It’s a sunny morning in Blackpool, England. The nights during the Elvis Festival “Europe’s Tribute to Elvis” have been far too short, and so I am happy to spend my time waiting in a comfortable brown leather chair in the luxurious hotel lobby. Suddenly, Dean Zeligman, more commonly known to his fans as “Dean Z”, shows up good-tempered, casually dressed – and late. Being late is one of the things he hates about himself, but especially due to the short nights, this is nothing that bothers me. Dean also seems a tad bit tired and a shade groggy in his pale-blue denim shirt and his blue jeans. It was only two days ago that he flew in from Las Vegas and his schedule in England wouldn’t cooperate with the understandable jet lag fatigue. However, it did not affect his positive mood in any way. The plan was to talk about travel, but that turns out to be more difficult than expected: As Elvis was said to be, Dean is congenial, and likeable, and thanks to his humor and naturalness talking to him as well deviating from the subject is quite easy…
Dean’s job is it to be Elvis Presley – fulltime, as in for a living. Quite different from when he was 19. Back then he moved from sunny California to Las Vegas, Nevada with no more than $ 123 in his bank account, hoping to establish himself as a successful singer. He played at a “ridiculous” Late-Night-Show lounge, which brought hardly any income; during the first years he walked straight home to his apartment after the show (due to his age) where he lived off dollar-menu food dishes. However, he loved his four years in Sin City, as it was there he learned how to deal with show business: “It was a cool experience for a young man!” Fast forward to 2013, which was his best year so far: he turned 30, got engaged, and won the „Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest“. Since that time he has been numbered among the most renowned Elvis Presley impersonators worldwide. Each year since 2007, the Ultimate Tribute Artist Champion is crowned during Elvis Week in Memphis. The winner of this title will be internationally booked for shows and, just as Dean Z, from this time on travel the world.
Together with his wife Stephanie and his dogs Cookie and Memphis, Dean lives in Branson, Missouri. The dogs are professional travelers – just as he is, he tells laughing. In 2015 Dean will only spend 14 weeks in total at home – the rest of the time is on the road. However, he does spend the summer in Las Vegas where he is always booked for a show. Radiant with happiness, he recounts how lucky he is to be married to a woman who not only can work from wherever there’s Wi-Fi, but who also enjoys the extensive traveling. If that weren’t the case, he would travel less: “I love my job and traveling – but I love my family more!” After two years on the road, he started appreciating being home even more and calls that a side effect of “nesting”. But then when Dean spends several months in one place, as now in Vegas, he likes to hit the road and does a road trip to his temporary home with his wife, his dogs and his mattress. His mattress? Yes, due to the dancing he does during his performances he needs a good sleep, which he only gets on his own high quality mattress. Apart from that, he refers to himself as humble and calls himself a minimalist.
Dean’s natural look – to be sure – helps him out when performing as Elvis. Regarding his height, Dean is perhaps a little bit dissatisfied. Being about 5’9″ he misses Elvis’ height of 5’11”; “Height is a huge deal in show business”, he emphasizes. Even though Dean and Elvis have a close resemblance, the make-up artist needs up to 80 minutes to turn his face and hair into the King of Rock and Roll before each performance. He’s very glad he doesn’t need a wig as that would be less authentic and would increase his luggage. The true-to-original Elvis suits aren’t only very expensive, but also heavy, and Dean always has to pack for two persons: for Elvis and himself. Thanks to his simplicity, his personal belongings all fit into a shoulder bag. However, for Elvis he this time brought a heavy suitcase, one carry-on luggage, and one guitar. Usually he brings up to three guitars, the suits, make-up, shoes, boots, hair accessories, jewelry, and the remaining accoutrements to an authentic Elvis outfit. Finally, the one thing he personally doesn’t “can’t live without” while traveling is his special brand of shampoo.
