Shawn Klush didn't win the first-ever Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist designation from Elvis Presley Enterprises for nothing, thank-you-very-much.
That's why he, among the vast legions of Elvis impersonators at large in the world, was cast by the producers of HBO's acclaimed "Vinyl" (Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger among them) to play the Vegas-era Presley in a key encounter.
In one of the series' most memorable episodes, dubbed "The King and I," record executive Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) jets off to Vegas in hopes of signing a certain aging, rhinestone-encrusted rock star to his label.
The close encounter occurs in a dimly lit casino hotel room, with a pill-popping Elvis in jogging suit. Richie is trying to seduce the King away from the glam and the glitter, back to the kind of stripped-down band where it all began 15 years prior.
Alas, the pitch ends badly, with black-belt Elvis tossing Richie to the floor, a gun in one hand aimed at Richie's head.
"It's a tremendous scene, easily the best real-life rock-star cameo of the series to date," said Rolling Stone's impressed reviewer.
"Much of the credit goes to actor-singer Shawn Klush, a truly uncanny Elvis impersonator who's asked both to perform as the King in full Vegas mode and reveal the regrets behind the rhinestone jumpsuit."
We'll get to experience the uncanny at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when Klush brings his Ultimate Elvis show to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
At the other end of a phone call, the voice is dead-on King, with every other comment followed by an affirmative "do-you-know-what-I-mean?" that could have been lifted intact from any Elvis movie of the 1960s.
"I've been called the next Robert De Niro," notes Klush of another critic's "Vinyl" verdict.
It's not one that he's disputing, his Elvis commitments notwithstanding.
"Yeah, I'm ready to chase that, too" says the native of Pittston, Pa., a small coal-mining town where his dad was a radio DJ in the ’50s and ’60s whose musical tastes and playlists forever changed the life of his son.
"I listened to everything under the sun that he had, but it was the Elvis stuff that stuck more than anything else," says Klush.
Chalk it up to "that piece of charisma that he had," something that the kid from Pittston absorbed like a sponge, eventually settling on the Elvis of 1970-73 as his kingly reign of preference.
"It was the early part of the jumpsuit era, when he was still in great shape, still young enough to gyrate and hadn't reach the point of no return," says Klush of what we'll see recreated on the BCPA stage Friday night.
The sound of his music changed as a result of the Vegas context, meaning that "he had 38 people on stage with him, and the sound was 50 times bigger than it was in the early days, when he was playing clubs and bars."
It's Klush's perception that Elvis "was extremely bored at that point ... he wanted to go around the world, to Japan and China, places that Col. Parker wouldn't let him go."
So he obeyed the colonel's whims.
"He was a grateful, totally humble good old boy who thought he'd gotten this far without being put in the wrong direction."
The turning point in Klush's tribute career was being named Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist by Elvis Presley Enterprises. The occasion was the first EPE-produced tribute contest held in Memphis in 2007 as part of the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death.
In the decade since, Klush has amassed other awards, including being named The World's Best Elvis in a contest staged in the United Kingdom by BBC1 Television, which logged 6.5 million viewers.
With Klush's show now a globetrotting affair, taking him around the world routinely, he says he feels like he's allowing Elvis to do 40 years after his death what he never got to do in real life.
"The great satisfaction to me is knowing that he lived 42 years and he didn't get to do a lot of those things he wanted to do. So I'm carrying on and doing them for him.
"When I'm in South America, singing in front of 15,000 of his fans, I'm accepting that all of that enthusiasm really belongs to him, not me ... do-you-know-what-I-mean?"