Gavin O’Brien keeps the spirit of Elvis alive during a performance.
Elvis Presley is not only one of history’s most popular musical artists, he’s one of the most-impersonated icons.
As for young Elvis tribute artist Gavin O’Brien, 12, of East Alton, it’s part of his life he did not expect.
“When I was in fifth grade, we had to do a report on a historical person,” O’Brien says. “People always thought I looked like Elvis, so I did my report on him and even dressed like him.”
“He always liked Elvis,” says his mother, Casey O’Brien. “He never really became a big fan until his fifth-grade report.”
O’Brien has participated in various competitions, but it wasn’t something he wanted to get involved in at first, nor was it something the O’Brien family knew existed.
“We had posted videos of Gavin on the Internet of him singing Elvis’ songs,” Casey says. “A woman messaged me, telling me how much he looked like him and sounded like him. She went on to talk about how there are competitions and how she thinks he should do this and do that and it is something he really enjoys now.”
When O’Brien began to really get into being an Elvis tribute artist, it wasn’t something his parents had expected.
“We were really surprised by the Elvis thing,” Casey says. “He really brought Elvis into our home, which opened the door for him. He went from playing baseball to playing piano. The last thing he is, is typical.”
While O’Brien mostly wins prize money, he also won a title in Memphis as well as a trophy from a competition. He recently won second place in the all-ages amateur division in Wisconsin.
Along with titles, trophies and money, O’Brien takes the experience home with him.
“It’s been really cool,” he says. “There’s a whole world of Elvis fans and it’s really cool to meet other Elvis tribute artists and people who are interested in the same thing.”
O’Brien loves one aspect of his art above all.
“My favorite thing about being an Elvis tribute artist is just keepin’ him alive,” he says. “I just enjoy doing it, but it isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
O’Brien wants to be his own musician and “to make older music new again.”
O’Brien taught himself how to play guitar and piano and is learning to play the drums.
“He’s a wonderful musician,” Casey says. “Elvis has really been his foundation and he performs more of the rockabilly style.
“But the most important thing is he loves Elvis,” Casey says. “He is an aspiring musician and he is always in music. He doesn’t want to be Elvis, he wants to be his own person, but he is grateful for his legacy and how many opportunities it has opened for him.”
O’Brien’s journey continues at Edison Entertainment Complex in Edwardsville, where he will participate in the Dereoke Jr. contest from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. If he does well, big things could happen for the young star. The audience-based votes could send O’Brien on to the finals, where he would perform on the main stage Dec. 2 in Ballpark Village. After that, if he continues to do well, O’Brien would be crowned as the Jinglestar and would have the opportunity to open for superstars at WIL’s Jinglefest.
“I’m really excited,” O’Brien says. “I just hope it goes well.”
For information, follow O’Brien’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/obriengavin03.