If you are a fan of America’s Got Talent, you may remember the excitement that ETA Joseph Hall’s performance created on AGT in 2008. After standing in line for 8 hours at the Chicago auditions, Joseph impressed the judges so much with his Elvis tribute that they sent him straight to Hollywood. In Hollywood, Joseph dazzled the voting public, whose votes kept Joseph in the competition for six weeks, allowing Joseph to make it all the way to the top ten. As well as appearing on the popular television program, Joseph placed 3rd in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition in Memphis, making 2008 a banner year for the young ETA. Joseph went on to perform “Elvis Rock ‘N’ Remember” for six seasons in Branson, Missouri. After making the decision to end his successful run on November 30th, 2015 at the Clay Copper Theatre in Branson, Joseph has been touring internationally and performing at home in the USA.
I take great pleasure in introducing ETA Joseph Hall to SIDEBURNS readers. Thank you, Joseph, for taking time from your busy schedule to respond to my interview questions with such candid and entertaining answers. Best regards, CM.
Spotlight On: ETA Joseph Hall
Q. Tell us five interesting things about your childhood.
A. I moved 17 times before I graduated from high school. I have a scar on my right eyebrow from an incident when I was 4 while my parents, coincidentally, were at a Legends in Concert show in Honolulu. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. I was a loner, perhaps that’s why I talked to myself a lot as a child. I was a wizard at MARIO.
Q. Describe your life as a teenager.
A. I spent my early teenage years confused and trying to fit in. Because I moved so much, I was very insecure. It didn’t help that I was struggling in the “Truth”, and I was Mexican in a predominantly white culture. In my teenage years I was always changing hair styles, clothes, music tastes--anything I could to fit in. Looking back, I wasted a lot of time during my high school years wandering around. Eventually I found my click…the theatre! I remember feeling a sense of comfort in acting, and taking on roles of make-believe characters. I had a girlfriend who crushed my heart, and that was a pretty sucky and dark time. However, the best thing to come from high school was a band I discovered, the Deftones, from Sacramento, California. Their sound comforted me and got me through a lot of low points in high school. To this day I follow them and enjoy their music.
Q. What did you do with your time after your high school years ended?
A. I hid behind my headphones, moved to Oklahoma, started bussing tables at my father’s restaurant.
Q. What career path did you decide to take after high school?
A. I had eventually worked my way up the ladder working for my father. When I was 19, I went to Raleigh, North Carolina and completed a three phase course that lasted somewhere close to 12 weeks. I had become certified in food safety and management.
Q. Did you take any lessons related to the performing arts? Please explain.
A. I just did a few plays in high school. While I was in the restaurant business, at age 19, I met some new friends and we started a band. It was an Emo-core band, which meant a lot of screaming and whining. I think the most money we ever made in the year we played was $100. We split it 4 ways. Do the math…lol!
Q. What music was most often heard in your home?
A. Tejano music. My mother played a lot of Spanish music in the house. She was a housewife, and took very good care of my sisters and me. She always had Vincente Fernandez, Rocio Durcal, and Selena playing. When we were in the car, dad played Elvis music.
Q. Were you a performer prior to becoming an ETA?
A. I messed around in a band, never made it anywhere, just to a village inn.
Q. What made you decide to embark on a career as an ETA?
A. I became a big Elvis fan after my dad took me to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday. My interest in Elvis began to grow and I started checking out the local ETAs. By Halloween of 2006, I had purchased my first jumpsuit (the chain suit), and went to a company Halloween costume party. We had hired ETA Bill Chrastill to do the show. After his set, he brought me on stage and I did a small set. I continued to perform part time for a year; and then in 2008 I went on America’s Got Talent. Somehow, I made it to the top ten. After we wrapped up the show, the phone started ringing off the hook. We took a chance; I left the restaurant business and dedicated my time to studying Elvis, his moves, voice and performances. My career has been going strong ever since. I’ve been very blessed to have met so many people, to perform at the venues I’ve played, to have seen to the places I’ve seen, and to have the moments of joy I have experienced.
Q. Describe what you were feeling before, during, and after your first performance as an ETA.
A. At my first solo performance I was terrified. I played a small bar, The Roadhouse, in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. I remember drinking three cranberry and vodkas before going on stage. What made me nervous was the fact people actually paid money to see me. We charged $5 a head. I remember just faking it until it was over. I had no professional singing lessons or knew anything about singing, or what a key was, or pitch, or anything. I solely relied on my ear and instinct. I am happy there were no iPhones then. I’m sure it was horrible. Afterwards I remember drinking more to calm my nerves…lol.
