Reprinted with Permission
Allen Idemoto’s first glimpse of Elvis Presley was through a neighbor’s window.
Growing up in a small plantation house on Maui with so many brothers and sisters that he had to sleep on the floor, Idemoto’s family couldn’t afford a television set. But one night, he noticed flickering lights, snuck over to the house next door, peered into the window and saw . . . “the King.”
He was transfixed.
“It was really something,” he recalls. “I liked his moves.”
These days, Idemoto is likely to be the one rocking those moves — breaking out into Elvis’ signature hip-thrusting, knee-rocking, foot-tapping swivel in the middle of the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Food Court on a weekday morning — just to liven up a conversation. With a lifelong love of music and entertaining, Idemoto might be best known as the Valley Isle’s Elvis impersonator.
The 72-year-old retired wallpaper hanger says he lives for applause.
“I like to see the audience’s reaction, to see if they like what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s really satisfying.”
Idemoto had an unlikely path to his sequined jumpsuit.
He grew up in a tiny plantation house with four brothers and six sisters in Camp 2, about a mile and a half inland from Kaunoa, in a community surrounded by sugar cane fields. Their house leaked when it rained. “There was no paved road,” he says. “It’s all dirt and rocks.”
The family was poor, but Idemoto recalls a happy childhood. His Japan-born parents worked hard — his father was a field worker and his mother supplemented her husband’s income by taking in laundry, in addition to looking after the 11 children. They raised chickens and ducks, and grew papaya, starfruit and avocado to help put food on the table.
“Everybody helped each other out,” he says.
It was a long walk to the beach, so, for fun, the kids would sometimes swim in the plantation reservoirs — always keeping an eye out for the bosses, who came driving by.
“Whenever you see that red truck, you just pick up your clothes and run away,” he recalls.
Other times, they would catch a ride into town on the sugar cane train, paying for their trip by giving papayas to the train workers.
It was after graduating from Maui High School, while a student at the former Maui Technical College, that Idemoto began exploring his love of entertaining. His musical group, The Hitchhikers, performed 1950s pop and rock ’n’ roll hits. “The reason it’s called ‘The Hitchhikers’ is we’d always hitchhike from the plantation to the city,” he says.
Idemoto had also grown up learning about his parents’ language and culture and attending Japanese school. He continued his cultural interest by taking classes in Japanese music at places like Hale Mahaolu and the Kula Community Center. Popular Japanese songs like “Sukiyaki” became part of his repertoire as a performer.
“There’s a lot of sad (Japanese) songs. People lose their wives, their girlfriends — they have tears in their eyes,” he says. “I like to sing that for the ladies, yeah?”
But there was always something special about Elvis, he says.
“I liked his style, his moves, and his love for Hawai‘i.”
Idemoto was already doing a lot of Elvis songs in his act — which featured a heavy rotation of country-western and classic rock ’n’ roll songs from his youth — and he sometimes threw an impression of the King’s classic hip-shaking moves into his performances. But then, about 15 years ago, he got the idea to take his show to the next level and start doing a real impression.
He got his first costume — an Elvis jumpsuit with a cape — from a Halloween supply store. And the rest is history.
Since then, Idemoto has performed his act with the Maui Pops and at the recent Maui High School reunion. He donates his time, performing regularly at Kalama Heights, Roselani Place, Kula Hospital, Hale Mahaolu, the Binhi at Ani Community Center and Kaunoa Senior Center, as well as a gig about once a month at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Shopping Center.
He’s been married to his wife Merle for 43 years. In addition to performing, Idemoto keeps himself in shape and stays active. He rides his bike frequently, walks, takes Zumba classes and does 150 sit-ups daily, passing the time by looking for shapes and figures in the clouds overhead. He’s also taken up oil painting, and has completed five Maui Marathons, eight Häna Relays, two Honolulu Marathons and two Great Aloha Runs.
“I’m not one to just sit around,” he says.
But he says his favorite moments are performing for the audience — channeling their enthusiasm into more excitement and energy.
“It’s important to check out the crowd, and see who’s really into it,” he says. “When I see someone who’s really clapping and having fun, I’ll always point to them during songs like ‘Teddy Bear.’”
Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and editor. Loomis’ stories on science, health, business and travel have been published in Science, National Geographic Traveler, Spirituality & Health, Hawai‘i, Honolulu and Hawaii Business, among other publications.