There must be something to the saying that good things come in threes – even when it doesn't look like it. How else could Jay Zanier explain winning the 13th Collingwood Elvis Festival on the 30th anniversary of the King of Rock and Roll's passing with three weeks notice?
The Guelph resident and well-respected Elvis tribute artist was the last participant booked into the festival. He was so late that organizers didn't have time to put him into the program.
His incendiary performance of the classic Suspicious Minds settled the question of who was going to seize the professional Concert Years title and put the near-capacity audience into paroxysms of uncontrollable cheering.
The only question remaining after that was whether local phenom Lance Dobinson and his suave and sophisticated rendition of the young Elvis had enough legs to offer a serious challenge to him. Many in the audience thought he was the one to challenge Zanier for the opportunity to "go to Graceland" – or at least Memphis – next month for the first ever Ultimate Elvis contest being sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. As it turned out, the judges had other plans in store for the 20-year-old Nottawa native. Dobinson instead placed second to newcomer Dwight Icenhower in his division. A visibly disappointed Dobinson, who also wowed spectators at the Inspirational Elvis gospel competition Sunday afternoon, wasn't immediately available for an interview. The scoring system worked like this. The top point-getter amongst the four adult divisions – non-professional early years and concert years, along with their professional counterparts – were all scored individually by the judging panel. The top all-round score won the trip to Memphis.
An ecstatic Zanier was more than happy to talk about his surprise victory. He hadn't attended the Elvis festival in about four years due to scheduling conflicts, but providence dealt him a lucky new hand when a sudden cancellation freed him up.
"I really wanted to come," he said. "But I thought it was too late to be entered. I emailed and they got back to me and here they are. WHOO HOO!" he shouted in glee.
"It's fantastic," he added giddily. "We'll try to represent you very well. I'm very excited and looking very much forward to it. I gotta get a new suit. There was no secret (to winning); you just had to give it your all tonight. Everybody did such a great job."
A few years ago he visited Graceland and was awe-struck to be treading the same ground as his idol. "It's an honour to be following in his footsteps," Zanier said.
He's been performing as an Elvis Tribute artist for about 15 years, after getting his start at a relative's wedding.
A family member said Zanier was asked unexpectedly to sing at a wedding. Afterwards, people began asking to hire him to sing at other weddings. He was initially reluctant but soon became a regular on a wedding singer circuit.
Later, he won a radio contest for Elvis impersonators only to be told he was too good. The organizers didn't believe he wasn't a true professional, and refused to give Zanier his prize.
Now, honouring Elvis is how he makes his living. "The first concert I ever won was in Orillia," he recalled. Zanier had never won the Collingwood Elvis Festival, widely considered to be the top festival in the world.
When he was complimented on his performance, Zanier's answer was pretty predictable. "Thank ya, thank ya verra much," he said with a wink before heading off to the victory party.
The full results are as follows:
Overall Top Scorer and Ultimate
Tribute Artist Contest Qualifier
- Jay Zanier
Early Years Non Professional Category
- Chris Ayotte
- Billy Cruise
- Will Ganzon
Concert Years Non Professional Category
- Doug McKenzie
- Kevin Bezaire
- Mike Calamusa
Early Years Professional Category
- Dwight Icenhower
- Lance Dobinson
- Mike Bravener
Concert Years Professional Category
- Jay Zanier
- Darrin Hagel
- Jesse Aron
- Matthew Lawrence
- Joshua Bravener
- Anthony Carbone
- Brenen Katolinsky
- Steven Pelleriti
- Zachary Peddie
The dates of the 2008 Collingwood Elvis Festival are July 24 – 27.