- Cleburne Independent School District
Wheat Middle 8th Grader Hunter Monroe Shakes Up the Crowd as an Elvis Tribute Artist
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series entitled "What I Did on my Summer Vacation," in which we share stories focusing on the unique, remarkable achievements of CISD students over the summer.
Ask Wheat Middle School eighth grader Hunter Monroe what he did on his summer vacation—then prepare to be “all shook up.”
Monroe, who at the age of 14 is beginning to make a name for himself among Elvis Tribute Artists, traveled in June to Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, to compete during their annual Elvis Week.
In August, he was among tribute artists from across the nation and the world who descended on Memphis. This time, Monroe—known by his stage name Hunter Cole—was competing, while also performing in the “Little Hound Dog Show” at Dad’s Rockin’ Oldies.
While his classmates and peers are listening to pop and rap, Monroe knows the words, the music—and the moves—to every Elvis hit from the 50s and 60s--and beyond. As a tribute artist, his focus is on Presley’s early years. And it’s more than just a hobby, according to Hunter, who makes it clear—that it’s his job “to keep the legend alive.”
His interest, and ultimately his passion, for all things Elvis began at age 11 when Hunter and his mother and step-father, Mary and Matthew Lowe, attended a performance by Texas tribute artist Moses Snow at Cleburne’s Loaf ‘n’ Dog.
“We all dressed 50s,” Hunter said. “Right after Moses’ performance I turned to my mom and said ‘I love this.’ I automatically fell in love with being an Elvis tribute artist—and it wasn’t that long before I became one. When we got in the car to go home, it’s like everything snapped into place in knowing what I wanted to do.”
Mary admits she thought Hunter’s interest was a passing thing, but quickly saw it was much deeper than that. For his 12th birthday, all he wanted was a record player and Elvis records.
“My dad loved Elvis,” she said. “I guess it skipped a generation; I’ve been getting to know Elvis through Hunter. When he first got into this, I thought it would be a phase and he wouldn’t stick to it. But he kept watching Elvis performances on YouTube and practicing in his room for hours. He kept doing it, doing it--and doing it--to the point I thought ‘wow, he really likes this thing.’”
Hunter’s first Elvis outing of 2021 was to Grapevine’s Lone Star Elvis Fest, where he met lots of tribute artists (he calls them the brotherhood) and received lots of encouragement. When his parents heard about the youth competition in Tupelo, they approached Hunter about making the trip.
“I was so happy when they told me we were going,” he said. “It was a great experience and so much fun. Everyone was so nice.”
For Hunter, the trip to Tupelo was like going to Elvis Tribute Artist Camp, as he received training from professionals. He chose Elvis’ 1956 hit “Blue Suede Shoes” for his performance in the contest for young and beginner “ETAs.”
“We were taught how to elevate Elvis’ moves in our performances,” Hunter said. “We rode the Tupelo Elvis bus to tour the house where was born, and we visited his chapel. When it came time for me to perform, I was very nervous, but everyone came up to tell me ‘you’ve got this, you can do this.’”
“I chose to sing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ because it’s a classic,” he said. “I also wore blue suede shoes. When I got off stage, I couldn’t believe I did it—I had achieved my dream. It was a great experience.”
Moses Snow, who has become a mentor to Hunter, was also in Tupelo for Elvis Week and was stage side for his friend’s performance. Hunter has had the opportunity to sing with Snow at one of his recent shows.
“Moses taught me to have confidence,” Hunter said. “If you’re nervous, you know you’re ready. Just be sure to bring your confidence.”
While in Tupelo, Hunter met several people who knew Elvis well, from working with him in the movies to his private nurse, Tish Kirk. He also had his first experience with fan fever—directed at him.
“I talked for hours with Tish Kirk,” Hunter said. “She let me try on the gold nugget ring Elvis made special for her. While we were there, a woman bought a ring and gave it to me. She saw me perform and told me how impressed she was. It’s got Elvis’ Taking Care of Business logo with the lightning bolt on it. I call it my fan ring. I only wear it at shows and special events.”
Hunter also has business to take care of as a performer—with a platform. While he is all about Elvis, he uses every opportunity that comes his way to send a message of understanding and encouragement regarding Autism.
Hunter was diagnosed with Autism at an early age. He was non-verbal until he was close to three years-old.
“Hunter is high functioning on the Autism spectrum, which is the mildest form,” Mary said. “He may say the most random things on occasion, and may experience an awkward moment now and then. I think that’s why he likes performing, because it’s repetitive and he knows what to say and what to do. He just loves Elvis and putting smiles on people’s faces.”
“He has such a pure heart, and I think people can feel that,” she said. “Autism awareness is a passion for both Hunter and me.”
Hunter describes himself as an advocate for Autism.
“I want everyone to know that just because you may be different, you can still be cool like Elvis—or whoever you want to be,” he said.
Cleburne ISD Autism Specialist Presley Auvenshine is one of Hunter’s biggest fans, as well as one of his teachers. Auvenshine, who is also known in local performing circles for his guitar and vocal talents, invited Hunter to do a number with him while appearing at a local venue this summer.
“I’ve known Hunter for several years,” Auvenshine said. “He’s just an all-around good kid. He does what he’s supposed to do and works hard.”
