Rayner Pailus Tudus is adamant to pursue his dream in the US come May this year, with great hopes to bring glory home, after encouragement from family and friends. His love for legendary singer Elvis Presley songs grew on him since his childhood.
He comes from a singing family. His mother Angela Martin, a retired government servant, sings for the local church while his father Pailus Tudus, a former policeman attached to the police band and carrying the title sergeant major, is also an avid singer. Like him, his three brothers are fans of Elvis and can sing well.
Born 45 years ago and the eldest in the family, Rayner, from Kg Baru, Putatan, said his father would always play Elvis songs (in the days of cassette tapes) when he sent him to school. After listening to the same songs over and over again for many years in his childhood, Rayner could even memorise the lyrics to each song.
“I listened to Elvis’ songs when I was about six or seven years old. It was never in my mind to have interest in his song. I guess my dad handed down the passion to me. I am so thankful to my dad for that.
The song ‘All Shook Up’ was always on repeat whenever we were on the way to school.
It was always a happy moment,” smiled Rayner.
“I am blessed that God gave me a voice that enables me to entertain my friends,” he continued.
“When I entered secondary school in the 80s in government school in Kota Kinabalu, I remember a very funny incident,” he said as he reminisced his high school year.
One Sunday afternoon, in the boarding school, he discovered one of the students’ toilets had a “good echo” from the cubicle. He spent quite a long time there and sang ‘Jailhouse Rock’. He found the echo helped him sing like Elvis. He finished the whole song and came out of the toilet.
Without him realising, a teacher who was staying at the teacher’s quarters heard him singing aloud and seemed to be annoyed with the “noise” he made. Rayner was questioned why he made so much noise.
The teacher then said due to the noise, he would be punished.
“I still remember how the teacher got so annoyed with me singing in the toilet.
He said, ‘Kenapa ni terpekik, terlolong dalam tandas.
Ini hari Ahad, orang nak rehat! (Why so much noise. This is Sunday afternoon, we need our rest)’!” he laughed.
The following day during the Monday assembly, Rayner was called by the same teacher to go on stage to receive his punishment. “The teacher asked me to sing the same song I did in the toilet. So I sang the full lyric of ‘Jailhouse Rock’. While I sang, I heard some noise coming from the students inside the hall shouting and clapping hands. I think they were entertained,” he laughed.
After he finished singing, the teacher spanked him on the buttock, saying the singing and spanking was part of the punishment for being noisy inside the toilet, and warned him not to do it again.
“Since incident, my schoolmates were impressed and praised my voice impersonating Elvis.
I thought it was a great compliment.
“They kept saying I should go for singing competitions,” said Rayner.
He said whenever he had the chance to be at a friend’s house, he would check their toilets to hear the echo.
“Whenever, I was at a friend’s, I had this funny habit, checking my own echo inside their toilet and if I find it (the echo) was good, I would spend a few minutes inside and do a number or two.”
Some of his close friends are aware of his “habit”, so they let him “use” their toilet to practice his singing!
After all, they found it entertaining.
Rayner said the best place to practice singing is in the toilet, if you cannot afford to be at a studio!
“I also tried bedroom, but somehow it cannot beat the echo coming from the toilet,” he said.
After his secondary school, he was sponsored by Mara to study at Temple University in Philadelphia in USA, taking up Degree in Computer Science.
“One day, my university mates and I were having a drink in a pub (in Philadelphia), and there was this pub manager inviting guests to sing. So I went up and did my Elvis songs.
The guests were impressed and some even jokingly said I could sing better than Elvis himself,” he joked.
He recalled the name of the pub was Pub Webb which was in the neighbourhood, not far from Temple University.
The name of the pub manager was James T. B. He remembered how the manager offered him a part time job as pub singer.
“I was approached by the manager after he heard me sing and said, ‘Son, would you like to sing in my pub as part time singer? You can come in for two hours for your singing session in the evening. You will earn USD460 monthly,” Rayner said.
He took on the offer but only managed to do it for two months due to his tight schedule in the university.
It was one of the best experiences, he said, to entertain people from other countries.
He also recalled how he struggled while studying abroad. Although his study was sponsored, he still had other expenses.
“Due to financial constraint, my friends and I always had some plans to earn some income.
We tried performing in the streets and open area (public places).
“While my friend played the guitar, I would sing. Passers-by would then donate their money in whatever amount.
With that money, we could buy food, books and other things we needed for our studies.”
“There were times, we really had nothing in our pocket, so we went to the pubs and asked if we could sing in exchange for some food,” he said, adding that the experiences were valuable.
Having practised singing in the pubs, streets, public places, friends’ events, Rayner gained confidence and self-assurance.
He was also dubbed the “Borneo Elvis” while in the US by those who knew him and had heard him singing then.
“I was advised by my close friends to participate in singing competitions. I brushed off the idea, saying I wasn’t ready.
But in reality I was too scared to compete.”
He said during university break, on summer holidays, he travelled to Memphis with his friends – Elvis’ hometown.
“I was just speechless seeing the place. From one corner right to the end, it was fully decorated with everything and anything about Elvis Presley. It was so brilliant and an amazing tour.
“Unfortunately, we did not go to ‘Graceland’ where Elvis’ personal items were displayed.
The entrance ticket was too expensive. I think it was about USD190 per person. So we just roamed the town.”
