It all started with a Fat Elvis impersonator and a dream. Nearly 12 years ago, we celebrated our first year at Lagniappe with the inaugural Nappie Awards at Cafe 615, the very place where we’d launched the publication a year earlier. It was a very tough 365 days, to say the least. Trying to get a newspaper off the ground is a monumental task, especially when you have a shoestring budget and a name no one can say or spell.

Though it is pronounced “lan-yap,” in the beginning we heard some very creative versions of it, like “lag-nap” and especially “lag-nappie,” which just kind of stuck around the office and is how the name of our readers’ choice awards came to be.

The first Nappie Awards contest and ceremony paled in comparison to today’s months-long operation. Back then, we were only distributing 5,000 papers and did not have an online ballot. I think we only received a couple hundred paper ballots that first year, if that.

But even back then, we wanted to show we were not just going to be “Something Extra for Mobile” but something different, so we came up with some rather, um, unorthodox categories. Some people may see them as a little unusual, or maybe even inappropriate, but we like to call them “funky.”

In fact, our first anniversary cover model, WZEW’s Lee Ann Waters, took home the coveted Nappie for “DJ whose voice leads you to believe you may want to see HER naked.” Still a smokin’ hot category today. (Don’t worry, we don’t just objectify women, we have a naked male DJ category too.) Though I will say both of these categories have always been difficult to fit on the actual awards — speaking of which, let’s just say, they have evolved greatly over time.

And that’s where the fat, faux Presley comes into play.

It occurred to us a couple of days before the first Nappie Awards that we actually needed an award to hand out at the ceremony we were planning. We’d been using the image of a Fat Elvis impersonator in some house ads for the paper and we were very enamored of him. (We’ve grown up — a little bit — since then). Fat E was stuffed so tightly into a white jumpsuit, you could see his jewels — and I am not talking about the ones bedazzled on top of his suit.

I can’t remember how we happened upon the image in the first place. I think maybe Rob’s band, Glass Joe, used him to promote their shows, or maybe I am confusing him with another pic they really liked of a naked man with a mullet sitting outside on a broken toilet. Yum!

Anyway, for some reason we decided it would be an excellent idea to incorporate Fat Elvis into the first awards certificate — because, you know, who wouldn’t want to hang that on the wall of their business? I remember sitting in our office the afternoon of the show proudly typing up each one, printing them out and placing them in the finest Dollar Store frames money could buy.

I still see a few of those hanging around — one at Callaghan’s and I think Osman’s may still have theirs up too — and I cringe looking at just how terrible those things look. What were we thinking? I suppose it was better than using Mullet Man.

After the Fat Elvis year, we decided to “class” things up. We bought plaques and glued various objects we spray-painted gold that represented the category. We had bottle openers for bars, tape recorders for reporters, forks for restaurants, etc.

The first year we did the “golden forks” we learned a lot about the properties of glue. Our intern at the time spent a couple of weeks spraying all of the forks and then gluing them on the plaques. We would walk by the rows of them that were lined up and down our hallway drying and admire their golden beauty.

Over the course of those two weeks, we never touched them. We just left them to dry flat. But, the morning of the show, when we picked them up to move them to the awards venue, most of the forks fell off.

Sooooooooo, yeah, glue doesn’t stick so well to spray-painted things apparently, or there was some other problem in the adhesive process. I don’t really know what happened, but we scurried to Blankenship’s Hardware and begged them to give us the strongest glue known to man, and they did. Gorilla Glue.

We went back and got to gluing. The awards looked great again and those forks weren’t going anywhere. Crisis averted. Or so we thought. A few hours later, we looked at them again and the glue had foamed up into some sort of hardened glob that resembled spray foam insulation — although bubbled up under the fork tines, it looked like country fried gravy. Classy indeed.

We salvaged them the best we could, but you will still see some of those sad things hanging today as well. Most of the time they are just missing whatever was attached to them entirely. Just an empty plaque with a lonely engraved plate at the bottom that reads “Best Bar” or “Best Lunch Spot.” More cringing.

We eventually moved to the banners we have now, and they have been popular and thankfully free of any country gravy or Fat Elvises (or would that be El-vi?). And the ceremony has grown from a hundred folks at Cafe 615 to a thousand at the Saenger.

Change has always been a part of the Nappie Awards and most of the time that has been a good thing.

This year, we have some pretty big changes as well, and we really think it will make the contest even livelier.

So here’s the deal. We will have two phases. The first one will be the “Nomination Period” and begins this week on April 30 and runs through May 27. This period of open voting will be as it has always been, where you can vote for anyone or any business in each of the over 200 categories. You can fill out the print ballot, which you can find on page 33 of this issue, or you can vote online at lagniappemobile.com.

Both online and print voting in the Nomination Period will run for the next three weeks.

We are also very excited about the new online voting platform we are rolling out this year. It is super user-friendly, and once you go through a simple registration process you can vote once an hour all day, every day, if you so desire, for all of your favorites.

Beginning May 28, we will tabulate all of the votes we receive during the Nomination Period and on June 18, we’ll reveal the finalists. This will be up to the Top Six vote getters in each category.

Then from June 18 until July 13 we’ll ask readers once again to consider their favorites among the finalists in each category and vote either online or fill out a print ballot.

One of the reasons we are doing it this way is, as you may imagine, while we get thousands of “legit” votes, we also get a lot of trash. For example, right up there with The Union, Briquettes, Ruth’s Chris and all the other usual suspects, one of the most popular votes we get in “Best Steak” is “Mine.” While that may be true, we can’t really award a Nappie to “Mine.” Also you wouldn’t believe how many “hoo-ha doctors” we must have in this town judging by how many “me” answers we get in that category.

So this “Finals Period” will allow us to weed out all of the garbage and really have a great competition among the “best of the best” in each category.

After we complete this period, we will tally everything up and present the winners in the July 23 issue of Lagniappe. The awards ceremony will take place on Friday, July 24 at the Saenger Theatre. We are hoping all of the usual movers, shakers and troublemakers will join us. And who knows, maybe even Fat Elvis will make an appearance. Don’t worry, naked mullet man will be stopped at the door.