Five Elvis Impersonators Slip on Their Blue Suede Shoes and Get Personal
Ruben Castillo, 39
VICE: Was there a defining moment or event that got you into Elvis?
Ruben: I first learned about Elvis when I was about five years old. My grandmother had a red velvet Elvis painting, and my aunt would play Elvis eight-tracks at her house. I just liked the music. When I was 12 I started doing talent shows, but I would say I got into it professionally when I was 27 years old.
As a kid did you perform with other dudes, or would that have been weird?
It was different. The most unique story is one time a kid, who I guess saw me onstage, all of a sudden just punched me while I was walking down the hall at school. Then, a few days later, he hit me in the head with a yearbook and gave me a bloody mouth. I always attributed that incident to the fact that a lot of people were paying attention to me because of the Elvis thing.
What’s the inside scoop on the Elvis-impersonator community?
Everyone is unique and brings his own style to it. For the most part we do get along, but if there are rivalries I try to stay out of it. Back in the 1990s there were a lot of Elvis impersonators here in Jersey, but it seems like a lot of them got out of it. It’s beginning to grow again, though. Right now there are about ten of us, three or four of whom do it professionally.
As the years go on, do you think the community will ever die out? Or is the King’s flame eternal?
There is a new generation of Elvis impersonators now. The karaoke tracks have gotten a lot better, so it’s easier for people to get into it. Education is needed about Elvis, though. Everyone has his or her own assumption about Elvis being drugged-out or bloated. I was listening to the radio one time, and they had a song about ordering all of this food that was supposed to make fun of Elvis. To an Elvis impersonator or fan, that is a little disrespectful. Unfortunately, a lot of people who aren’t in this Elvis community just think he was a big, bloated prescription-drug guy who ate all sorts of food.
Do you have a day job?
I am a program coordinator for New Jersey. People who receive welfare come to my facility to do volunteer work and learn how to get a job. We have been very successful at placing people in jobs.
Are you known for any other types of impersonations or performances, or are you strictly an Elvis man?
Yeah, I’ve been a performer all of my life. I’ve been doing impressions since I was five years old, and now I do everything from Spongebob Squarepants to Obama. I specialize in dialects and accents. I have also had a variety of different leads in musicals and do the voice-overs for some of the toys that you buy in stores.
Like the ones where you press a button and they talk?
Yeah, I do Santa Claus for a couple of them.
How long do you think your time as an Elvis impersonator will last?
Good question. I used to say until I was 42, because that’s when he passed. But I think that was just something in my head. I will never stop because it will just transform into something else. Elvis grew—he wasn’t always the jumpsuit guy. I try to think: What’s next with Elvis? What is the next thing I can do to bring him to light? I believe the answer is education. I am trying to do an educational series centered on Elvis that will teach the younger audiences about him and the history of that time. I think it’s very important that everyone learns about American history and world history through the music of that era.
If you had to pick a favorite Elvis song, what would it be?
Can I give you two?
One would have to be “The Impossible Dream,” because it has a connection to my musical-theater groups. It is kind of a difficult song to sing for some people, but for me it’s pretty easy. “Trouble” is another one I like to sing. It’s a melody he did in 1958, and it’s a pretty rocking and wild song. Those would have to be my top two.