It is

Follow that Dream:

My Life as The Asian Elvis

by Robert Kim (June 2019)

“Hollywood, Here I Come."  

The third in a series of articles about Robert Kim's adventures in becoming a successful Elvis Tribute artist

If my acting career was experiencing a failure to launch, my career as the Asian Elvis suddenly began to lift off.  In a business as competitive as acting, it's always a good idea to do something different, and if an Asian Elvis wasn't different, I didn't know what was. 

People everywhere suddenly began noticing a strange new phenomenon—males of every age from LA to New York to Kokoboko who began wearing jumpsuits and long sideburns, pretending to be The King of Rock 'n' Roll.  For many years they called us "Elvis Impersonators" until we eventually earned our own special title, "Elvis Tribute Artists," or "ETAs," for short.  While I didn't particularly care what they called us, I DID care when Hollywood casting directors and producers suddenly began to cash in on the new craze, looking for anyone who could do a decent portrayal of Elvis.  I must have done at least a dozen Elvis-themed TV shows during those early years, eventually getting to audition for the hottest sitcom on television called, "Married, With Children," where I played a member of "The School of Elvis Impersonators."  The producers didn't want me to remove my Elvis glasses and spoil the illusion with my obviously "different" eyes, but I did anyway, and wound up getting the biggest laugh of the entire show.  No one had ever seen an Asian Elvis before... until now. 

Lady Luck was still on my side when a Hollywood producer noticed me on the TV show and invited me to audition for a movie called, "Honeymoon In Vegas."  Since all of the ETAs were Caucasian, they seemed quite interested in hiring an Asian Elvis.  So after submitting a photo and resume, I wound up being chosen to be one of twenty-eight ETAs hand-picked from all over the country to appear in the film. "But can he sing??" the producers asked, and after sending them an audition tape of my voice, I became one of the lucky three ETAs actually chosen to perform on screen, along with Clarence Giddens, "The Black Elvis," and a five-year old boy named "Bruno," who would later grow up to become an international pop sensation.  They flew all of us to Las Vegas where 'Honeymoon' was being shot, and we all gathered at the film's fabulous location, the Grand Ballroom of the Bally Hotel in Las Vegas, nervously awaiting our turn in front of the camera.

I can recall the entire experience as though it was only yesterday.  The first to go on was Bruno, "The Little Elvis," and then myself.  As I nervously paced back and forth backstage waiting to go on, just before the cameras started rolling I noticed little Bruno waiting for his cue to step on to the gigantic stage.  He was calmly scribbling in his coloring book with a red crayon when they called his name, while the rest of the other Elvi" were cowering in the wings like teenagers waiting to pick up their first prom date.  But Bruno wasn't nervous.  The kid was as cool as a cucumber.  I remember being horrified to learn that I had to go on after this half pint-sized powerhouse, because when this three-foot tall Elvis walked out on the main stage of the Bally, he immediately took control of the entire audience, eliciting cheers and screams from the ladies as big as Elvis himself ever received in Vegas. 

Even at this early age, Bruno was remarkable.  This tiny boy was so amazing that I could hardly believe my eyes.  According to his father, Bruno had been doing his Elvis act with his father's band at the age of only two, so by now he was "an old pro," and I had the unenviable job of trying to follow him.  Little Bruno completely dominated the stage, blowing away everyone in the entire room.  So I wasn't surprised at all when I learned, decades later, that this same little kid became Bruno Mars, the number one hit maker in America," according to Rolling Stone Magazine.  It only goes to show:  You just never know.

After having the unenviable experience of having to follow little Bruno, I still managed to do a decent version of "Teddy Bear" during the scene in the main showroom featuring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan (I'm the skinny Asian guy in the light blue jumpsuit singing, "Teddy Bear"). Nick and Sarah were total sweethearts to work with, and Nick was a serious Elvis fan. He even married Elvis' own daughter, Lisa Marie, evidently wanting to get as close as possible to his lifelong hero.  But James Caan was a totally different story.  Let's just say that all of the of the other ETAs avoided him like the plague, and so did I.  If you've noticed, Caan always plays jerks and criminals on screen, and as it turned out, he was perfectly suited to the role.  He's great actor, but not a person you would want to know. 

There were so many ETAs on the movie location that I actually coined the term, "Elvi" (the plural of 'Elvis'), and the name I gave our happy band of brothers rapidly spread throughout the entire set.  They still use it today,  Im told.  In one setup, the director needed an entire group of stuntmen to all wear Elvis wigs and white jumpsuits and jump out of an airplane, so they gathered up 34 professional skydivers for the job, and the scene nearly stole the show.  In fact, they became so famous that they actually formed a touring group called, "The Flying Elvises," and still continue to perform at county fairs and outdoor shows all over the country.  It seemed that everyone wanted to cash in on Elvis' legacy and fame.  If Elvis was alive today, I would tell him how wonderful he's been to me, giving me the chance to tour the entire country, and for just one brief moment, pretend that I too was "The King."  But there can only be one true king.

After my first Hollywood movie came at least a half dozen TV commercials, some good, some bad, but all more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.  In these early days, Elvis impersonators were a real novelty, and believe me, I took full advantage of it.  I even performed on ABC and NBC News in honor of Elvis' birthday, singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight" to some pretty surprised TV viewers.  I always played the "Oddball Elvis," but that was fine with me... it was paying the rent.  The most interesting of all the TV commercials was the one I did for Bell of Atlantic, co-starring with the man who was the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars," the great stage and film actor, James Earl Jones.  He was an incredibly kind man, so friendly and accessible.  The other ETAs and I were totally shocked when we all learned that Mr. Jones was actually a lifelong stutterer, and had been since he was a very young child.  In fact, his speaking problem was so severe that when he was still in kindergarten, all of the other children thought he was actually deaf and dumb because he never uttered a single word during his entire year of school.  Who knew that he would later overcome his disability to become the most recognized and highest paid voice actor in the entire world?  Fame is strangely often that way.

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Read Part 2 in Robert"Yoshi Suzuki" Kim's series of articles about his life as an ETA

Read Part 1 in Robert"Yoshi Suzuki" Kim's series of articles about his life as an ETA




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