News: Reaching for the stars
Story by Staff Sgt. Antwaun Parrish
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – The comical announcer randomly selects the performing order as the singers sit amongst their fellow contestants and audience members while patiently waiting to plant their feet upon the stage to belt out tunes without any accompaniment. Each have the dream of being on top but will have to prove their abilities to a panel of judges with an eye for talent.
The contestants are soldiers and military family members with the desire to become the next Operation Rising Star winner. The competition is designed much like the show American Idol.
The auditions began Sept. 13 and continue on each Thursday until Oct. 4 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Heroes Sports Lounge. Elimination rounds will take place to determine who makes it to the top.
The free show begins at 7 p.m., with food and beverages available for purchase at the bar. Singers are urged to have their units come out and support them with the promise of an award for the Soldier who brings in the most crowd support.
“We have some amazing talent here,” said Bill Strock, Operation Rising Star’s local program manager.
Specialist Danyele Mason has always enjoyed singing and continues her passion at Grace Gospel Church at JBLM. She explained that when she auditioned for women’s show choir in high school, that helped her validate her singing abilities, as she began to receive solos her junior and senior year.
“I can’t remember the exact time I started singing,” said Mason, a native of Indianapolis. “But I love it.”
Mason, an information technology specialist, chose to audition for Operation Rising Star because she wanted to get back on stage. She misses the feeling of being on stage in show choir, and wants to get that feeling back.
“When I’m performing, I connect to the song,” said Mason, assigned to 1st Special Forces Group. “I’m no longer me; I’m the person singing the song.”
This is Mason’s first time auditioning; however, one of her fellow contestants, Spc. Reymond Wallace, who finished third last year, plans to take it all the way to the Army-wide level.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native began singing in church, where his mother was the choir director. This was an advantage for him, as he received many solos and began to find his passion for the arts.
“Even when my mom wasn’t the director, I still received solo parts,” said Wallace, assigned to 56th Army Band. “I was just good at leading songs.”
Wallace auditioned singing a heartfelt rendition of “Praise is what I Do.”
The mostly gospel singer is a praise and worship leader at Pacific Christian Center, located in Tacoma, Wash. Wallace stays true to his christian roots as his driving force.
Strock, who wears a long, gray beard and has a husky voice, believes that the competition gives soldiers and their families more to do than just being a soldier.
“If you have a talent, let’s send it out there and see what you can do,” he said.
Both Mason and Wallace expressed their appreciation for programs that gives Soldiers an outlet away from normal Army life.
“It makes me feel like the Army is giving me another way to express myself,” said Mason, who’s an alto singer. “I didn’t expect to do one of the things I enjoy the most before I joined.”
“It’s awesome that soldiers are provided these opportunities,” said Wallace. “This is a morale booster.”
Oct. 4 will be the night the judges decide if Mason, Wallace or one of the other 26 contestants will be JBLM’s next Operation Rising Star.
“If I win or place, it will make me feel like I haven’t lost my voice,” Mason said.
The 1st place winner receives $500 and the chance to advance to the Army-wide finals. The finals are located at San Antonio, Texas, and broadcast on the Pentagon Channel.