Article by Kelly O'Toole
Photos © Lisa Gibb

I should probably state for the record that I have gotten to know Jake Slater pretty well in the last year. And, well . . . I'm rather fond of him. But I’m not the only one who holds a high opinion of Slater and his talent. Bob Greif and Carla Gill brought up his name without any prompting from me. They both said the same thing, "That Jake Slater, he has a bright future ahead of him."

He's the last one who would tell you that, though. At 18, he is disarmingly humble, much like Elvis Presley himself. For example, when I emailed him some questions for this article, he responded within an hour or two, apologizing for not having responded sooner. "I hope I didn't let you down," he wrote.

Born in Saginaw, Slater lived in St. Charles until he was 13. Now a senior at Bellaire Public High School, he was recently named the Career-Tech Center's Student of the Quarter in the Allied Health program. (But he didn't tell me that; someone else did.) He managed this scholastic achievement while performing his Elvis tribute several times a month. Slater calls his show "Keeping the Memory Alive," and according to fans and reviewers alike, he is doing just that.

Slater won first place in the Early Years category at King Fest last year, and first runner-up overall. This year, he placed second in the Vegas Years category, trailing first-place winner Jay Zanier by only one point. Here is what Slater had to say about Saginaw King Fest 2010.

KO:  At last year's King Fest you were the newcomer. What was it like for you this year?

JS: Coming back to Saginaw was great, not only because I was born there, but because I knew almost everyone there and I wasn't the "newbie" anymore. It was like a reunion with another family. Not only did I get to see the good ole boys, but I got to meet some of the new ones, as well.

KO: What can you tell me about the camaraderie among the tribute artists at King Fest?

JS: The other tribute artists are, like I said, a family. They are a very close bunch of friends and it really isn’t a competition at all. It’s more of a bunch of brothers getting together and singing some Elvis songs. It really is a fun and loving atmosphere.

KO: How did you feel about your performances?

JS: I felt that my performance on the first night was okay. I definitely felt I could have done better, but then again, I am my own biggest critic. The next night, on the other hand, I felt much better about my performance. It was so much fun and the audience seemed to like it very much, so I couldn’t ask for more.

KO: What did you like best about participating in King Fest?

JS: Words can’t explain what I like best about the King Fest. It's a great event that is made possible by so many wonderful people, including the Shaheen family, all the tribute artists, the producer (Richard Rosenthal), and all the other staff at the hotel [the Ramada Inn on Davenport], the DI Lounge, and the Temple Theatre. I love the warmness between all the people, and all the relationships that develop. Not only that, but the professionalism that is brought out by everyone who is involved is amazing.

KO: What are your strengths as an ETA?

JS: I really find it hard to talk about myself, or talk myself up, but I guess I can mention some of the things that other people have said about me. Many people have said to me that I have an uncanny likeness to Elvis in many ways, in looks, voice, motion, and charisma. People say that I am definitely a crowd favorite and have a way about making people want to dance and yell. I find that to be a little funny, but that’s what they say.

KO: What would you most like to improve about your performance?

JS: There is so much that I would like to improve, mostly I think my motions on stage. When I see performance videos I notice many things that need improvement, but I mostly do what comes natural to me. I don’t try to be Elvis. I just do what I feel, and go with the flow.

KO: If you could sit down right now for a five-minute chat with Elvis, what would you talk to him about?

JS: If I were to sit and talk with Elvis, I would try to fit as much into the conversation as possible. It would most certainly be more than a five-minute conversation because I’m a jabber jaw, and so was E. I think we would mostly talk about philosophy and religion. He was a very intelligent man and knew a lot about many things. He and I have actually many things in common when it comes to religious philosophy. I wouldn’t want to talk about his career and dwell on him as an entertainer. He was always a very humble person and never felt comfortable talking about himself. I would want to have a more profound conversation with him. In fact, I’ve had many dreams that I have had conversations with him about various things. I also think that as probably a closer, we would talk about firearms. He and I both share a great love for guns.

Kelly O’Toole fell in love with Elvis when she first heard Blue Hawaii at the age of three. She teaches at Delta College.

© Kelly O'Toole, 2010