Karaoke Idol Pumps up Morale on Camp Sabalu-Harrison
October 16, 2012
Camp Sabalu-Harrison, Afghanistan -- A large crowd gathers around the Base Defense porch here, which is being used as a make-shift stage for the night's events. Everyone gets quiet in anticipation of what's to come. The young Soldier who steps up to the microphone looks deceivingly mild and shy. His guitar is slung around him and he readies it for his performance. There is no background music, just him and his guitar. He starts off shyly and stumbles on his chords but the song is so captivating that no one notices his faults.
As Spc. Dustin T. Keen, engineer, Special Troops Battalion, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, walks through the crowd singing "Hallelujah" originally by Leonard Cohen and remade in the original motion picture "Shrek," onlookers are mesmerized.
This is Keen's last night at Camp Sabalu-Harrison. He and his National Guard unit, the 37th Special Troops Battalion based out of Ohio, will be redeploying in the morning. He spent his last night competing in Karaoke Idol here, September 27, 2012.
Modeled after the popular show "American Idol," the show consists of 13 service members performing in a karaoke setting, being judged on their performance over an eight-week period.
Mimicking the personalities of judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the judging panel critiques the contestants on stage presence, ability to carry a tune, audience involvement, difficulty in song choice and overall performance.
"We tried to mirror the judging concept, the choice of a new genre each week, the elimination of contestants every week and the final voting procedure to pick the winner, from the 'American Idol' show," said Staff Sgt. Peter S. Quenga, base defense noncommissioned officer, Task Force Protector.
Karaoke Idol was the brain child of Quenga. He was a regular at karaoke night here and performed often.
"I love to karaoke at home," said Quenga. "When I heard that they had a [karaoke] system here, I had to get something started. I made a proposal to do it and when I got the green light, the rest was history," he said.
One of the judges, Navy Chief Petty Officer Alexander L. Cadiz, mayor cell chief, Task Group Trident, wanted to bring Cowell's blunt and often controversial criticisms and wisecracks about contestants to the judging table.
"My favorite Judge is Simon Cowell," said Cadiz. "He was my only inspiration for the honesty and crowd appeal. I wanted to give the show that sense of reality, because quite honestly, if you don't belong on stage, I think I owe the contestants and the crowd the truth and some entertainment," he said.
Cadiz is no amateur to critiquing vocalists. As a member of a band, he is used to listening to singers audition and he has developed a good aptitude for the art.
"I've become critical of pitch, tone, timing and stage presence," said Cadiz. "What it boils down to is I've been gifted with a good ear for what sounds good."
Abdul, known for her emotional outburst and contradictory personality, was represented by Staff Sgt. Linnea Epping, medic, Task Force Med Parwan. Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer, senior enlisted advisor to the commander, Task Force Protector, acted as the guest judge for the final show.
Out of the 13 original contestants, five service members made it to the finale to compete to be the winner of Karaoke Idol. Contestants sang two songs of their choice and were evaluated by the judges between songs.
The audience vote was added into the judging for the last show. Crowd participation was encouraged by the contestants and helped the judges make their final decisions.
Keen went on to win Karaoke Idol. Second place went to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Braun, guard tower security, Task Group Trident, and 3rd Place went to Spc. Danna Anderson, internment resettlement specialist, Task Force Renegade.
Karaoke Idol turned out to be the most popular event on Camp Sabalu-Harrison and for many it was a time when the residents forgot where they were.
"We are so far away from the little things we take for granted when we are back in the states," said Cadiz. "This was so important to keeping your sanity."
"It was amazing that in the middle of a combat zone, songs were sung; near beer and snacks were consumed, and friends were made," he said.
Sergeant Ashley Schei, joint visitors bureau noncommissioned officer, Task Force Protector, is a regular at the karaoke competition and appreciated the talent of the contestants.
"The contestants put in nothing but their best effort and took each challenge and made it their own, which is not an easy task," said Schei. "They all deserve to be winners for having the courage to stand up there in front of the entire camp and sing their hearts out."
"I would like to say thank you to all the contestants and judges for making Karaoke Idol possible as well as entertaining," said Cadiz. "I hope to see Karaoke Idol round two."
There has been no official announcement yet, but with the popularity of the event, there is a good chance Karaoke Idol II is in the works.