For most 16-year-olds, the music of Elvis Presley belongs to their grandparents’ generation.
Not for Drake Milligan, a junior at Mansfield’s Legacy High who has turned his love for all things Elvis into a budding career. As a tribute performer, the singer/guitarist has won performance competitions at Elvis Week in Memphis and at the Collingwood Elvis Festival near Toronto.
Now, he stars as a young Presley in Nobody, a short subject about Elvis in his high-school years that’s making its Tarrant-area premiere Saturday at Farr Best Theater in Mansfield.
It’s a far cry from eight years ago, when he was a kid who wasn’t that familiar with The King. But catching the act of a tribute performer at Arlington’s Fabulous 50’s diner changed that.
“It was the flashy jumpsuit, just the energy that he had,” says Milligan of what impressed him. “And the songs just caught my ear and intrigued me.”
He had been taking guitar lessons but was jolted with an added incentive. “I was about 9 when I finally really started getting into it and transitioned from singing around the coffee table to getting a karaoke machine and all that,” he recalls.
But it was a 2007 Elvis-themed cruise, which he took with his mom, where he really found inspiration. “I wasn’t old enough to compete [in the contest] but they let me sing during the intermission,” he remembers. “A day later, I was by the pool and Ray Walker [who sang back-up for Elvis with the legendary Jordanaires] waves me over. He said, ‘What are you singing tonight? Do you mind if we back you up?’ … That’s when we realized that this could be something.”
Since then, Milligan has performed regularly, including during the “Elvis at 21” photo exhibit that was at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History last year.
The movie opportunity came up after he auditioned for it in Memphis. “I heard about the film through Facebook and we were going to be in Memphis anyway so we figured, why not?” he says.
Some observers might be struck by the fact that Milligan doesn’t do much latter-day Vegas Elvis, the image of the most broad impersonator stereotypes.
“I really like the gospel stuff,” he says of the earlier material. “Elvis sang from the heart and that really came through. I like the early recordings because it was really Elvis, the raw Elvis. He was still a kid. He wasn’t shaped. My voice is closer to Elvis in the 1950s and my age and look is closer [to that].”
Milligan says he doesn’t get much blowback from other tribute performers for being “just a kid.”
“For some of the guys, it might be hard to see this 16-year-old coming up, but most of them — because they love Elvis and love doing it — like to see a young guy coming up,” he says.
The same is true for his classmates. “They know it’s something serious. It’s not like I just put on a jumpsuit,” Milligan says.
As for looking ahead, he would like to continue to perform but isn’t hanging his entire future on it. “I want to go to college, so I might take a break [from being a tribute artist],” he says. “I’m just seeing where it takes me.”