By Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsOctober 15, 2008
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The reality show craze is in full effect, and people nationwide are yearning for their 15 minutes of fame.
Soon after the popular TV reality show "American Idol" ended its seventh season, similarly Army Hawaii's "Operation Rising Star" held its final event to determine the installation's best vocalist.
The Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR)-sponsored competition discovers the Army's top talent at 47 installations, camps and operating bases across the globe, including the recently expanded deployed sites in Iraq, Kosovo and Honduras.
"Operation Rising Star is a great opportunity for those attempting to break through in the music industry and to showcase their talent," said Aubrey Kiemnec, FMWR recreation program coordinator.
The weeklong local competition kicked off Sept. 17 as 15 Soldiers and family members performed a song of choice in front of a three-judge panel. All active duty, National Guard and Reserve members, along with family members 18 years or older, were eligible to participate.
An "a capella" round narrowed the talent down to seven semifinalists. From the seven, four were selected to compete in the finals with a chance to win $500 and then advance to the Armywide finals to become an "idol" among fellow military members.
More than 100 fans gathered at the Tropics for the final round and to vote for their favorite military star. Crater 97 disc jockey Wayne Maria emceed the event.
Family readiness groups (FRGs) showed up in force, too. They held signs and shouted personal cheers throughout the night to entice judges to choose their FRG as the most spirited.
Dressed in larger-than-life sunglasses and tentacle headbands, the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment FRG cheered the loudest after each performance, earning it the $300 spirit award.
The judges - Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Williamson, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii; University of Hawaii music professor Peter Rucci; and University of Hawaii music major Rebecca Ramos listened attentively as four finalists took the stage and performed music best fitting their personal range, pitch and musical taste.
Each judge took notes and spoke candidly to contestants following their performances.
"That is a tough song to sing, but your range was great," said Rucci to contestant Dominique Booker after her rendition of Mariah Carey's "Hero."
Hitting the high notes paid off for Booker as she took home the second place prize of $250.
Michelle Mathis-Carmical took the stage next, showcasing her love for country music and wide range of vocal talent. She sang "Anyway" by Martina McBride.
"It started off slow but you brought it home," said Williamson. "Along with stage presence, it's the perfect package."
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Walls of the Main Post Chapel sat proudly in the audience as his daughter Charity, an Air Force JROTC cadet, took the stage singing the sultry tune "You Will Never Walk Away" by Point of Grace.
Charity's even pitch and beautiful voice was a crowd and judge pleaser, earning her third place and a $100 prize.
Saving the best for last, Tracey Coffey sang her way into the hearts of the judges and audience by portraying her theatrical talents with a show tune.
In costume, donning a convincing black eye and arm cast, Coffey performed "Somewhere That's Green" from the hit musical "Little Shop of Horrors."
"We look for the total performer when choosing a winner," said Ramos, "someone with both vocal talent and stage presence."
With 50 percent of the voting based on the judges' scores and the remaining 50 percent through audience judging, Coffey came out on top.
Coffey graciously accepted her award and thanked all in attendance for their support.
"Starting out I would have never guessed (I'd) get this far, let alone win," said Coffey.
Her performance from the final round was sent to FMWR Command's Army Entertainment Division for review and a chance to participate in the Armywide finals. If she is chosen from the 47 finalists nationwide, Coffey will compete along with 11 other military members for a chance at the ultimate music recording experience.
The grand prize for this year's top performer includes an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to record a three-song demo compact disc. The experience also includes professional studio time and one-on-one time with music executives who will coach the winner in music arrangement, vocals, mixing and mastering.
The top 12 vocalists from the online competition will perform at the live finals Nov. 12-15.
Second and third place prizes at the televised finals are $1,000 and $500 dollars, respectively.
"Singing and performing is something I've always loved to do," said Coffey. "There was so much talent shown throughout this competition, and it is an honor to win."
Just as "American Idol" still reigns as one of the most popular television reality shows with millions tuning in each week to catch the next big star to sweep the charts, Operation Rising Star is following the trend and packing in crowds on post.
Whether it's the talent of the contestants or the judges' antics, both shows are proving slightly irresistible.