Sunday, January 20, 2008

Elvis Impersonator - Johnny Thompson

SAN DIEGO, CA – You either got it, or you don’t. The “it” here is charisma, talent, looks, voice, and stage appeal. If you’re a performer and you got it, you’ll go far. If not, you will languish in obscurity.

JOHNNY THOMPSON has definitely got it! He has the Elvis looks, the Elvis moves, the Elvis voice, and charisma galore. An ETA par excellence! Most Elvis fans think that Johnny is “the closest thing there is to Elvis.”

“Being compared to Elvis is an honor and I’m flattered,” Johnny said. “The truth is, no one can really be like Elvis. There’s only one ELVIS PRESLEY!”

I agree! Elvis was so unique – possessing considerable talent, stunning good looks, and unrivalled charisma. Whether clad in the simple suits of his early years, or dressed to thrill in the black leather and flamboyant jumpsuits of his later years – Elvis was the consummate performer, commanding the stage, and mesmerizing the audience. No one yet can hold a candle to his charms!

Johnny comes pretty close. He even starred as Elvis himself in the TV series “The Chronicle.”

In the last 18 months, it was really “Go, Johnny, Go!” for Johnny. He performed in CHINA, CANCUN, BOLIVIA, the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, and then he went back to CHINA. He will be in CANCUN again this July and August.

During a brief hiatus from his overseas schedule, Johnny flew down here to San Diego for a 3-day engagement at the San Diego Convention Center. We had time to talk over dinner, and I was excited to listen to his stories about his experiences in 2005 and this year.

Johnny said that probably the greatest thing he did last year was hosting the Red Carpet 2005 MTV Movie Awards for TRL. Taped July 4, 2005 in Los Angeles, it was aired July 9. He was the first and only ETA to host this event. His media exposure at the Awards led to some invitations to perform abroad.


When Hillary first saw Johnny, she said, “I love Elvis!” and Johnny responded, “Elvis loves you too, baby!” Then Johnny asked Hillary how it feels to be nominated Best Actress, and Hillary said she was nominated for Best Kiss last year. She then grabbed Johnny and kissed him “for the camera.” Johnny told her she made him weak in the knees as he started to drop down to the ground and back up again. “It was hilarious!” Johnny recalled.

In July last year, Johnny was a big hit in CHINA at the Various Clubs. Johnny performed in six different cities: Shanghai, Xi-An, Zhen Zen, Cheng-du, Zhen Zou and Beijing.

I asked him if it was any different performing in China, and he said, “Well, not really. Elvis music is universal, and Elvis had universal appeal.” During his off hours from performing, Johnny took in the sights. He was able to visit the Forbidden City, The Wu Temple, the oldest and largest temple in China, and see the world-famous Terra Cotta Warriors.

In May this year, Johnny went back to China for the 2006 INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL held in Shanghai. He was there for seven days, and was again one of the four artists featured on the main stage. Performers came from around the world. He made front-page news in a few Shanghai papers with a photo of him singing to a teen-age Chinese girl.

His most unforgettable experience there, he said, was when he was rushed by almost a thousand screaming women, and mobbed on the stage by some 200, all wanting a kiss, a scarf, or some piece of him. “Wow!” he said, “I felt what it was like for Elvis every time he performed. I turned around and looked at the band members, and all of them were laughing and bowing, saying “You are the King!”

Johnny was lucky to get back to the U.S. May 8th as scheduled, because the following day, Typhoon Chanchu slammed Shanghai. A few people died, over 200 homes were flooded, and flights were cancelled.

But Johnny was not that lucky when he performed in CANCUN in September and October last year. It was hurricane season, and when Hurricane Wilma unleashed its fury, Johnny was right in the middle of it. Of the six weeks he was to perform, he did only four, because the hurricane made it impossible.

When Wilma hit, all the other guests at Playa del Carmen, along with Johnny, were evacuated to another resort for the night. They following morning, they were transported to a schoolhouse in several buses. Johnny said the schoolhouse was built in the 80’s and was like a concrete bunker, with boarded-up windows.

Inside the schoolhouse, 400 people were split into groups of 40 each per classroom. There was no electricity, no running water, and no clean bathrooms. They filled up buckets with rainwater for flushing and washing. “It was like a scene from Survivors,” Johnny said, “and the people in my group were calling me Mc Giver because they said I helped people keep their sanity making sure there are plenty of rainwater to flush and wash with.”

