over Kevin’s accomplishments and it won’t take you very long to
realize that he is one of the very best in the world at what he
does professionally… and that is performing as an Elvis Presley
tribute artist. He has been recognized with accolades and awards
pretty much since the very first time he performed as Elvis, and
the applause has only grown louder… the praise has only become
review of 2010 alone provides a stunning list of accomplishments.
As the year began, Kevin hit the road with The Ultimate Elvis
Tribute Artist Tour, one of the only Elvis-related concert events
sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises… a group well-known for
as very protective about offering its endorsements. He was on
stage performing with Ann-Margret (Lori Russo), recreating movie
moments with specialized production numbers. The tour proved so
successful and well-received that a second leg was added, which
Kevin took part in during the fall. During the year he was also
performing with Legends in Concert, sailing with The
Elvis Cruise, and earning his second straight top-three finish
in the annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.
in 2012, he is beginning the year again performing with Lori as
part of the well-received Elvis Lives Tour, which continues
his association with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists and Elvis
is incredibly versatile with his portrayal of the King, expertly
covering the ground from the Louisiana Hayride days and
early Elvis of the 50s, through the movie years and the Comeback
Special, and ultimately into the iconic jumpsuit of Las Vegas
and Aloha From Hawaii. In fact, to date he is the only
Elvis tribute artist to open and conclude a Legends show
as both the 50s Elvis and 70s Elvis, and one of very few to cover
just about every stage of his career.
he arrived to meet me for the longest conversation we had in preparing
this interview, I learned something different about him. Simply
put… he honestly seems to get it. Kevin is a confident, self-assured
and easy-going person. Friendly. Honest. A great guy that feels
very comfortable with his profession and abilities. On this day,
I noticed something else. He understands the little things in
life and how important they are.
was running a few minutes behind due to a shuttle bus that he
took from his hotel to the theater. He was apologizing profusely
to me, asking if he’d held me up from anything else. His son was
with him at the time, and he brought him to his dressing room,
organized some books and study materials, and asked him to finish
some work while he spoke with me.
of Kevin’s greatest joy that summer was spending time with his
kids. In fact, having seen each other a few times, his broadest
smiles and least guarded moments were… to my eyes at least… when
walking around the theater with his son and daughter.
as Elvis is rewarding and thrilling… something he’s great at and
clearly enjoys. On the other side of things though, spending five
or six weeks working in a single location and being able to have
his kids there while school is on break? That’s just about untouchable
that’s the Kevin that becomes so impressive. He works hard at
what he does. He knows he is very, very good at it. But there
is no arrogance… no sense of entitlement to be found. He is unfailingly
polite and attentive. He takes time to consider each and every
question, and at times asks a few of his own to either clarify
the intent or allow him to expand on an answer. He offers a few
jokes that not only keep the interview fun and lively, they also
show a confidence that he feels at ease in speaking and trusts
me. He appreciates those that greet him and want a moment of his
time, and yet during all of the swirling touring and commitments,
he makes no secret about placing his family above it all.
Mills is a true professional, and quite simply a great guy. It’s
an honor to have spent some time with him, and a thrill for me
to share this interview with you.
~ ~ ~
twenty years ago or so, you were, I believe, playing cover songs
with a band.
right. It was a 4-piece band called the Rock and Roldies. We played
mostly rockabilly stuff.
of that style, that would have been around the end of the big
run for the Stray Cats.
About then. We played Eddie Cochran and some Elvis tunes.
did that bring you to performing as Elvis?
were playing some Elvis stuff in our shows, and a lot of people
would make the comparison between our looks. We had heard about
this contest being held in Memphis and thought it would be a great
thing for me to enter. So I spent a couple of weeks watching his
movies, going over his songs, and trying to learn all of the Elvis
was 1990, and the contest was called Images of the King. I was
the only 50s Elvis in the competition and I won.
you ever imagine where that start would take you?
