A 'Rising Star' is born in Grafenwoehr
October 22, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- The energy backstage hummed as the five final contestants for Operation Rising Star prepped for their last performance in the Grafenwoehr Performing Arts Center, Oct. 5.
Pre-show, the performers passed the time offstage by talking movies and music, dabbing on makeup and occasionally breaking into dance moves. But, in the quiet moments, their quickly bouncing legs, fidgeting hands and thoughtful pacing belied calm demeanors, exposing the nervous excitement of the contestants.
They had reason to feel jittery. The winner of Grafenwoehr's ORS is sent to the national competition, which is broadcast on the Pentagon Channel. These elite Army singers will vie for the grand prize: an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles, Calif., to record a demo plus $1,000 spending money.
In a repeat of last year's showdown in Grafenwoehr, Tamara Stinson nabbed first place, winning $500 and a plane ticket to Fort Sam Houston for the televised ORS Finale.
For her winning performance, Stinson sang "Home," from the Broadway musical, "The Wiz."
For Stinson, the piece carried an emotional weight.
"I really want to go home, and this song really reflects how I feel," she said.
Stinson brought this longing to the stage as she unleashed her powerful, yet warm voice to sing of pining for home from a far-away place.
The judges praised Stinson's vocal chops and the richness of her performance.
"Your voice is like butter pecan on a hot summer day," said judge Malia Jackus, Vilseck High School drama teacher, after scoring Stinson's performance.
As a contestant at last year's national finale, Stinson failed to continue past the first round. This year, she will return with more knowledge about the competition and a greater aspiration to win.
"The biggest thing was to go back to the states and compete again," she said. "I want to go back and win."
While she came into ORS as last year's local victor, Stinson had to work for her 2012 triumph. The competition was fierce.
Staff Sgt. Darren McGraw, 7th Army, NCO Academy, came in second, singing the seductive "Gotta Go," by Trey Songz. Donning a white suit and playing up his self-proclaimed "sex appeal," McGraw dedicated the song "to the ladies," who squealed and cheered their approval.
In third place came Sgt. Rijente Bromell, Charlie Company, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. Bromell was pitch-perfect and soulful as he sang Jamie Foxx's "Heaven," which he dedicated to his wife.
Tia Johnson, who studied opera in college, sang "Black Velvet" by Alana Miles as she swiveled her hips in time to the music. She described her voice and vocal styling as, "If Adele and Aretha Franklin had a love child."
Kayla Bellows was a double threat. The only performer to play her own accompaniment, Bellows strummed along on a guitar while she sang a stricken rendition of Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy."
The five singers on the final night had been whittled down from 13 original hopefuls. Inspired by American Idol, ORS contestants' rankings are determined 50 percent by the judges' scores and 50 percent by audience votes.
Since audience votes count for half the score, a singer with a large coterie of friends, family and co-workers in the audience is more likely to move onto the next round of the contest.
Even with such tantalizing prizes in reach, the performers in the final show reveled in the camaraderie with their competition and their shared passion for singing.
Bromell and Bellows claimed that while nerves are present in any performance, the competition is a good time.
"It's fun," said Bromell. "You can have different people with different voices and everyone is competing for the same reason: To let their voices be heard."
"It's all love," said McGraw. "Yes, it's a competition, but when you get around people who love to (sing), you forget it's a competition. Until you get out on stage."