Will we see an Elvis Presley hologram tour anytime in the near future?
Priscilla Presley isn't sure.
"I know there's something in the mix, and I've seen the preliminaries, but nothing's come up as far as when," said the King's former wife, a key figure in the estate that controls his image. "I never say no. It all depends on the authenticity of it, the looks of it. It would have to be so close to Elvis."
Until an Elvis hologram enters the building, there's always Elvis: Live in Concert, a Graceland-produced tour spectacle hitting Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday.
The spectacle promises to be "the closest you will ever get to see the greatest entertainer of all time perform live" by projecting the King on a movie screen and surrounding his remastered voice with a full live orchestra. The tour should feel especially moving this week, as the world marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis' death.
Elvis: Live has wowed critics in Europe and Australia, and will pack a big crowd into Ruth Eckerd — a similar show featuring Elvis on the big screen backed by a live band sold the place out a few years ago. Even so, it's only a matter of time before Hologram Elvis comes to Tampa Bay. At least one big-name artist, the late guitar god Ronnie James Dio, already has a world hologram tour in the works, with European dates booked starting in November, and North American shows expected next spring.
"We constantly get asked about things like this, whether it could work or not," said Bobby Rossi, Ruth Eckerd Hall's executive vice president for entertainment. "I'd love to. Because we're not going to get Michael Jackson again. We're not going to get Prince again."
Holograms — and we're using the term loosely here, so Neil deGrasse Tyson types out there can chill about holograms versus holographic illusions — have popped up around the world since Tupac rocked Coachella in 2012. Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ol' Dirty Bastard, even Elvis himself on American Idol. Tours have been discussed for the likes of ABBA, the Notorious B.I.G. and Liberace for years. Even the living are getting in on the fun. Jared Leto appeared by hologram at this summer's Comic Con in San Diego, and Dierks Bentley's summer tour, which stopped in Tampa in June, features a hologram of his Different for Girls duet partner Elle King.
It's hard to predict when concerts featuring disembodied voices from beyond will become commonplace. The last few years are littered with headlines that promised more than the hologram industry could realistically deliver. Like this one, from Vanity Fair: "A Judy Garland Hologram Will Tour the World in 2017." (Didn't happen.) Or this one, from USA Today: "A hologram Selena could tour in 2018." (It could, but it won't; her family has already called it off.) Or this one, from the L.A. Times: "Whitney Houston hologram expected to debut on The Voice." (Nope, nixed by Houston's estate at the last minute.)
Last year, there was talk that Puff Daddy would bring a Notorious B.I.G. hologram on his Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, which played Amalie Arena in September. Again, the technology wasn't quite ready.
"That ended up being a great tour and lots of great songs, but I don't know that the hologram stuff would have been close," said Kevin Preast, Amalie's senior vice president of event management. "I don't think it's ready now.
But the tech and legal issues might finally be coming up to par. The Ronnie James Dio estate's upcoming "Dio Returns" tour, featuring the Dio hologram backed by old bandmates, will give audiences nationwide a look at what the future might hold.
"As technology continues to increase, it could be very real," Preast said. "You could actually resurrect some bands — Elvis could open for the Beatles, or something like that."
Rossi said hologram shows won't work for every artist, but for the all-time legends, it's a slam dunk. He's already been asked about the viability of a Riverdance tour starring a hologram of Michael Flatley. And he'd love the idea of a Prince hologram backed by his bandmates and proteges.
"If you're telling me it's going to be six (production) trucks, and you've got (Revolution guitarist) Dez Dickerson and (the Time's) Terry Lewis and Morris Day in the band, that could work," he said. "Sheila E, maybe. This could go big-time. You still have some components that are so legit. I would do that in a heartbeat, as long as the technology was where it could be. If they're going to watch a screen with Elvis or a screen with the Beatles, they certainly would watch that. And if it's a hologram, even better."