Wahiawa Resident Is Living His Dream And Being The King
Wahiawa’s Johnny Fortuno was in elementary school when his grandmother took him on a trip to Las Vegas, where he was enthralled by an Elvis impersonator.
Little did Fortuno know that one day he’d be an award-winning “Elvis” himself with a 14-year impersonation career that continues today. Tuesday through Sunday, Fortuno is onstage at Legends in Concert Waikiki, the latest incarnation of the show he saw all those years ago in Vegas when it first opened in 1983.
His journey to the stage started 10 years after that first Vegas trip, when Fortuno was an apprentice at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. A mechanic friend introduced him to karaoke, and the audience reaction was overwhelming. Fortuno was surprised because, though he loved singing, he had no background or family connection to the world of entertainment.
“A few months later, that same mechanic, Walter Hui, took me to a Legends in Concert-type show that was playing at the military bases here, and I saw my second Elvis impersonator, Tony Roi. I thought this guy was great!” said Fortuno. “We went back to the karaoke place after that show and I sang again and got the same response, so I was really jazzed now.”
That motivation led him to take up vocal lessons. But that proved boring for the budding singer. In a moment of inspiration, he recorded a CD of himself singing and brought it to his teacher.
“That’s not you, that’s Elvis,” she insisted. Once he convinced the impressed Charlotte Rothschild that the voice was his alone, she let him know she was the president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club of the Pacific.
Through her, Fortuno was introduced to Ebb Tides, a company that happened to be in need of an Elvis since theirs was leaving. Fortuno landed the job straightaway, but there was one hitch: He needed an Elvis suit.
“I had no idea how I was going to obtain one,” said Fortuno. “As I was leaving the audition, I just happened to run into Tony Roi, the guy I had just seen a few weeks ago – he was the Elvis that was working for them that had to leave.”
The two hit it off, and Fortuno inherited Roi’s hand-me-down suit. That was the start of his career.
When Legends came to Waikiki a year later, the sailing wasn’t quite as smooth, taking a good 12 tries before Fortuno was finally invited on board. Since then he has performed in China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and across the U.S.
He also performs every year with the Elvis’ backup singing group, The Stamps Quartet, and he’s met and worked with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s bodyguards, co-stars and personal friends.
Last year he won the Ultimate Elvis contest in Las Vegas.
Last December, Fortuno settled back in the Islands with his current run as Elvis in an updated version of Legends. It has a larger showroom, a new lighting system, concert screens and a state-of-the-art sound system.
“It’s surreal for me sometimes, to be in the same showroom I started my career in with the first Legends that was here 13 years ago,” said Fortuno.
“For the new regime to have offered me the opportunity to come back home and be a part of this brand-new chapter of Legends in Waikiki, I feel very honored and proud.”
For all inspired artists out there, Legends in Concert Waikiki hosts the Hawaii Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest sometime next year. Some lucky up-and-coming vocalist just may have a chance to follow the path of the little boy from Wahiawa with a name, and talent, fit for a star: Johnny Fortuno. Go to legendsinconcert.com/locations/waikiki.