Top 6 selected for 2014 Operation Rising Star presented by PenFed

By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandNovember 17, 2014

Hurtado & Samuels with Operation Rising Star Soldiers
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Sgt. Constance Mack
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Constance Mack, seen here singing Yolanda Adams' "Still I Rise" during the opening night of 2012 Operation Rising Star finals week, will return to Fort Sam Houston Theatre as an Operation Rising Star "All-Star" to help mentor and perform alongsi... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
2008 Operation Rising Star winner Joyce Dodson
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Army veteran, family member and DOD civilian Joyce Dodson, seen here singing Shania Twain's "You're Still The One" after being announced the winner of the 2008 Operation Rising Star mililtary singing contest on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, will reunite at... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 12, 2014) -- Army Entertainment officials selected three Soldiers, two Army family members and an Airman as semifinalists in the 2014 Operation Rising Star presented by PenFed military singing contest.

Staff Sgt. Michael Joseph of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Pvt. Anthony Elliott of Presidio of Monterey, California; family member Celeste Betton of Fort Stewart, Georgia; and family member Jackie Gollihar of Camp Humphreys, South Korea, won local competitions and were selected as regional finalists. Sgt. Johnny Vargas of Fort Benning, Georgia; and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Carter of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base earned wild-card spots via online submission.

Vargas earned a berth in the semifinals with "12 Different Ways," a song he wrote about his cousin's girlfriend and eventual wife.

"I didn't think it was good enough to get to the finals, but it's fun and it's positive and everyone likes it," said Vargas, 24. "I'm extremely excited. I actually went on YouTube and went back to 2010 to see the competitors and see how the show was formatted.

"I'm not going to say I'm the best, but I'm definitely going to give it 100 percent. I have a couple buddies stationed at Fort Hood who are going to come down and see me. I'll just try to have as much fun as I can and do whatever it takes to stand out from everybody else."

The semifinalists will each be paired with a former Operation Rising Star winner, who will mentor and perform alongside them during live shows Dec. 6, 8, 10 and 12 at Fort Sam Houston Theatre. Free admission to the 7 p.m. shows will be open to the public each night to be filmed in front of a live audience. The shows will air at the following days.

Online viewer voting will count 50 percent in the scores that determine which contestants advance to the finals. Viewers will have 24 hours to vote for their favorite performers after each round. The winner will be revealed Dec. 13 on, where the contest rules also are posted.

Veteran Operation Rising Star judges retired Sergeant Major of the Army Jack L. Tilley, "The Voice" vocal coach Debra Byrd, and country music recording artist Michael Peterson will return, as will seven-time host GeNienne Samuels.

To commemorate the 10th year of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, former Operation Rising Star winners will mentor and perform alongside the 2014 finalists. Returning to the stage are: D.C. Army National Guard Sgt. Vicki Golding (2006); Army veteran, family member and DOD civilian Joyce Dodson (2008); Army veteran/wife/DOD civilian Melissa Gomez (2010); Georgia Army National Guard Sgt. Constance Mack (2012); and Army Sgt. Christiana Ball (2013), along with 2005 runner-up Ron Henry, a retired Army staff sergeant.

"We will get to see not only this year's contestants compete, but this gives us a chance to tell the story of some of our previous winners -- what they accomplished and have experienced since winning Operation Rising Star -- so we have an opportunity to tell our story as it relates to 'Soldier for Life,'" Army Entertainment Executive Producer Tim Higdon said. "We're going to tell their story; play some of their songs and videos. It's just a great marriage of telling that "Soldier for Life" story and what it means to wear the uniform and to support those that wear the uniform and how experiences like this prepare them for life after the military."

Operation Rising Star helped open entertainment doors for these Soldier-performers, but not without the help of Army Entertainment alums, such as Victor Hurtado and Joey Beebe, who also will return to work with their protégées, and the new contestants.

As a young Soldier Show performer who enjoyed a career with Army Entertainment, Hurtado thought the merging of his passions for service and performance would end when he left the military.

"Because of the relationships I've forged, that was not the case," he said. "That passion for service has led to a lifetime of devotion to our servicemen and women through production and direction of music. I've had the fortune of working with all six of the mentors that are coming back, and to share in their successes, and to humbly hope that they've trusted me to help them with those successes. I am really intrigued and thrilled to see them sharing the knowledge that they've gained over the last 10 years with these new contenders.

"I believe that a really large part of what they're coming back to do is to help the contenders implement the advice of the judges -- because now they have perspective on the other side of Operation Rising Star."

Pentagon Federal Credit Union, American Freedom Foundation and Kaplan University are sponsors of the 2014 Operation Rising Star program.

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