• First Lt. Thomas Johnson, who's with the Training Support Battalion at Fort Jackson, is one of 12 performers participating in the next leg of the Operation Rising Star singing contest. He says his favorite musical experience was playing the villainous Javert in a live production of Les
Misérables.

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    First Lt. Thomas Johnson, who's with the Training Support Battalion at Fort Jackson, is one of 12 performers participating in the next leg of the Operation Rising Star singing contest. He says his favorite musical experience was playing the villainous...

  • First Lt. Thomas Johnson, who's with the Training Support Battalion at Fort Jackson, is one of 12 performers participating in the next leg of the Operation Rising Star singing contest.

    star2

    First Lt. Thomas Johnson, who's with the Training Support Battalion at Fort Jackson, is one of 12 performers participating in the next leg of the Operation Rising Star singing contest.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- First Lt. Thomas Johnson's first love was music. He spent the last two decades balancing his passion with education, family and career, and began his career in the Army a decade ago after graduating from college with a degree in music.

Johnson, who's with the Training Support Battalion at Fort Jackson, is one of 12 performers participating in the next leg of the Operation Rising Star singing contest beginning Dec. 8 in San Antonio, Texas.

Fourteen judges helped select the semifinalists after watching videos of winners from 33 garrisons around the world that hosted local competitions. Johnson won the recent Fort Jackson competition.

He's provided contest managers with a list of 10 songs he'd like to perform, but does not yet know what he'll be asked to sing.

"It's been really positive," he said of the Operation Rising Star contest. "People in the Army are competitive, but these contests aren't as cut throat as contests in the real world," he said. "We hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct."

He started performing in front of audiences in high school after joining a Goth band. After that, he was in a speed metal group ("It was a little like Iron Maiden," he said) before getting a graduate degree in music.

But, music wasn't his top priority during his first year in college, Johnson said.

"There was a teacher who heard me sing," he said. "He had me sing spirituals in a choir setting, and another teacher suggested I try singing 'art songs' or opera."

These were suggestions that changed his life.

"I was a psychology major before I became a music major," he said.

Since then, his passion has taken him to some unlikely places. Even though three deployments have interrupted his singing career, the Army has still provided opportunities for him to test his talents.

He's taken part is several Army contests, and won a competition in Kabul, Afghanistan. As a civilian, he's shared the stage with Barry Manilow, and performed for Queen Elizabeth of England, both times with a California vocal group called the Jane Hardester Singers.

"I like punk, and I like jazz and speed metal," he said. "I went to see Metallica as a kid, but later on I'd go see operas. I've got an interest in music, as a whole."

These interests were reflected in his appearance at Fort Jackson's Operation Rising Star event, where he performed a jazz ballad version of "Fly Me to the Moon" and a song from the musical Les Misérables. It's a play he's well acquainted with, having played the story's villain, Javert, numerous times on stage. The play remains his favorite musical experience.

Johnson graduates from the Captain's Career Course at the Soldier Support Institute Friday, which he says is "perfect" timing.

Page last updated Thu November 29th, 2012 at 00:00