Elvis tribute artist, Justin Shandor, rocked the Hard Rock

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He's a hound dog, a heart breaker, a hunka' hunka' burnin' love — no, he's not Elvis Presely, but he just might be the next best thing.

At only 28, Detroit native Justin Shandor is the world's top Elvis tribute artist after winning a 2010 competition held by Graceland that named him the World's Ultimate Elvis, complete with a large gold trophy belt.

On Jan. 8, the uncanny look alike performed to a sold out audience at the Hard Rock Albuquerque with his World's Ultimate Elvis Band, made up of horns, strings and rhythm section.

The show commenced with Shandor performing as a young Presley, dressed in all black with a gold sports coat and his acoustic Takamine guitar, playing old 1950s favorites such as "Hound Dog" and "Jail House Rock," during which couples did the jitterbug in the aisles.

Shandor's appearance, hip swivels and vocals so closely resemble The King that it was all security could do to keep people in their seats and keep women from overwhelming the space in front of the stage.

When Shandor shook his legs and did the figure-eights with his hips that scandalized Elvis in the early years, the roar of the crowd would just about drown out the singer and his band, and groups of gals of every age were repeatedly escorted back to their seats after flocking in excitement to the stage.

For the second half of the show, Shandor reappeared wearing a replica of Presely's signature jumpsuit, and proceeded to reenact, to a "T," Elvis' 1970s' show, complete with two gospel singers.

When addressing the crowd, Shandor's voice was nearly identical to Presley's as he cracked jokes and made disclaimers, such as saying, no, he isn't some nut who thinks he is Elvis, because there can never be another Elvis, he's just a guy trying to honor The King's memory and help it live on.

During the second half of the show, he helped that memory live on by singing songs such as "Kentucky Rain," and doing a spellbinding rendition of "America the Beautiful" as a video played on the walls showing patriotic images of Elvis.

After the show, Shandor cheerfully signed autographs and posed for pictures for nearly two hours, working his way through a group of fans that crammed the lobby in front of the showroom.

One woman who came to see Shandor and have her picture taken with him was Caroline Keys, from Albuquerque, who saw Presely perform in 1956. Shandor listened intently as Keys described to him the experience of seeing Elvis live and was clearly flattered when she complimented his similarity to the great artist, giving him a big grandma hug.

After the onslaught of fans left, I got a chance to meet Shandor and ask him a few questions about his career and personal life.

To me, making a career out of being an Elvis Presley tribute artist in Las Vegas, Nev., where you are married to a real life show girl is beyond intriguing; it's like a Hollywood movie come to life. But, Shandor says when he's at home, he's just a "regular guy."

Off stage, his voice transforms from a sultry southern drawl to the voice of a young man who grew up in Michigan, doing his best to be a rebel just like his rock 'n' roll hero.

His smile is boyish and open, his bright blue eyes twinkle with mirth and possible sleep deprivation and he laughs easily.

In school, Shandor says he was always kind of an outcast. When everyone was following the popular fashions of the time, he was cuffing his jeans and spending hours trying to comb his hair up into a pompadour.

At 16, he told his mother that he wanted to drop out of school. He couldn't drop out of school, she told him, otherwise what would he do with his life?

"Be Elvis," he responded. And true to his word, he did just that, moving to Las Vegas and climbing the ladder to the top of Elvis impersonator stardom.

"I haven't asked my mother for money since I was 16," he says with pride.

Another obvious source or pride is Shandor's three sons and the beautiful wife, Janelle, whom he's been married to for seven years and who he grew up with.

His already radiant persona glows just a little brighter when he talks about his family and jokes that his wife managed to shrink back to her former size after three babies while he's still trying to loose the sympathy weight he gained.

Further, he says he gets his hair cut by an old school barber in Las Vegas who is a miracle worker, his dream car is a 1954 Cadillac, or course, he listens to a variety of musical genres, is a Pisces, taught himself to play guitar and was a total rascal as a kid.

In all, the experience of meeting the world's top Elvis tribute artist, the man on stage and off, was a fascinating and riveting experience. I'm thinking his life belongs in a movie very soon.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.