Q. Describe the atmosphere before a competition (or performance) backstage.
A. In my early years, competitions were very stressful; not just for me, but for my wife, parents and fan club. You never know what the judges are looking for. Just when you think you have a winning formula, you find yourself in 7th place. I don’t really compete much now, maybe because I am secure in who I am and what I do. The atmosphere for me backstage is light now. I enjoy catching up with the ETAs I haven’t seen in some time, or getting to know the new guys.
Q. Describe the process of turning yourself into a stage ready ETA.
A. It’s changed over the years. In the beginning I would listen to Elvis religiously, 24/7, and especially before the shows. After a while, I remember thinking I will never be like Elvis. He was one of a kind. Only Elvis could sound and organically move like he did. From that point forward, my goal changed from trying to re-enact Elvis to trying to capture his essence. I turned my shows into a personal tribute to him, as opposed to being him. Now before the shows I listen to my “feel good” artists. I put myself in a feel good, positive energy state of mind. I find that putting mascara on during Morrissey’s "Last of the International Playboys" song makes me happy.
Q. Describe how you felt before, during, and after your first competition. Did you achieve the outcome you desired?
A. My first competition was in 2007 in Marion, Kansas. I was the youngest there and I won with “Viva Las Vegas". I remember showing up and thinking I’m so inexperienced. I just watched everyone and everything very intensely. The crowd really reacted to me, and that gave me a sense of comfort and confidence.
Q. What is the biggest mistake that young ETAs make in their tribute?
A. I am not sure. The biggest mistake I made was trying to be Elvis every waking moment. I became obsessed and lost myself for the first 4 years or so. I have learned to love myself for who I am and give it my best. Once you give your best, there are no regrets.
Q. What valuable life lessons did you learn from your parents, or mentor, that you still use today?
A. I learn lessons every day. This morning I learned not to always be in a hurry. Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35
Q. Do you have tattoos? Explain their importance to you.
A. I have a tattoo on my left shoulder. It’s an Indian looking over my shoulder watching my back, morphed into a wolf with the rays of the sun as its fur. (My mother is Mexican-Indian and my dad is German-Irish.) It represents my family looking over me. The wolf signifies a pack, and the sun represents life. I was 19 in Cancun,Mexico, and I paid CoCo $100 and a six pack of Corona.
Q. Describe the highlights of your ETA career.
A. There has been so many! One highlight that sticks in my mind was winning $20,000 at the Tribute to the King contest at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I beat out a cast of amazing talent; it was a cool moment for me.
Q. What is the best part of being an ETA?
A. The people and the first cold beer after a great gig are the best parts.
Q. Who are the important women in your life? Why are these women important to you?
A. My wife, Amber, who is the mother of my 3 handsome boys. She is my best friend and my rock. She gives me the confidence to be the best I can be. My mother who plays a very important role in my “Elvis World” and in my life “and I love you so”. My sisters, whom I love, and will always be there for me.
Q. How are you different on stage compared to off stage?
A. My stage persona stems from my influences-- Elvis, Chino Moreno, and Morrissey with a hint of Joy Division and a slightly tipsy version of myself. It’s the confident version of me. Off stage I’m little quiet and enjoy being a homebody, in dad mode.
Q. What ETA title would you like to have that has so far escaped you?
A. I just had this conversation with my father who is the best thing to happen to my Elvis career. He is my manager and the hardest working man I know. He and my wife both want me to compete for the Ultimate Elvis Title in Memphis. They both believe in me and feel I deserve to be recognized, but I have my own feelings. I am content with my title being Joseph Hall .
Q. Would you want to judge an ETA competition? What do you think are the challenges of being an ETA competition judge?
A. I have judged before and I have my own agenda of things I look for. Some judges look for a re-enactment, and some look for entertainment value. I tend to lean towards the entertaining side of things…the formula that made up Elvis. I look for those qualities, and not so much of whether he wore that ring with that jumpsuit during that particular time during this evening engagement while performing that song.
Q. What men have had a positive influence on your life? How?
A. Dad. He has taken hold of my career and led me in the right direction and my best friend, Bobby Lucky, who has always stayed by my side looking after my back.
