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When Elvis Met Simon (Sort Of)

By RD Heldenfels Published: May 4, 2006

"American Idol'' is about to take on Elvis Presley. Or, as the official announcement from Fox says, ''Next week, put on your blue suede shoes and don’t leave the building as the remaining four contestants each perform two songs by the original (Hound) Dog – Elvis Presley. To prepare, the finalists will travel to


for an Elvis workshop with music mogul Tommy Mottola.''

I've been wondering about the songs the performers will choose. Elvis has such a vast catalogue, and crossed so many genres, it should be easy for all of them to find tunes that they are comfortable with. I have no idea what they will pick but can imagine what Chris could do with ''Suspicious Minds,'' say, or Katharine trying ''Teddy Bear.''

But how would Elvis have handled ''American Idol'' itself? Pretty well, I suspect. He came to prominence, after all, doing covers of other people's songs -- but finding a way to make them his own. He had charisma on television. And he had enough Simon Cowell moments over his career that he would probably think of the ''Idol'' judge as an insult amateur.

There's the story (told many places, including Peter Guralnick's epic Elvis biography) about a young Elvis auditioning for a musician named Eddie Bond only to be advised -- as Elvis later told it -- to stick with driving a truck because ''you're never going to make it as a singer.'' Presley confided to friend George Klein that Bond ''broke my heart,'' though not enough to keep him from persisting in his musical dreams. On the train to make the movie of ''Jailhouse Rock,'' Elvis told Klein, ''I wonder what Eddie Bond thinks now.''

But even when he was famous, Elvis faced the carping of critics who did not cotton to his brand of music. New York Times TV critic Jack Gould, reviewing an Elvis appearance in 1956, wrote: ''Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability. His specialty is rhythm songs which he renders in an undistinguished whine; his phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner's aria in a bathtub. For the ear he is an unutterable bore.''

Stack that up against Simon's complaints about karaoke and wedding singers.

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