator cuff.

Cody Slaughter nabbed 2nd place, but was clearly one of the audience favorites. As one of his admirers confided to me, “He looks more like Elvis than Elvis did!”

Never have we seen so many straight men of all ages and fitness levels in one-piece bedazzled jumpsuits.

Kevin Mills nabbed first prize in the contest — and last year he won third place in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis. If you’re a betting-on-Elvis-contests kind of fan, we would recommend putting your chips on him.

Turns out, if you want to get a gaggle of flustered women to surround you, Elvis impersonator is a pretty good career choice.