WIESBADEN, Germany - More than 150 spectators filled a small, dark, side room of the post entertainment center to watch the 2013 Wiesbaden Operation Rising Star competition Oct. 18. Five finalists, each with hopes of winning $500 and a spot in the U.S. Army Rising Star competition, sat anxiously in the front row, ready to perform for the waiting crowd and judges.

As four of the participants performed their songs for the standing-room-only crowd, one wore a look of confidence and waited patiently for his turn.

1st Lt. Matthew Kalani Gabriel, executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Signal Command, and a Waddell, Ariz., native, approached the stage with guitar in hand. It was not a top-40 hit, or even a song anyone had heard before. The song, "Past Denial," is a song Gabriel wrote himself.

"This is the second time during the competition I had to change the song I had planned on singing because another performer prepared the same piece," said Gabriel. "I always have a few extra songs that I love in case I need to present something different for the audience."

At first, the crowd and judges seemed thrown for a loop by Gabriel's relatively quiet ballad, but when he started to rap in the middle of the song the crowd showed their approval with cheers and clapped vigorously. The song was an instant hit with the crowd and the judges. By the time he was finished, the crowd was on its feet.

"I have been singing since my sophomore year of high school," said Gabriel.

"I picked up my basic guitar skills and performance demeanor from my brother, Christopher, a music director at Musikhaus in Portland, Ore.," said Gabriel. "Living in Seattle, I wrote a lot of music to pass the time during the rainy seasons. I found my own style through different experiences in life, as I would assume all artists do."

One of the judges said Gabriel went out on a limb to sing one of his own songs, a tactic that he would not have tried but, the judge added, the lieutenant performed the song perfectly.

After a brief intermission, the crowd returned to the small room to hear the contest organizers announce the winner. First place and the $500 went to Gabriel.

"It was an honor to perform for Soldiers and military family members in our community," said Gabriel. "The best part of the experience was sharing the music with my teammates at 5th Signal Command."

Following the winners announcement, Gabriel gave an encore performance of the song he was originally supposed to sing -- "Titanium" by David Guetta -- and once again the crowd went wild.

"It would be a dream to one day record an indie or R&B album," said Gabriel. "It would be more of a relief to finalize all the songs I've written over the years. I'm looking forward to what other opportunities lie ahead."