‘Elvis’ has entered the building

Published 11:53 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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Elvis Presley captured the hearts of teens during the 1950s with his unique musical blend of rockabilly and blues melding with his charismatic stage presence. The star shot right into the stratosphere where he remained throughout his career and beyond. ‘The King’s’ death on August 16, 1977, did little to dampen the fan base that continues to hold vigil, keeping the flame lit as they trek to countless tribute shows held each year around the globe.

Claiborne County can now say it has its very own award-winning Elvis tribute artist. Harrogate resident Ean Sandefur hit the stage during the Smoky Mountain Elvis Festival Youth Competition, ultimately winning first-runner-up.

The 16-year-old high school sophomore says he never took a big interest in Elvis until he caught a movie about the star.

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“I’ve always known who Elvis was, but I never really got into the music. When I did, I realized it was more than just a few songs here and there. The more I listened, I started liking his music even more,” said Sandefur.

The teen is apparently a quick study, taking but a few months to absorb all things Elvis to the point of convincing seasoned judges of his sure talents; this with no prior singing experience except in church.

His first foray into the Elvis tribute thing occurred when he performed in front of his school, lip-syncing Presley’s songs during a skit.

His parents Nikki and Matthew Sandefur say they were a bit shocked at the sudden interest in Elvis.

“For him to be so young, it kind of surprised us,” said Nikki. “A lot of younger kids don’t really listen to music of that era. But, once he starts on something, it becomes his thing.”

Nikki says she was a bit shocked when Ean decided to do the skit in front of his entire school.

“That was about a year and a half ago. We didn’t take it too serious because he’s kind of the comedian. We thought it would just be something he would do for fun and be a one-time thing.

“In June of last year, he came to me and his dad and said ‘I want to go to Tupelo and compete in Elvis’ hometown. They have a competition.’ We kind of laughed it off and told him ‘hey, you got to really sing.’”

Although there are singers within the extended family, Nikki says Ean had never really taken an interest in it.

“He said ‘oh, I can sing.’ And me and his daddy kind of laughed at him and told him ‘well, if you can sing, you need to prove it in the living room.’ He took off singing and we both were in complete shock.”

Ean competed in Tupelo with highly-respected Elvis impersonator Bill Cherry among the judges.

Nikki says the family always thought Ean would pursue his love of sketching comic book heroes and villains.

“He had always drawn. When other kids always wanted to have their parents read a book to them, my husband would draw him He-Man Action figures every night before he went to bed.”

Ean’s ultimate goal is to pursue an art degree at the University of Tennessee with an eye on becoming an art teacher.

“We’ve always encouraged his art since he was little. Every child has their own niche and he’s been very strong in art.

“He’s always been kind of shy and he’s always been the quiet kid. I guess that’s why we were in shock when he came out and did this in front of his whole high school. He’s always marched to his own drum. He’s always been a leader. He doesn’t wait around for other people. A lot of kids wouldn’t step outside their comfort zone.”

Nikki said Ean doesn’t have a lot of idle time with his many and varied interests which, outside of art, music and church includes politics.

“He is really into politics. There are very few Claiborne County Commission meetings he is not at. He follows local and nationwide politics closely.”

Ean also plays center for the Thomas Walker High School basketball team.

When asked how his schoolmates handle his tribute work, Sandefur said “they all call me ‘Elvis’.”

Hard-pressed to pick just one Elvis song, Ean says his favorite one is “How Great Thou Art.”

Besides the Tupelo and Sevierville shows, Sandefur has performed in Louisville, KY and Cornelia, GA in the role of Elvis. His next show will be held this spring in Lexington, North Carolina during its Tribute to the King Festival.

For more information, log onto ‘Ean Sandefur as Elvis’ Facebook page. There you can find upcoming show dates and how to book the teen for your school, organization or function.