JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - In 2005, the Army's singing competition, Operation Rising Star was referred to as "Army Idol". In its inception, only Soldiers could compete. Given the high operational pace of wartime Army and the lack of soldier's participation due to deployments, the competition is now open to both active duty military and their families.

There will be 37 winners selected from each of the world's largest Army installations. Competitors receive $500 for first place, $250 for second and $100 for third. From these singers, only 12 finalists will be selected to advance to the finals held in San Antonio. Only one will be the Army's 2011 Rising Star.

The dream of winning the grand prize of this title and an all-inclusive trip for two to Los Angeles to record a three-song demo has become a reality for 12 finalists.

During the second night of competitions 12 finalists competed at the Cascade Club here Sept. 15 for the coveted title of the 2011 Rising Star. Contestants will continue to face elimination for two more exciting nights of competition throughout Sept.

During Rising Star's early years, commanders would march their troops to the old Non Commissioned Officer's Club, known as the American Lake Community Center here. Soldiers who attended this singing competition showed up to support a contestant from their unit. In these beginning years an idea was born to offer a $ 300 Spirit Award to the unit showing the most enthusiasm for their soldier. This money was awarded to the unit's Family Readiness Group fund.

The fact that a unit can win $300 for showing its enthusiasm and support for a soldier or family member is a great incentive to show up and have fun.

"I think this is a great opportunity for soldiers and families to come out and have a good time," said Elizabeth Thunstedt, a special events coordinator at the Morale Welfare and Recreation Center. "This event fosters community."

Two judges with entertainment backgrounds praised the competitor's strengths and offered advice on ways to improve their performances.

Darlene Begley, a retired entertainment specialist and judge for the competition, enjoys observing the contestant's develop as entertainers.

"I love watching these entertainers mature and grow throughout the contest," said Begley. "This year we have some tough competitors."

The crowd seemed captivated by the third contestant's performance as he played guitar while singing the Hawaiian song "Butterflies" by Hawaiian recording artists Kolohe Kai. The singer, Justin Cepeda, native of Guam and an information technician assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was happy his father was able to attend the competition.

"I want to share my music with others," said Cepeda. "My parents are definitely proud of me. I wouldn't be where I am today without them."

The contestants received loud cheers of support from the crowd during the evening's competition. This was true for the tenth competitor, Reymond Wallace, native of Bakersfield, Calif. and a communications specialist assigned to the 56th Multi-Functional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade, who belted out "Georgia On My Mind" by recording artist Ray Charles. This singer loves to share his talent with his brothers and sisters in the Army.

"The Spirit Award is off the hook," said Wallace. "I would love to see my unit and their families come out here and get all crazy. We could have a great unit party with $300."

The final competitions are scheduled for Sept. 22 and 29. The JBLM winner will be announced Sep 29.

For more information on the Operation Rising Star competition and the $300 Spirit Award, visit or call Nelson Recreation Center at (253) 967-2539.

Page last updated Tue September 20th, 2011 at 17:30