Just his ability to mask his thick European accent while channelling the King should have been enough to crown Oliver Steinhoff as the winner of the 2014 Penticton Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival.
But the 40-year-old German man also gyrated his way through a string of high-energy performances that saw him named the event’s top professional, which earned him $20,000 and a berth in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest this August in Memphis.
Having performed twice previously at the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Ontario, Steinhoff just knew he had to come out west.
“I heard a lot about this festival, and think this is an absolutely fantastic festival for Elvis and to compete,” he said moments after leaving the stage following Sunday’s finale at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
Steinhoff has been working as an Elvis tribute artist for 12 years, although the scene in Germany is “not so big as in Canada or the U.S.,” he said.
“Since I was eight or nine years old, I grew up with Elvis music and started the career first just for fun, and right now it’s a full-time job and I’m very pleased and honoured to be able to do this.”
He’s at loss to explain how he’s able to utterly transform his voice on stage to drop his German accent and take on Elvis’s southern drawl.
“Everybody asks me about this,” he said with a laugh. “I learned from the best: Elvis Presley.”
Penticton man Christopher Blaine also made his debut at this year’s festival, but on the non-professional side.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said following his first performance Saturday at Okanagan Lake Park.
“It’s a great brotherhood. I met all the guys for the first time, and it’s so wonderful to be a part of it.”
Blaine, 50, works from home and moved to Penticton from the Lower Mainland two years ago in advance of his retirement from his job in the wholesale footwear business.
Although he’s been a lifelong fan of Elvis, the closest Blaine ever got to performing was at karaoke contests. But after his late aunt began pushing him to test his mettle as a tribute artist, he found the last bit of motivation he needed upon arriving in Penticton.
“It’s always been in me, but I guess timing is everything, because I moved here and I thought, ‘When in Rome, go for it,’” he said.
Before he took the stage in front of hundreds of fans, plus his girlfriend and friends, Blaine had to remind himself it was OK to be nervous.
“Elvis always had butterflies every time he went on, and that adrenaline is that extra rush you get,” he said. “I can’t explain it, but it’s not a bad thing.”
Blaine’s debut was good enough to earn him a spot in Sunday’s top-five showcase, but he finished out of the top three.
Nanaimo native Rob Knight won the non-professional category, while Washington residents Paul Rodriguez and Randy Klein placed second and third, respectively.
Ben Klein and Roger Anderson, also from Washington, were second and third, respectively, on the professional side.
Bill Cherry was the headliner act on Saturday night, playing to a packed crowd.