TAMPA — Jerome Jackson combs back his hair and covers the gray strands with black. He squeezes into a skintight, bead-encrusted jumpsuit and checks the fit.
He doesn't want another debacle like the one in 2008 — the year he became known as "the one who busted the seat out of his suit."
When it's his turn, he steps up to the microphone.
At the sight of him, the women scream. When he thrusts his pelvis, the audience goes wild.
On a stage, nestled amid the rides and fried food of the Florida State Fair, Elvis lives!
At least, for a moment.
Hundreds of people filled the stands Saturday at the fair's Elvis Extravaganza National Finals, a nationwide impersonator contest with more than $5,000 in prizes.
Almost 35 years after the King's death, Elvis Presley impersonators have a special spot in fans' hearts, said Donna Smith, a lifelong Elvis fan.
"They are keeping Elvis' spirit alive," she said.
Smith comes from her home in Orlando to the event each year.
"I belong to the Tampa Elvis fan club and the Orlando one," she said. "I was raised on Elvis."
For Judith Davis, 69, Saturday was her first time at an Elvis impersonator event. The Punta Gorda resident wore an Elvis button on her shirt to show her admiration.
"I'm a big Elvis fan, and these are very talented people," she said.
She came to the event with her girlfriends, whom she called Elvis impersonator "groupies."
They made a weekend of the trip and made plans to come back today for the final performances.
At 51, Jackson — who sang Suspicious Minds and Why Me Lord? — has lived more years than his idol ever did. Still, he doesn't plan to stop impersonating Elvis any time soon.
Yet, he can't explain what it is about Elvis that makes him like the singer so much.
"There's just something about him that's different from anyone I've ever seen," he said. "He's a god-like figure."
Manuel Rosada, 37, agrees. He was first introduced to Elvis' music at age 14.
He has admired him ever since.
"It's like falling in love," he said. "I don't know why it happens, it just happens."
Rosada — dressed on Saturday as a late 1960s Elvis in black leather pants and jacket — said he performs like an actor.
"For that time on stage, I get to step into a role," he said.
Ryan Otto isn't particular about her Elvis impersonators, she just wants to have a good time.
At 32, she was one of the youngest women in the crowd, but she still swooned each time "Elvis" looked her way.
"He's so hot," she said. "Well, not these guys, but Elvis is."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.