But it is very funny how fast things can happen.
turned out that there was someone in the audience of that contest
working on a biography of Elvis for the A&E network. It was
called Elvis: The Beginning. After seeing my work in
the contest, and the fact that I was focusing on early Elvis,
they asked me to be a part of it.
did a re-enactment of his first year, going all over the place,
doing things like the Louisiana Hayride and performing
songs like “That’s All Right Mama” along the way. I got to visit
a lot of the places he performed at, and worked on the same stages.
It was great.
just mentioned that you were the only person in the contest that
was a 1950s Elvis. But with Legends I believe you target
the years of 1970 to 1973… or to expand it bit and give it some
Elvis milestone markers, basically from the Comeback Special
to Aloha From Hawaii. When did that change take place?
that’s a funny story. It’s sort of a demand thing.
always been really motivated and focused on doing anything the
very best that I can do it, and I approach everything in my life
that way. Once I get interested in something, I’m driven to keep
doing it until I have it virtually perfect.
had mastered the 50s Elvis. I wanted to work with Legends,
and I auditioned in 1992. They rejected me.
thought I had done really well. In fact, my father told me after
the audition that he had never seen me better and I had to have
the job. The problem turned out to be that they didn’t want a
50s Elvis. They told me to put on a jumpsuit, but I wouldn’t do
it at the time.
Stuart is the man when it comes to Legends in Concert.
Two years after I was rejected, John got in touch with me. He
wanted to know if I was interested in performing on a cruise ship.
I said yes, provided I could do the 50s Elvis. After debating
it a bit, they hired me, and I performed as the 50s Elvis for
about two years after that.
I found out what they meant back in 1992. Most places looking
for an Elvis tribute artist want the Vegas Elvis. I put a jumpsuit
on, studied more of his songs, and began performing the 70s Elvis
in shows. To this day, I am the only performer with Legends
to open a show as the 50s Elvis and close a show as the 70s Elvis.
let you in on a guilty pleasure of sorts for me though. Remember
back when they released those Elvis stamps? And they picked two
different points of his career? I’ve always been thrilled that
they selected a 50s Elvis as part of that.
the beginning of 2010 you participated in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute
Artist Tour. What was it like doing that? (Note: Since the majority
of this piece was assembled, Kevin has performed as part of several
events with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist group. He is currently
on the road with the Elvis Lives Tour.)
was great. Twenty-five cities in about thirty days. A lot of fun
and very tiring.
did the movie years for it, which was challenging because it involved
the only real production numbers in the show. Lori Russo was performing
on the tour as Ann-Margret, and she’s fabulous. She and I have
performed together before, mostly about 15 years ago or so in
Atlantic City. That made some of the initial stuff very easy for
me, and I could focus my attention on the extra work those production
Cherry, Vic Trevino and Leo Days were the other artists for the
different periods of Elvis, and I had a good time being around
them as well.
whole thing was organized and endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises,
and working with them means a lot. They take everything very professionally
when it comes to protecting Elvis, and all the people around us
had tremendous stories to tell.
also seem to take the details very professionally and seriously.
The first look I ever had of you performing was stepping on stage,
“See See Rider” kicking in as part of that classic Vegas Elvis
start, and around your neck is placed a great replica of his Gibson
Yeah. But it’s a prop, right? I’d love to own authentic models
of some of his guitars, but I don’t think I’d use them on stage
that often if I did have them. Maybe at a one-night event with
the most hard-core of Elvis fans. The truth is, if you could see
the back of that guitar, you’d probably be stunned by how beat
up it is. Those belts do not treat guitars kindly.
thing is, I know I don’t look exactly like Elvis. I don’t think
anyone really does. And what that means is I have to do all of
the little things I can to create an illusion. I’ve got nine different
jumpsuits. I’ve got the guitar and the decal on it. Put a live
band out there with me, and all of it sets the atmosphere up just
right. Everything I can do helps.
are three elements any tribute artist has to get right, and those
are the look, the voice and the stage presence. And for Elvis
it’s even tougher, because he is so identifiable in each of those
the next three questions, you need to know that our in-person
interview took place before the 2010 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist
Contest semifinals and finals in early August of 2010. Kevin improved
on his 2009 third place results and finished second that year.
In 2011, he was again selected to perform in the semi-finals of
Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest is coming up next week.
