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  • Tara Crutchfield

Dwight Icenhower: Welcome to My World

One doesn’t have to travel to the neon sign-lit, casino-lined streets of Las Vegas to see world-class Elvis Presley tribute artists. Lake Otis in Winter Haven is home to the best there is. Dwight Icenhower is the only tribute artist in history to win five Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist awards at Graceland. Aside from that, he’s taken first place in 75 contests throughout his tenure as “The Cool Cat” from Tennessee. When it comes to impersonating Elvis, Icenhower is the King.  

Photo by Amy Sexson

“This all happened through my mother,” Icenhower said. “I grew up, and she’d be playing his movies and his Christmas album at Christmas time.” The kid from Pomeroy, Ohio, grew into a young man obsessed with music. “I’ve always been involved in music. Mostly, my interests were to teach music.” 

Now 42, Icenhower started his tribute career at 16 years old. “It was kind of a fluke how it all got started,” he said. The self-described “band geek” starred as the King of Rock and Roll in a variety show during his sophomore year of high school. “The band director knew that I was a huge Elvis fan and that I loved that genre of old-school rock and roll music,” said Icenhower. He asked him if he could sing. Icenhower wasn’t sure – he’d never tried before. His Elvis routine went on so famously that the varsity high school coach hired him to perform at his wedding. “I didn’t even know I could make money doing this,” he said. “That was my first gig, at his wedding.” He laughed thinking back on it – a kid in a pink jacket and drawn-on sideburns gyrating to Elvis backing tracks. 

He aspired to be a high school band director and attended college for a time before his career as a full-time tribute artist began to snowball. “I thought if I’m really going to give this a go, I’m going to have to do it now while I’m young.” It was now or never for the artist. Since then, life on the road is the only one he’s known, performing 150-200 nights a year worldwide. Audiences from the United States and Australia to Europe and Japan “Just Can’t Help Falling in Love” with Dwight Icenhower. “My most die-hard fans are here in Florida, Holland, Japan, and Ohio,” he revealed.  

Donning a $3K wig specially made in Canada, stage makeup, and the whole Elvis getup – Icenhower is an uncanny King of Rock and Roll. When lifelong Presley fans see him perform for the first time, “You can tell that they get lost in it,” he said. “They’re kind of reliving, I guess, their youth. You can see it on their faces when you walk out.” 

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“It’s a long transformation, and it took me years to learn about contour makeup and all the shading,” Icenhower said. His wife, Vicky Icenhower, a mixed multi-media sculpture artist from LA, has helped him perfect the look. Well, Vicky and everyone’s favorite queens on “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” “I’ve learned so much watching these guys do their makeup,” he said. “There are guys who naturally wake up and look like Elvis. With me, I’ve learned how to make that whole package by learning the makeup tips.” It used to take him two hours to transform into Elvis, but now he can get out the door in his blue suede shoes in about 20 minutes. 

“The music part of it, the singing, that all came natural.” There’s always a hint of Elvis in his voice, even when covering another artist. Icenhower, like Elvis, is a natural baritone with a four-octave range. “I lucked out with that,” he said. “I like the singing part of it. I like the big, emotional ballads.” “My Way,” “An American Trilogy,” and “It’s Now or Never” are some of his favorite songs to perform. 

Icenhower’s life has lined up with Presley’s in more than just his on-stage persona. He’s shared the stage with personal friends of the King including D.J. Fontana, The Jordanaires, The Sweet Inspirations, Cynthia Pepper, Julie Parrish, Charlie Hodge, Duke Bardwell, Eddie Miles, and Joe Esposito.

He had the opportunity to meet Lisa Marie Presley several times before her passing earlier this year. As if he couldn’t get any more Memphis street-cred, Icenhower hung out with the first lady of rock and roll. “My wife and I were at this club on Beale Street in Memphis. We got a booth upstairs, and there was another booth right beside us. We saw another group coming in. It was Priscilla Presley, her grandson Benjamin, and the Memphis Mafia.” By the night’s end, the group was sharing stories and drinks.  

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Many of Icenhower’s die-hard fans were original fans of Elvis, now in their seventies and eighties. The breakaway success of Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 “Elvis” biopic introduced a new generation to the King. “He put this movie out, and Elvis became number one again on all the charts,” said Icenhower. “I started seeing, at all my shows, a lot of younger people.” He continues to get multi-generational audiences “All Shook Up.”  

Asked how he landed on the Chain of Lakes of all the places he’s performed, Icenhower noted that he’d lived in Florida since 2005. “I’ve never known where I was going to plant my roots,” he said. “We were looking for a historic home. An old house that had charm to it.” They found that home in Winter Haven, where they’ve been for a year. 

Outside of keeping Elvis’s legacy alive, Icenhower loves concerts. “We go to concerts all the time. I’m a huge Elton John fan. I’ve seen him 116 times in concert.” Icenhower also does an Elton John tribute show, though the King comes more naturally. “Elvis is like breathing to me,” he said. “I love doing those [Elton John] shows because it’s a challenge.”

A fan of other tribute artists, including Absolute Queen and Absolute Bowie, Icenhower produced a festival for them in Sarasota ten years running. Shake, Rattle, and Soul, which concluded earlier this year, was hosted in the 5,000-seat Robarts Arena with tributes to Rod Stewart, the Beatles, and, of course, Elvis. 

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Don’t miss Dwight Icenhower’s December 9 performance at the Historic Ritz Theatre in Downtown Winter Haven. He’ll be crooning like Elvis at 2 pm and 7 pm. On December 7 join him for “An Evening with Elton” at the Gem Theater. You won’t want to miss “Such a Night!” Follow his social media for the upcoming Dwight Icenhower’s VIP Weekend at Nora Mayo Hall on January 5, 6, and 7. “It’s basically a cruise on land,” he said. The event will feature tribute shows, fan-generated events, and a screening of the documentary “Dwight Icenhower: A Mile in My Shoes,” followed by a Q&A with the director. 


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