Outside the school, Wilma was in full fury. Johnny said that the sound created by the hurricane was like freight trains running around in circles, combined with the clash of a thousand drums. Every tree was ripped out by its roots and slammed into the building. Anybody brave or foolish enough to go out will be tossed by the violent winds, never to be heard of again. “There was a metal roof slamming into our building for three days and three nights. When the hurricane ended, there were hundreds of looters stealing food and supplies from a nearby grocery store, and running away in the streets as police fired their guns into the air. For three days you could hear gunfire at all times of the day and night.”

On the fourth day at the schoolhouse, they ran out of food. But what really scared them was the prison break two blocks away. Despite the flooded streets, they were eager to leave. As the buses pulled away, the escaped prisoners took over the schoolhouse, stealing everything in sight. The police came in shooting and arresting the escapees.

Johnny’s group headed for another resort south of Cancun, but the water was even deeper, and one of the buses behind Johnny’s flipped over in the water. The passengers had to break the windows and climbed out of the bus into the dark water in the middle of the night! After walking some distance to reach dry land, the passengers of the overturned bus were picked up by a vegetable truck, and the truck driver charged each person $5 to take them to their destination.

Finally, they reached the hotel, but there was no running water, and six people were stuffed into a double-bed room. All flights back to the U.S., or anywhere, were cancelled, so Johnny had to wait it out for over a week. “What an experience that was!” Johnny said.

Then in November, Johnny was hired by the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia to perform at LA PAZ, BOLIVIA for the “Hope Foundation.” With two-sold out concerts, Johnny was able to help the foundation raise funds for the construction of a Work Education Training Center there.

La Paz is the de facto capital of Bolivia, where the executive and legislative branches of the government function. An impressive line of snow-capped peaks (like the Cordillera Real), some exceeding 20,000 feet above sea level, makes La Paz one of the highest cities in the world. The air is so thin, that for want of oxygen, you need to take some high-altitude medication.

Johnny’s two nights of extraordinary performances both ended in standing ovations. He must have pulled all the stops and gave his all, for he was featured in seven TV programs and written up in three newspapers. Johnny was constantly stopped on the streets as they recognized him from the TV shows he had appeared on. Luckily he had several secret service men from the Bolivian government with him at all times, and he was driven around in armored trucks. VIP treatment indeed!

While in Bolivia, Johnny stayed at the Ambassador’s new mansion with Ambassador Greenly’s family.

The following month, December 2005, Johnny was off to the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC for a 3-month string of performances at four of the finest resorts: three on the Atlantic side, and one on the Caribbean side. The members of the audience were tourists from Canada, Quebec, South America, England, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.

According to Johnny, the Dominican Republic is a very popular tourist destination because of its classy 5-star hotels and resorts. But the ordinary people there live in miserable and abject condition. “If you have a tin roof over your house, which really is a shack and an outhouse, you are considered rich,” Johnny said.

The Dominican Republic is the second largest nation in the Caribbean, bigger than the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and all the Virgin Islands combined. The country is a stark land of contrasts with both the tallest point in the Caribbean (Puerto Duarte, rising over 10,100 feet above sea level) and the lowest point (Lake Enriquillo, averaging 150 feet below sea level.)

As of now, Johnny is writing a new show that opens in Michigan next month (August). The star of the show is ADRIAN ZMED. He is an actor from the TJ Hooker show, hosted “Dance Fever”, and played Danny Zucko in “Grease” on Broadway. Johnny will be a celebrity guest at a charity event in August for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Other celebrity guest include Adrian Zmed, David Carridine, Charo, Jeff Speakman, Melissa Rivers, Charlene Tilton, and many others.

For all the work he gets, Johnny wants to thank his manager, Kristy Lee Royle of Royal Talent. “Kristy, thank you!”
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All in all … from the hurricane winds of Cancun to China’s waves of humanity … Johnny had a wonderful time! He is hoping, and so do I, that his return performance in Cancun this month will not be marred by another hurricane. If it does, I think Johnny is up to it. Just chalk it away to another unforgettable experience. Anyway, each moment is a memory in the making!