PASADENA, Calif. - Operation Rising Star winner Melissa Gomez exceeded her expectations while recording a three-song demo CD at DMI Music's Firehouse Recording Studios.

"I've never thought I could sing as good as I just sang in there," said Gomez, a 30-year-old former Soldier turned full-time Army wife and mother. "I was hitting notes that I didn't know I could hit. And, Terry, oh my gosh, if I just had a few months with her, I wouldn't be talking to you - I'd be talking to Oprah or somebody. I'd be famous."

"She just really pushed me beyond boundaries I thought I couldn't go past. The songs are coming out way better than I thought they would."

Gomez was referring to vocal coach Terry Wood, who led the 2010 Operation Rising Star winner to unprecedented sounds inside the Southern California recording studio.

"I got her to the piano just to do some warm-ups and had her do some exercises and got her up to a high D, which I don't think she ever in her wildest dreams thought she could hit," Wood said. "And she does it easily. She's experimenting and finding out what her voice really can do, without much effort, really.

"She's got a unique sound and she's just discovering who she is as an artist. I think right now she's finding out even in this process that she's got a lot more versatility in her vocals and dynamics than she realized."

Gomez's husband, Sgt. 1st Class Louis Gomez, confirmed those sentiments.

"I've heard her sing notes that I've never heard in the 12 years that I've known her," he said. "She's really come out of her shell and surprised most of us here. I'm extremely proud of her.

"I've always tried to support her singing. Being in the military, you have to give and take and make sacrifices. As many sacrifices as she's made for me, I've always tried to support her endeavors to sing. I've always told her where there's a will there's a way. If we try hard enough, anything is possible."

After deploying twice to Afghanistan and once to Colombia, however, Louis was concerned that Father Time was working against Melissa.

"As the years went by and times got tougher with deployments and stuff like that, I figured she was losing the opportunity," he said. "She was growing older, and with my job, I'm rarely home. And when I'm home, I'm doing some type of training or school somewhere or TDY, and she's normally left with a full plate at the house."

Melissa, too, was beginning to wonder.

"It's been a while since I've sang," she said. "I've been kind of dormant for about four years, so I was like, 'Am I out of my league'' But it's like riding a bicycle, it comes back eventually."

For Gomez, it came roaring back like a motorcycle.

"I kind of likened it to Melissa being an instrument that we've all spent a little bit of time trying to play, trying to help grow to the next level," said Victor Hurtado, who worked with Gomez on three different Army Entertainment Division programs: Operation Rising Star, Stars of Tomorrow and USA Express. "Terry took her and just transformed her to the next level. It's not even the same person anymore.

"Melissa is proof that the heart, along with the pitch - the stars kind of aligned with the material. Her voice is different. Her voice is something that none of us have heard before. She passed my expectations by a million. I kept asking, 'Was that Melissa' Was that Melissa''"

Gomez was the first Operation Rising Star winner to copyright one of her own songs in Pasadena. She co-wrote "The Life" with a little help from Hurtado and U.S. Army Soldier Show music director Joey Beebe.

"It's a good documentation of the life of a military spouse living with a Soldier and having a Family that moves a lot," Hurtado said. "It will introduce the story very organically without really being in peoples' faces. It just kind of says these are the circumstances and this is why we do it. It doesn't tell anybody anything they don't already know, but it gives them a direct perspective.

"It's emotional, but it's also very black and white."

Gomez expressed her Puerto Rican heritage and sounded right at home in another song on the CD, the upbeat meringue "Poder," which means power or to empower.

"It's about military life and being a woman in this lifestyle, saying that I have the power to be a mother, a spouse, a Soldier," said Gomez, who co-wrote "Poder" with Hurtado and Carlos Guillen. "It's from my culture. It's my music. We incorporated that into the other two songs, too - there's like some bongos and congas and things you wouldn't normally here outside of Latin music."

"In Spanish, it says I thought I knew what power was when I was in the military, but now I'm empowered to be a mother, to be a wife," Hurtado said. "It's an interesting play on the word Poder and it embraces her culture."

The other song on her demo, "The Dreamer," written by Matt Moran, was Gomez's winning song on Operation Rising Star and is being considered as part of the musical offerings for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Hurtado said.

"She's got a unique sound and she's just discovering who she is as an artist," Wood said. "She's finding out even in this process that she's got a lot more versatility in her vocals and dynamics than she realized.

"She's a belter. She's got a good strong belt, and she's got some nice falsetto stuff. A lot of her journey from here on is just experimentation and listening to different styles and realizing that she can do them all."

Despite working long days and nights in the studio, Melissa and Louis found time to cruise through Hollywood Hills and along Rodeo Drive. They explored the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street and saw the Capitol Records building. They arrived just in time for the Grammy Awards at the Staples Center and to spend Valentine's Day together in Old Pasadena.

Gomez got a kick out of being kissed by an Elvis Presley impersonator on the sidewalk outside Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. The plaza sits adjacent to the world-famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

"I have to say [the highlight of my sightseeing adventure] was at the theatre when Elvis kissed me on the lips," she said. "That was the funniest part. I loved that. It was just fun. I didn't expect to come see lookalikes."

Likewise, she had no idea how much work goes into recording three songs.

"It's been really long days, like 12 and 13 hours, but that's OK because they took good care of me," Gomez said. "I'm just shocked at how much it takes to make one song and we're kind of rushing through the process. If we actually took the real amount of time, it would be weeks before we put out a song.

"I never knew this many people had to put their hands on it for it to become a final product. By the time we finish, it's like 50 people have taken part in one section of a song. I've learned a lot from that - especially hearing my own song come to life."

Gomez heard just enough to make her yearn to return to the studio.

"I think this is something I'm going to pursue now," she said. "Maybe try and put a little more time into some vocal lessons and really see if I can take it up a notch."

She then saluted the U.S. Army for helping her find the way to L.A.

"This is pretty big," Gomez said. "This is something that I probably could have never done on my own, so it's a really big deal."

Page last updated Tue May 17th, 2011 at 10:55