The Second Coming
Meet Jamie Aaron Kelley, Elvis-enthusiast and world-record holder.
By Mary Cashiola
AUGUST 23, 1999: His is an unassuming Elvis. He is young, a little shy, as if he stepped right out of the night when "That's All Right, Mama" took over the airwaves.
All the Elvis look-alikes, wannabes, impersonators, and tribute artists converging on Graceland are busy trying to effect the King. They want to look like him, talk like him, act like him. The gestures, the hair, and the jewelry are all exaggerated with wild abandon, as if being more Elvis than Elvis would make them Elvis. Then there is Jamie Aaron Kelley, a 19-year-old from Iowa.
On August 15th, the evening of the candlelight vigil, Kelley takes the stage at Graceland Crossing's Hot Rod Diner. He is ready to finish singing the last two sets of the 739 officially recorded songs he has memorized to make him the first person in the world ever to do that. What began in Iowa on July 31st is going to end at Graceland two weeks and a new Guinness World Record later.
An hour before the show, seats are limited. People are viciously guarding them as if this were the Second Coming and, yes, someone is sitting here.
After being introduced by his father, Kelley, dressed in a comparatively boring black shirt and trousers with red necktie, takes the stage. Having forgone the black hair dye favored by most of his contemporaries, his light-brown pompadour renders him more like Maxwell Caulfield in Grease 2 than Elvis.
But there is no mistaking him for Caulfield after he starts singing. As he begins, the mostly middle-aged audience claps their hands. Then Kelley tells them that it's Christmas time and begins "Here Comes Santa Claus." Even in the steaming summer heat, the crowd loves it.
Soon after Christmas, he gets to New Year's. "Elvis didn't know all the words," says Kelley right before he starts "Auld Lang Syne." "He sort of bumbled his way through." Kelley, too, sort of bumbles his way through, because that is the way Elvis performed it.
His father stands on the stage to assist; he plays the guitar, cues the tapes, keeps up a light banter with his son. Kelley's mother is on the floor below the stage; she's sticking gold stars on a huge board next to the names of each of the songs. After Kelley finishes each song, he almost immediately asks, "What's next?" Moving swiftly back and forth between the piano and center stage depending on the accompaniment, he quickly knocks off a few numbers a cappella. Time is of the essence.
"Too Much Monkey Business" begins and the crowd claps along, sadly out of rhythm. After the song, Kelley says, "Doesn't take too much to get you guys going." He asks the audience if they recognize the line; it's on Essential Elvis, volume four. When Kelley talks, even if he's divulging little-known tidbits about Elvis, you could forget he's not Elvis. He sounds just like him, the velvety voice, the round Southern accent you don't usually hear on boys from Iowa. Not only did the 19-year-old start impersonating Elvis at the age of 3, but his father tells the audience that Kelley has memorized almost every line in all Elvis' movies. He has almost become Elvis.
Kelley asks if there is anyone Jewish in the audience. When he gets affirmation that there are, he tells them they'll be surprised at this next song. They are. The whole song, although short, is in Hebrew.
"He didn't know much of the song," says Kelley apologetically.
As Kelley does more and more obscure stuff, the crowd seems to be getting subdued. Outside, in the Graceland Crossing parking lot, impersonators are singing favorites, big, fast-paced numbers and slow love songs.
But right before he sings the last songs, he decides he has time for another request. The fans are yelling titles out. Kelley begins "Patch It Up" -- removing the red necktie, and doing the Elvis moves he had been keeping under wraps. His pelvis sways, he swings the mic, he shimmies like crazy. And the middleaged women in the audience scream like schoolgirls at a strip club.
Kelley finishes off the 739 with "Memories" and is presented with flowers, stuffed animals, and a plaque for completing the record. Graceland then awards him a certificate for honoring the spirit of Elvis Presley and for being an ambassador to the newest generation of Elvis fans.
The show is over. Women with glasses and wrinkles, probably not the generation of Elvis fans Graceland was talking about, almost bumrush the stage, getting photos of Kelley with his plaque and the board of starred songs. When the photo ops are over, he sits down to sign autographs, and they eagerly line up. One woman has him sign her shirt.
With his youthful good looks and his voice full of Elvis, it doesn't matter to them that he is Jamie Aaron Kelley and it's 1999. Elvis lives.
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