News: First-term Airman tours world with Tops in Blue
Story by Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- How many people get to see their dreams come true? Seeing that happen takes strong ambition and persistence.
Ever since seeing Tops in Blue for the first time when he was in seventh grade, Airman 1st Class Matthew Flores of Spanaway, Wash. has been pursuing the dream of being in the show.
Since 1953, Tops in Blue has been one of mostly widely traveled entertainment groups in existence. Composed of some of the most talented amateur vocalists, musicians, dancers and technicians in the Air Force, its primary purpose is to perform for military personnel and their families around the world. Throughout their history they have appeared in a variety of venues such as the Ed Sullivan Show, Boyz II Men concerts, Super Bowl XIX and several NASCAR races.
Today, Flores is a vocalist for Tops in Blue. On stage, his energy electrifies the audience, as he smiles from ear-to-ear and brings together the entire cast during the group numbers.
“Without a doubt, he’s proved himself worthy of being in Tops in Blue through his energy, positivity, and the way he brings everyone up on stage,” said Mindy Cameron, Tops in Blue tour manager.
Music has always played a major part of his life, said Flores. He began by picking up the violin as a fourth grader and continued playing in orchestra through eighth grade. In seventh grade, the same year he first saw Tops in Blue, his school choir teacher overheard him singing and persuaded him to join the choir, causing a turning point in his musical interests.
As a sophomore in high school he began polishing his talent by taking classes for singing, dancing and acting.
He furthered challenged himself, the airman said, by competing at state and national singing competitions, and winning.
On June 1, 2009, Airman Flores finally enlisted in the Air Force. He had tried submitting an audition package to Tops in Blue before joining, but was told he needed to go through basic first.
So he did. Next came accounting and finance technical training.
Within his first week after he reached Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., his first base, Flores applied and included a video tape.
During his First Term Airman’s Course class, he received the call that he had made it into the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest finals.
“I was in tears and screamed real loud when I got the news,” said Flores.
The competition consisted of 10 days of long hours, said Flores. The judges were constantly observing talent, work ethic, actions and interactions with other people.
“I made a lot of friends from the competition. It was a great experience,” he added. “It was everything I thought Tops in Blue would be.”
Though the contest had taken place in January, competitors would not hear whether or not they made the upcoming year’s cast until February, with Feb. 18 being the last day.
Finally, that day came. His commander called the airman and his coworkers in for a meeting at the end of the day under the guise of work issues. Instead, at the meeting his commander announced that Airman Flores was selected for Tops in Blue.
“Since it was the last day, I had given up hope,” he said. “But when it was announced, I lost it. I was in shock for a minute and a half. I couldn’t move or breathe. There are no words to describe that feeling.”
A few days later, Flores out processed from Maxwell to visit his family before the year-long tour. After that he headed to Lackland AFB to begin rehearsals, March 12.
“I was terrified that first day,” commented Flores. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
One of the first lessons they learned at rehearsals was how to smile, he said.
“They were like basic training instructors in the way they taught us,” described Flores.
During the first couple days they also began going through the basic Tops in Blue choreography.
“The routines were the most exhausting things ever,” he commented. “It was harder than basic.”
Though challenging, it taught him a lot about himself, he said.
“You learn how far you can push yourself through Tops in Blue,” Flores commented. “You learn to suck it up and do it, no matter what it is.”
Finally, after all the practices, they had their first performance at Lackland as the sneak preview for the season, he said. The fast pace of the performance came as shock to all of them. The wardrobe changes had to happen more rapidly than expected.
“We definitely were not in regulation when we came out in our mess dress,” laughed Airman Flores. “But, you have to keep going, even if something is wrong.”
Though there mistakes in the performance, it didn’t matter.
“I was very proud of myself for making it through that,” he said. “At the end, I was so exhausted, I could barely walk. We did everything we could to be perfect. Everyone came together as a team.”
Now, several months into their tour, Flores still enjoys every minute of being in Tops in Blue.
“I couldn’t compare this to anything I have done before,” he said. “I’m so grateful to have this. Every day is a new adventure.”
He is not even a year and a half into his AF career but is touring the globe.
“Who gets to do this?” Flores asked. “I get to see the world before I am 21, and am an ambassador of the U.S. and the Air Force as an A1C.”
Flores has made many fond memories in the short time he has been with Tops in Blue, from the bus rides to the people he’s met, such as the commander of U.S. Africa Command to the “Candy Bomber,” retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, a Berlin Airlift pilot.
Though the tour is barely half-way through, Tops in Blue has given him a lot, the airman said.
“I’ve gotten a lot strength that I didn’t realize I had before,” he concluded. “I can do anything after this.”
Tops in Blue still has a couple months before this tour ends. Until then, Flores will continue to light up the stage, singing and dancing in front of thousands.