In the dressing room behind the stage, he slid into the rhinestone jumpsuit, one leg at a time. He pulled the fabric over his arms, straightened the collar. Then he moved to the mirror, clutching a bottle of hair spray in one hand and a comb in the other. As he brushed his thick black locks, the rollicking chords of Hound Dog boomed beyond the door.
Half an hour later, primping was nearly complete. Pompadour firm, zipper failing to conceal his hairless chest, Cote Deonath, 17, was still concerned with one crucial piece of his impersonation: the sideburns.
"Now I know why Elvis always looked up," Deonath said as he stretched out his collar, which nearly touched his ears. "Cause this jumpsuit is rough on the sideburns."
On Saturday, Deonath was one of 20 performers who dressed as the beloved Elvis Presley and performed in the 12th annual contest at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds in Plant City.
All day, hundreds of spectators filled the rows of red chairs, their hands folded, their faces often wrinkled but delighted. They had arrived to see their hero: the king of rock 'n' roll, the jewel of Graceland.
"You really have to have the passion for it," said Jeannie Potter, 65, a member of the Tampa fan club that produced the event.
And indeed, their adoration for the long-deceased star seemed to border on the mythical.
One performer, Keith Carter, said he lost 42 pounds, which match Elvis' age when he died.
Another, Richard Arcoleo of Port Richey, said he was born on the same day and same time, as Elvis.
Jim "Elvis" Reese, who drove from Sarasota with his wife, said he spent close to $4,000 on a jumpsuit with a studded teal peacock on the back.
Deonath, who has been singing since age 3, said his grandmother sparked his interest in Elvis. After she died in 2012, he didn't wear the jumpsuit for a year.
He climbed onto the stage Saturday, the 12th Elvis to receive the microphone, and opened with Walk a Mile in My Shoes, an upbeat number that jolted the audience.
It didn't take long for Deonath to steal the show. A minute into the performance, two women in the front row started clapping along.
He slithered backward across the stage, swinging his hips and arms, knocking his knees. Deonath shimmied during the chorus, his baritone voice bellowing through the gymnasium. During one drum fill, he even had the nerve to turn around and shake his butt, much to the audience's delight.
When the song ended, he sauntered across the stage to thundering applause. He uncapped his water bottle and crooned into the microphone, "I don't know if you guys know this one, but it's called Hurt."
He left the stage to a standing ovation.
Behind the curtain, a slew of performers formed a ring around Deonath, showering him with compliments.
"Great job!" said one.
"That performance gave me chills!" said another.
"This guy's mooching all the moves from me," joked a third.
Smiling, Deonath thanked them all. Then he turned to his friend with a question.
"Are my sideburns still fine?"
Contact Zack Peterson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @zackpeterson918.