You’ve finished in the top ten twice before. How hard is it being
around the people that don’t just have the look, voice and stage
presence, but are, like you, among the best in the world at it?
hard. I’m still not sure what songs to pick for it. Bill Cherry
called me the other night and we started talking about what songs
I was thinking of selecting. Have you ever heard “How The Web
Was Woven”? I think that will be one of the songs I pick. It’s
a song I really love, and that audience should react to it very
there a lot of thought that goes into picking what you’ll play?
a lot of strategy involved. The choice of songs is incredibly
you also have to be in shape for it, and the timing is really
good for me. I’ve been performing here with Legends on
this run for about four weeks now, eight shows a week, so I think
I’m going to be really on top of my game hitting the contest.
year’s winner came into the contest having won Tupelo. You won
Tupelo this year. Any symbolism there?
Actually, I have thought about that. And Shawn Klush, who won
the Ultimate Elvis in 2007, competed in Tupelo and won there too.
He did it in a different order though.
take Elvis very seriously there, and they do it way beyond the
basic reason of it being his birthplace. They love Elvis and they
take tremendous pride in him. I competed there in 2009 when Bill
Cherry won. When we got there, I was looking out at the audience,
and they’re all wearing t-shirts with Bill’s name on it and screaming
for him. It was like he personally bussed in hundreds and hundreds
of members of his family. I got a lot of them into my performance
during the show, but it was just insane.
the event, this woman comes up to me and introduces herself. Her
name is Debbie Brangenberg, and she runs the festival that the
contest was a part of. She told me that she really wanted me back
in 2010 to compete. I went back, and this year I won.
folks are amazing with their support. The fans from the Tupelo
show bus in to Memphis for the finals to support their champion.
The festival is taking care of my family and I while we’re in
Memphis for it. In fact there’ll be a great party on Monday night
with all of them there. Great people, huge fan base, and I just
couldn’t thank them enough for their support.
Do you find any differences in audiences and their reactions
to your performances depending on where you are?
There’s a common connection that I try to establish with any audience
in any location. I want to excite people, get them on their feet
and really have them experience a memorable show. That never changes.
funniest place to perform is down south. They’re really easy going
and laid back in the beginning. Elvis is theirs, and they’ve seen
lots of people trying to imitate him. But the thing is, if you’re
good, and especially if they know who you are, then they eat it
up and go really crazy for you.
here in the north, they tend to be a bit more conservative overall.
They recognize talent and a good performance, and they’ll really
get in to it. It’s just not the deep down, emotional and literally
can we expect to see from you in the future?
don’t know for sure. At least not in any way I want to talk about
far as my performances, right now I usually set up my schedule
with about six months on stage with Legends in Concert
and then six months on my own. So if anyone would like to have
a great time and see a show, check out my schedule and maybe I’ll
be nearby soon.
it comes to my music, what I can tell you is that I’m always wondering
what Elvis would have done if he had lived longer. Check out the
changes he went through from the first shows in the 50s to the
movies and then on to Vegas. I don’t think he would be wearing
the jumpsuits today. His performances of his own songs was different
if you compare the early releases and shows to his concerts later
the years I’ve been introduced to some great people and fabulous
groups. I really think I have some opportunities in front of me
to do some very different things, and I look forward to working
~ ~ ~
want to thank Kevin Mills for all of his time and consideration
on this project. Not only was he in the middle of an 8-show-per-week
performance schedule when we sat down for the main interview,
he was also preparing for the 2010 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist
Contest. Tremendous appreciation for his generosity is about as
best as I can describe it, and frankly that doesn’t do it justice.
a very special thank you to Lori Russo for her assistance in setting
up our interview and getting the materials moved back and forth
as I prepared it for posting. She is fabulous to work with… very
patient and incredibly understanding.
you should ever have a chance to see Kevin perform… especially
in a tribute effort for the King… do not miss it. (And if Lori
is there as well… geez, run, don’t walk.)
the way… Kevin is supposed to be heading to Atlantic City in June
of this year... 2012.)
you would like any other information about Kevin, check out these
official web site of Kevin Mills
Mills at Legends in Concert
Kevin Mills photo gallery at In My Backpack