Q. What makes you sad? How do you cope with sadness?
A. The media makes me sad. “Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you, to make you feel small and alone. To make you feel like your mind isn’t your own.” Morrissey.
Q. In what international cities have you performed? How are audiences different in different countries?
A. I performed in Porthcawl, Wales, Rome, Italy, and in Alberta, Canada. I have noticed they are really accepting of ETAs and admire our tribute.
Q. Is there a country where you really want to perform as an ETA?
A. I would like to play in England.
Q. What are your strengths as a performer?
A. I am not sure; I just let my instincts kick in.
Q. Describe your typical non-performance day.
A. “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad...”
Q. What makes you laugh?
A. Drinking with my family, and penguins.
Q. If it were possible, what would you like to ask Elvis? What would you say to him?
A. Do you approve of my tribute? Thank you for laying out the blueprint and your sacrifice to your fans and the business.
Q. What do you treasure?
A. I treasure my wife and children.
Q. If you weren’t an ETA, what career would you choose? Why?
A. The restaurant business is my safety net, but I think I would like to become a nutritionist and work in physical therapy--helping people one way or another.
Q. What has surprised you most about being an ETA?
A. How many good people there are. People want to see others succeed.
Q. Describe a special moment with a fan or audience member.
A. I remember I got a call that a fan was in a hospice and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. She requested pizza and her ETA. I dropped everything at that moment, and Bobby and I drove through a snow storm to show up and sing “Love me Tender” and hang out with her for a while. I realized in that moment life is bigger than we are, and we need to think about how we can affect people positively and not worry about the minor details.
Q. How do you decide who receives a scarf during a performance?
A. I follow the smiles.
Q. What sacrifices have you made for your ETA career?
A. My family has been very supportive of me, and my kids understand that I go away 2-4 days on the road a week. I hate missing ballgames, tests, and not picking them up from school.
Q. What Elvis costume is your favourite? Why?
A. The peacock jumpsuit because my fan club purchased that suit for me. It means a lot.
Q. How do you care for your costumes so they are always stage ready?
A. My mother is the care taker. For every performance they are ready, steamed, and smell like Gain.
Q. Who taught you how to apply your Elvis makeup?
A. I taught myself. It took me a while to figure it out. I swear, the first couple of years I looked like Drag Queen Elvis…lol. I was trying too hard with eye shadowing, contouring, eye contacts, and penciled-in sideburns. I can say that less is more. I use a derma blend foundation, little bronzer, mascara, a finishing spray and lip balm.
Q. What special care does your hair or wig require to keep it looking good?
A. I use my own hair, and I go through different Elvis hair statements. This past year I rocked the '59 Elvis army cut. Some people like it, some disliked it. I enjoyed it; now I’m growing it out, but I always use American Crew pomade, a blow dryer and Tresseme hairspray.
Q. What annoys you?
A. My memory. I wish I could remember everything.
Q. What do you fear?
A. It is too scary to talk about.
Q. Describe a future that is specifically designed for you.
A. I hope to continue to make a living doing Elvis and providing for my wife and kids. Once the kids are set and grown, my wife and I will travel together :)
Q. How do you handle disappointment?
A. I find comfort with my wife.
Q. How will you know when it is time to retire from being an ETA?
A. I don’t think you can ever truly retire. I plan on being the "Silver Fox Elvis".
Q. What will you do in retirement?
A. Maybe I will brew my own citrus IPA.
Q. Who are the people you would like to thank for being there throughout your ETA career?
A. Family and fans.
Q. What question would you ask a fellow ETA?
A. How have you been?
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I still play old school MARIO.
Q. What would you like to say to the backup singers and band members with whom you perform?
A. Thank you for making me a better performer, and for the energy you give back to me. Thank you for those moments on stage only performers recognize.
Q. What song do you wish Elvis had recorded so you could sing it on stage during your tribute to Elvis?
A. “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon.
Q. What question do you wish I had asked?
A. What’s my favorite vacation spot?
Q. How would you answer your own question?
A. My favourite vacation spot is Corona beach in Cozumel, Mexico, by way of moped.
Joseph Hall Pays Tribute to King with Stage Show at Legacy by Ann Piearceall, March 16, 2016
Joseph Hall Sets 2015 as Final Season in Branson by Joshua Clark, September 25, 2015