“I love music—and Elvis,” Auvenshine said. “I ran into Hunter at the store one day and he told me about his new hobby. I’ve kept up with him through his Facebook page, which includes posts from his performing events. He also does livestreams.”
“What he’s doing is pretty neat,” Auvenshine said. “Hunter is just wanting to spread it out there that nothing should hold you back. It’s pretty impressive. When other kids his age are doing TikTok, he’s an Elvis impersonator. It’s very remarkable. I play here and there at little places and I told his mom that if he ever came to watch me, he had to sing a song with me. We had that opportunity this summer, and it was great. He’s got all the moves and the voice—and he’s got the courage. He just nails it.”
“He’s just an all-around impressive kid,” Auvenshine said. “He’s a hard worker and wants to do well. He’s doing something very cool, in doing what he loves and doing it well. Seeing someone at his age engaged in this, it’s just great—I’m excited for him.”
Following his four days in Tupelo, Hunter and his family were back on the road in August to join the fans and a multitude of Elvis look-alikes in Memphis. While it wasn’t his first visit to Graceland, this time, Hunter was there on business.
“My mother lives in Somerset, Kentucky and once before we had stopped in Graceland coming home,” Matthew Lowe said. “Hunter wanted his picture taken with every single jump suit that Elvis had worn that was on display—and he liked Elvis’ kitchen. We were excited for him to return to Memphis as a competitor. At Tupelo, we were so proud of what he did. Hunter likes what he does.”
As a participant in the “Images of the King World Championship” Hunter was a contestant in the age 17 and under division.
“Hunter did very well in the competition,” Mary said, “He was so happy for a friend of his who won. He got to see and meet some really awesome people like James Burton, who was Elvis’ guitarist, keyboardist David Briggs, who toured with Elvis and Billy Smith, who was Elvis’ first cousin and a member of the Memphis Mafia.”
He also got to mix and mingle with the cream of the crop among Elvis Tribute Artists, known as “Ultimates,” which, according to Hunter, is the highest level to be achieved.
“There’s major money that matches that level, when you achieve Ultimate,” he said. “That’s a career in itself. That’s where Moses is now. He’s a fan favorite at huge competitions.”
Speaking of money—it takes some to dress like the Elvis of the 50s and 60s. Hunter dresses in Elvis 50s/60s mode every day, including school days. Mary doubles as his wardrobe mistress and his “momager.”
“He has his regular Elvis every day clothes and his concert clothes, including a gold lamé tuxedo,” Mary said. “I search Goodwill, go to garage sales and shop Amazon. I typically can’t find things in his size, so we have found a great seamstress to do alternations. We often have to give a garment a 50s twist to come out with the look we want. Shoes are also hard to find—and pricey.”
Hunter’s Elvis look includes his hair. He admits it takes a lot of work to get that hairstyle reminiscent of the music star’s early days.
“It’s very hard to make my hair this way,” he said. “But this is my look every day. At the end of school last year, Wheat had some dress-up days like ‘dress for your future career,’ ‘dress like your favorite celebrity,’ and ‘dress for your favorite decade.’ I—and my clothes-- fit right in every day.”
“At first, I had to deal with some sidewise glances and some attitude, but no more,” Hunter said. “Now, the whole school knows I do this. They call me ‘Little E.’”
“We tell Hunter if everyone dressed the same way, it would be a very boring world,” Mary said. “The kids have begun to know who he is, and that this is his passion. I think they are liking it and are understanding who he is.”
As he continues to build on his skills, Hunter’s participation in choir falls right in with his mission. He’s also interested in theater arts.
“I’m living a dream, and I want to make this into a career,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. I have a low octave voice, so some of the younger Elvis songs are more of a challenge. I’m really getting his lip curl down—that’s what I’m working on most right now.”
And slowly, “Hunter Cole” is making a name for himself—as a performer and an inspiration. He recently experienced some positive karma, when he was approached by a fan after an appearance in Sherman.
“After meeting Moses for the first time, I went up to him and said, ‘Hi, Moses. I’m your biggest fan,” Hunter said. “Now, I’ve had a little boy come up to me and ask for my autograph. He told me he wants to become an Elvis tribute artist. It’s amazing how that’s come around, back to me.”
His mother agrees, noting the “little old ladies” love him.
“He loves to interact with the crowd, and I love that,” Mary said. “He also feels responsible to the people who have come out to see him perform. This has given Hunter a hobby, boosted his confidence 200 percent—and he’s found something that he’s good at. In addition to working on his performing skills, he does his own live videos and photography, using a timer. He’s designed a ‘Keeping the King Alive’ t-shirt and he’s learning the guitar and the ukulele.”
And he continues to “follow that dream.”
“If you want a dream to come true, you have to follow it and believe in yourself,” Hunter said. “You also have to work hard. I’m very grateful to my mother and step-father. Without them, I wouldn’t be Hunter Cole-Elvis Tribute Artist.”
Hunter will be among the talent showcased at the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce Business Expo on September 30 at the Cleburne Conference Center. To stay up with the latest Hunter happenings, he can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/hunter.monroe.161
“Dreams can come true if you work hard and believe in yourself,” he said. “What I’ve learned along the way is if you want to achieve it—go for it.”