Although Dean Z travels during most of the year, he rarely goes on vacation. Most traveling is for business, and he has no idea of how many or which countries he has been to – but says it’s a good problem to have. I ask, can he in spite of that name one favorite destination? Up to this point he has been relaxing on the cozy beige couch in the room next to the hotel lobby, but now he now sits up and tells excitedly about his performance in Singapore, after which he took three days off and traveled to Thailand with his wife: a vacation in paradise at a dream beach that can only be accessed by boat – no work, hardly any people. The place was perfect (if not idyllic), and reminded him of Jurassic Park. Tropical beaches are his perfect getaway, he tells with a glint in the eyes – and his enthusiasm is contagious.
Dean is born under the sign of Leo and therefore is a fire sign. However, he’s magically drawn to water, and even uses an app on planes and elsewhere, which, for example plays the sound of rain on a tent or at the lake. He calls this app a “must have” for frequent travelers and lets me listen to different ambient sounds. At first I am very skeptical, but then I have to admit: it’s indeed very soothing! As a typical California boy, he (not surprisingly) loves surfing, but also kayaking, jet-skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming – or at least being close to the ocean. The ocean at Blackpool is right across the hotel, only separated by one street and three stairs. So how come he hasn’t been there, yet? He has no real answer to that. Perhaps it was our talk of his love for the ocean that prompted him to go pay a visit to the ocean the very same day… Dean Z will also make the effort to go to the supermarket to avoid buying an overpriced ham sandwich (about $ 12) at the hotel. To maintain a healthy diet while traveling is more of a challenge than at home, where he likes to cook. He’s confident of being able to prepare a better steak than a restaurant could, although he sometimes enjoys going out for dinner as well. He loves Mexican food the best.
Dean Z doesn’t want to spend “exorbitantly” when it comes to things he just does every day. Therefore he recommends, for example, travel to Thailand, where the prices are not only more reasonable, but really cheap. He emphasizes how stressful traveling has become, when you have to think about money all the time because everything is overpriced: “Expensive doesn’t make fun!” As a negative example he names Miami, Florida. Dean Z doesn’t spend any money on alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs and thinks of his all-in-all healthy and “straight edge guy” lifestyle as perhaps boring for a musician. He lives the 8-8-8 (triple eight) mentality: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of fun. Only by living like this, he says, is it possible to sleep better, work harder and smarter, and find the necessary balance.
Fun means everything and everything recreational. Even work can be fun. However, he strictly separates fun from work and needs his eight hours of fun a day. During flights or road trips he enjoys listening to podcasts, which keep his mind entertained. He also likes to dance and feels nostalgic about a location in Little Havana in Miami, where he has just been. Anyway, Dean’s “real” passion is flying: “I was flying a plane before I was driving a car!” His first flight out of the US and hence his first big travel took place when he was about seven years old. It led him from Los Angeles to London, England – where his parents are from. He remembers this journey because everything was different: a new country, being on a plane for a long time, and unknown food. Then, at the age of 15 he started acquiring his pilot’s license for solo flights, but never finished it. He now has the goal to finish it by the time he turns 35. As such, he has contacted a flight school in his home town and practices flying with one of his friends, who has a full-simulation cockpit, until he receives his license.
So, Mexican food, traveling to tropical beaches, and flying are at the “top of the list” for Dean Z – but what does he not like at all? The answer is easy: which is his least favorite destination – what is the beloved Big Apple for most is just too loud and too much hustle-and-bustle for Dean. Tokio by contrast is extraordinary quiet and not over-stimulating, and he recommends traveling there instead of to NYC. Regarding his home state California, Dean is in favor of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, both south of Los Angeles, and he also raves about his favorite town Sacramento and nearby Auburn in northern California. Even though Dean has already seen a lot of the world, he does have a bucketlist with unfulfilled travel wishes: he absolutely wants to travel to both Italy and Egypt! Since high school he dreams of seeing pyramids, and he also would like to eat some Italian food, which he also loves, in Rome. However, he wants to travel these destinations for leisure and not for business. Maybe he soon can remove something from this list: for 2016 he plans two months downtime to take a vacation from the wonderful but also stressful life as Elvis Presley. After all I experienced during my several hours with Dean Z, I am certain that is one that he deserves…