Presley's sound proved hard to categorize; he was billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat" and "The Memphis Flash".
On August 15, 1955, "Colonel" Tom Parker became Presley's manager. By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", all typical of the developing Presley style. Several major record labels had shown interest in signing Presley. On November 21, 1955, Parker and Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $35,000.
To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally brought Presley to television (In March 1955, Presley had failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts). He booked six Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show appearances (CBS), beginning January 28, 1956, when Presley was introduced by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative two-show deal with Milton Berle (NBC).
On January 27, Presley's first RCA Victor single, "Heartbreak Hotel," was released. By April it hit number one in the U.S., and sold one million copies. On March 23, RCA Victor released Elvis Presley, his first album. Like the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were country songs.
From April 23, he had two weeks at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip—billed this time as "the Atomic Powered Singer". His shows were badly received, by critics and the conservative guests. Presley saw Freddie Bell and the Bellboys live in Vegas, and liked their version of Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog". By May 16, he had added the song to his own act.
A few days after an April 3 appearance for The Milton Berle Show in San Diego, a near-fatal flight taking Presley's band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken. After more hectic touring, Presley returned to The Milton Berle Show on June 5 and performed "Hound Dog" (without his guitar). Singing it uptempo, he then began a slower version. His exaggerated, straight-legged shuffle around the microphone stand stirred the audience—as did his vigorous leg shaking and hip thrusts in time to the beat. Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy—even eclipsing the 'communist threat' headlines prevalent at the time. The press described his performance as "vulgar" and "obscene". Presley was obliged to explain himself on the local New York City TV show Hy Gardner Calling: "Rock and roll music, if you like it, and you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I have to move around. I can't stand still. I've tried it, and I can't do it."
The Berle shows drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance in New York. Allen wanted "to do a show the whole family can watch" and introduced a "new Elvis" in white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang "Hound Dog" for less than a minute to a Basset Hound in a top hat. According to one author, "Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd... [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition..." The day after (July 2), the single "Hound Dog" was recorded and Scotty Moore said they were "all angry about their treatment the previous night". (Presley often referred to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career.) A few days later, Presley made a "triumphant" outdoor appearance in Memphis at which he announced: "You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight."
Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Presley on The Steve Allen Show and their first recording session together produced "Any Way You Want Me", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog". The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Though Presley had been unhappy, Allen's show had, for the first time, beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings, causing a critical Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was seen by some 55–60 million viewers. "Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows and on the Berle show, it was ice cream." On the third Sullivan show, Presley sang only slow paced ballads and a gospel song. The fact that Presley was only shown from the waist up and "stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem girl" during this last broadcast has led to claims that Sullivan had "censored" or even "buried" the singer, or that Colonel Parker had orchestrated the episode to generate publicity. In spite of any misgivings about the controversial nature of his performing style, Sullivan declared at the end of the third appearance that Presley was "a real decent, fine boy" and that they had never had "a pleasanter experience" on the show.