The grand finals of the Elvis Tribute Artist contest were a bit of an emotional roller coaster as the winner was announced.
Sylvain Leduc is the Collingwood Elvis Festival grand champion for 2019, and usually that means he’ll represent Collingwood at the Graceland Ultimate ETA contest.
However, Leduc already qualified when he won the Niagara Falls festival.
Most assumed that meant second place ETA, Bruno Nesci, would get the pass to Graceland, but he had also already qualified.
Michal Cullipher, the third place finisher, was given the ticket to Graceland.
He said hearing his name called as the Ultimate qualifier made him emotional.
This is Cullipher’s second time competing at the Collingwood Elvis Festival, and will be his third time in Memphis for the Ultimate ETA contest.
He was the only pro division finalist who didn’t perform in a jumpsuit, opting instead for a white jacket and black bowtie.
He performed I Need Your Love Tonight and It Hurts Me.
“I Need Your Love Tonight is my favourite song to dance to,” said Cullipher. “And that was the very first time I’ve sung It Hurts Me in competition.”
He wrestled with his song and costume choice, but thought he wanted to do something different.
For Leduc, the pro-division title was personal.
He had already qualified for the Ultimate contest, but he’d placed second at the Collingwood Elvis Festival two years in a row. He wanted to win.
The Quebec native has only been competing as an ETA since 2015, but he’s had “Elvis in his family” for his whole life.
“I wanted to be more than a fan, I wanted to keep his legacy alive,” said Leduc.
For the finals this afternoon, he sang Steamroller Blues and Hurt, two songs he said he’s “at ease with.”
For Leduc, Presley’s most inspirational quality was his humility.
“He was a very humble person, and he was more than an entertainer. He was a human and he was very loving and giving,” said Leduc. “I was brought up that way in my life too.”
In the youth category, there were three competitors, and the winner was Benjamin Dalske, of pennsylvania.
He sang his favourite Elvis song, Suspicious Minds. This is his fourth time at the Collingwood Elvis Festival and his third victory in the youth category.
“It’s just incredible,” said the 14-year-old ETA.
When he first discovered Elvis, he said he put on his karate uniform with a red scarf and tried to copy his moves.
“He had so much passion and his charisma and his moves are untouchable,” said Dalske.
In the non-professional division, a veteran ETA and very busy performer took the win.
John Cigan of Pickering, Ontario, won the top spot in the non-pro division today.
“My heart is in my throat right now,” he said.
And his throat might also be a little sore. The ETA has performed well over 100 songs this weekend. He and his son, Mason Cigan, ran the second stage at the festival all weekend and performed in shows.
Mason competed in the pro-division and made the list of top-ten finalists.
John Cigan used to compete in the pro division, where he won second place. He’s also won the non-pro division once in 2008. He said he took a bit of a break from competing, but decided to get back into it and he’s glad he did.
“There were a lot of good singers,” said Cigan of this years contest. “Everyone to me was number one.”
The Ultimate ETA Contest in Graceland takes place during Elvis Week from Aug. 9 to 17. The winner of the contest receives a $20,000 cash prize.
The Collingwood Elvis Festival continues this evening with the official after party at 8 p.m. at the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena (tickets required).
Enjoy these photos from the finals.
Further results include: