News: A cheering audience's roar crowns Baton Rouge Reserve Soldier top talent in Haiti
Story by Capt. Jose Emperador
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Aries M. Johnson, a chaplain's assistant with the 377th Theater Sustainment Command headquartered in Belle Chase, La., has been on many tactical vehicles during his military career.
On Saturday night, however, Johnson, who deployed to Haiti with his unit in support of the earthquake humanitarian relief effort Operation Unified Response, climbed on an Army tractor trailer flat bed for the ride of his life.
Although, the truck-turned-performance stage didn't even travel an inch, Johnson, 22, of Baton Rouge, did move the cheering crowd of service members, contractors and local Hatian residents with his wide-ranging melodious voice and heart-felt lyrics. Their approving response was enough to name him first place winner of the Logistic Supply Area - Hope You Got Talent Show Saturday in Port-au-Prince.
"I was a little nervous at first but once I got out there and started singing the lyrics, I got into my own zone--an adrenalin rush," Johnson said about taking the stage. "I can't describe the feeling. It's the biggest thing I've ever been involved with."
Sponsored by the 7th Sustainment Brigade, out of Fort Eustis, Va., the two-day talent show, open to thousands of troops serving in Haiti, started with a qualifying day on March 12 and 32 contestants vying to be top talent of the Joint Logistics Command - Haiti. Of those competing in the preliminary round, only 12 made it the next day's finals. Capt. Catrina A. Brown, the event's impromptu organizer, said event interest started out slow. The competition solicited all forms of talent including singing, dancing and even poetry reading.
"There was little interest and no-one stepped up so I took ownership of it," Brown, the officer in charge of battalion operations for the 7th SB said after the talent show idea withered with only a few contestants wanting to perform. Then interest snowballed.
"We went from five acts to 30 in two days," Brown said. She added it wasn't until the last two days when outdoor rehearsals and auditions generated interest that the number of soldiers wanting to participate jumped significantly.
A panel of three judges decided who from the qualifying round would pass to the finals and subsequently the top five. Audience response determined the top three prize winners. During the qualifying round Johnson sang "A Song for You" by Donny Hathaway.
In the finals, he selected the Maxwell ballad "Pretty Wings." After winning the talent show, Johnson performed an encore of an original song he wrote in 2008, "Always Better Here."
"I love to sing. I've been doing it my whole life. It's what moves me. It wasn't about the money," Johnson, who's been in the Reserve for four years, said of his $250 first place prize money.
The Baton Rouge native said his family is musically inclined and many of them sing or play musical instruments well. His mother, Jacki Johnson, is his main inspiration says Johnson. When asked whether his mother is a good singer his only response was, "Can she sing?" emphasizing what an obvious talent she is.
Taking second place and $150 were Pfc. Ann Onyea Mazyck and Pfc. Kiersha Strong of the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion out of Fort Lewis, Wa. The third place winner was Capt. Theresa Giorno from the 10th Transportation Battalion of Fort Eustis, Va..
Just before leaving the stage a judge told Johnson "forget about LSA Idol, you're ready for American Idol."
Johnson, who doesn't sing professionally, is part of a duo group trying to get exposure. Johnson directs anyone interested in learning more about him and his music to facebook.
This work, A cheering audience's roar crowns Baton Rouge Reserve Soldier top talent in Haiti, by CPT Jose Emperador, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.