Rayner said it was like a dream came true for him after visiting Memphis in 1994 and spent two full days there.
The only thing he could afford to buy was a replica ring of Elvis which cost him USD90.
He was also proud to have stepped foot into Heartbreak Hotel, managed by the Elvis Presley Enterprise.
“It was an awesome feeling to be inside the hotel that was managed by Elvis’ company.
Too bad I didn’t own any digital camera at the time. So, all my photos were taken on film… I think they were spoilt or still somewhere in the States.”
After Rayner returned to Kota Kinabalu, he received a bank job offer. He said whenever there were any staff events, he would voluntarily sing for his colleagues. That made his friends and colleagues realise his potential, and persuaded him to compete in singing events.
At one time, the bank organised “Alliance Idol” in 2004. Rayner participated and won “best singer”.
He joined another Elvis impersonation competition organised by the National Geography with Hitz.fm in Kuala Lumpur in 2005.
The event was held in Hard Rock Café where Rayner only managed to get the 3rd highest points.
“I was told that although I had Elvis voice but my appearance was not up to their standard.
I didn’t have Elvis’ sideburns,” he said, laughing.
The following year, the bank organised another annual dinner and apparently his colleagues were expecting him to sing.
“I think they were so in love with my voice that no one wanted to sing that night and they just wanted to be the listeners.
“I was tasked to carry out all 13 songs, which I gladly did, but I was exhausted in the end.”
Another memorable experience was when he performed in KDCA during the Harvest Festival in 2013 – two tourists from Australia (Bridget) and England (McDonald) fell in love with each other when he sang the song.
They decided to get married in Sabah the following year (2014) and requested Rayner to perform at their wedding ceremony held at Tip of Borneo in Kudat.
“It was one romantic scenes when they held their wedding at the Tip of Borneo in Kudat.”
With constant encouragement from family, colleagues and friends, Rayner participated in more prestigious events.
A surprise win came at last year’s event – “A Tribute to the King of Rock and Roll” – in Marbella Gastrobar Newcom Club House, Kuala Lumpur. It was held on Elvis’ death anniversary – he died on August 16, 1977.
Despite flu and a bad fever, he still won – he had wanted to back out due to his condition but his family and friends pushed him on regardless.
“I was actually in a bad shape as I was down with flu and fever. But my relatives and friends persuaded me to carry on and just do my best.
“So, I went for the sake of entertaining the audience instead of having in mind wanting to win as I knew I would not stand a good chance due to my condition at the time,” he recalled.
To his surprise, he edged out other Elvis impersonators from all over Malaysia.
After winning, his name and video were submitted to Elvis Presley Enterprise of Graceland.com in the United States to participate in a semi-final of the “2017 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest at Dallas, Texas”.
“I received the good news some time in (February) that my entry to the contest was accepted.
I am motivated and simply electrified that I am representing Malaysia to compete among the world’s Elvis impersonators in South Folk Ranch, Dallas, Texas, on May 25-28 this year,” he said.
His assistant, Albert, is helping him with the preparation as there is quite a long list of things to do ahead of the competition.
One of his attires cost him RM3,000 and he especially went to Kuching to meet Connie Ragam, a costume designer, to decorate his attire with beads and other ornaments.
He also met his mentor Wilfred Vincent who happened to be Sarawak’s Elvis.
“I am blessed to have Wilfred as my advisor and mentor, apart from being my friend.
I am also thankful to Connie who helped me with my attire.”
He said he had submitted his letter of appeal for sponsorship of airfare to USA (from AirAsia).
“I have submitted my letter of appeal to the CEO of AirAsia, Tan Sri Fernandez, hoping he would consider my plea for the airfare sponsorship. Luckily, I received the reply from the airline’s office in KL,” he said.
Meanwhile, Albert himself is mesmerised with Rayner’s ability to sing like Elvis Presley.
“I can tell you that even I am enthralled by Rayner’s voice. I guess he has been practising it; he breathes Elvis, he lives Elvis, he thinks Elvis, perchance at times he perceives that he is Elvis,” laughed Albert.
Some of Elvis songs that Rayner would be singing in Texas are “All Shook Up” and “I have Lost Her” (for first round); Followed by “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. In the final round, he would sing “If I Can Dream” and “It Hurts Me”.
Rayner recalled when he was a child, he was always made fun of by his friends for being different.
“I remember I was made fun of because I spoke English, I sang and I did stuff that others usually don’t do.
“So, I want to advice parents that if you find your child wanting to do something different or having a different hobby, just let them be. We never know how they will end up.
“I guess I was the only child then who enjoyed Elvis Presley songs. So, do not stop your child from doing what they like,” he advised, saying he himself is a father of two and advised his children to pursue their passion.
Apart from singing (like Elvis), he discovered his other hobby was painting. He loved to paint but needed to find someone to coach him.
After coming back from America, Rayner was introduced to an award-winning female artist.
She paints beautifully and was advised to approach her for lessons.
“One day, at a cousin’s wedding, I was introduced to Caroline (the artist).
“I later found out that besides giving me advice on how to improve my painting, she also gave me her heart!
I fell in love with her and the chemistry just went on and on,” he said.
Rayner married Caroline and the rest is history.
He asked Malaysians to pray for his wellbeing and, hopefully, to make Malaysia known through his talent.
Good luck, Rayner!