Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) active duty students, staff and family members tested their singing abilities in front of a panel of judges and an energetic crowd on August 7 at the Hobson Center for the opening round of the Presidio of Monterey's (POM) 2009 Operation Rising Star competition.

Operation Rising Star is an American Idol-style singing competition organized by U. S. Army's Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command. Local competitions are being held at various Army installations throughout the world with the winners advancing to the 2009 Rising Star Finals. Twelve competitors will be chosen via video submissions to participate in the semi-final and final rounds held at Fort Belvoir, Va., later this year.

Tryouts for the POM competition were held for two weeks in July, narrowing the field to the 36 participants of Round One. With so many contestants showcasing their singing talent, the August 7 event lasted long into the night, despite being limited to a 90-second performance.

A panel of three judges critiqued the singers, at times channeling the roles of their American Idol counterparts. The most vocal of these was Seaman Greg Wariner, who made few friends this night acting the part of the often critical Simon Cowell from the T.V. series. Wariner had many positive comments for the contestants as well, and while perhaps not as memorable as his harsh critiques, they were certainly more numerous. The other two judges were Cecilio Aviles and Dante Ryan, both MWR staff members, who kept their comments positive with either praise or polite constructive criticism.

The judges scored the contestants in three separate categories: Talent/Ability, Stage Presence, and Audience Participation. This scorecard, combined with votes cast by the audience members, determine who will advance to the next week's round.

The field of competitors will be narrowed weekly by eliminations, culminating in a finale on Oct. 2.

The judges did not announce the combined scores to the public, only listing those who advanced and those who were eliminated. Despite this, there were a few particular singers who, gauging from the audience reaction and positive comments of the judges, look to be early favorites to make it to the September rounds.

Standout performance of this round were given by Nicholas Skinner who sang 'Ribbon in the Sky' by Stevie Wonder, Michael Cain who did an a cappella version of Billy Joel's 'And So it Goes', last year's second place finisher Kyle Graziano, who sang 'Old Time Rock & Roll' by Bob Seger, and Ashley Darr, whose sultry rendition of Etta James' classic tune 'At Last' brought the crowd to a standing ovation.

When asked why she entered the competition, Darr's answer was too the point.
"I like talent shows, plain and simple," explained Darr. "I have been singing ever since I could remember and enjoy music, so it only came natural to sing and dance. But I can't really dance right now."

Darr is currently recovering from a recent surgery that has left her on crutches.
She doesn't expect to recuperate enough to incorporate dancing into her performance if she advances to the finale, but still she remained hopeful.

"Maybe a little dip here and there, but not much dancing," Darr said.

With audience voting being a major deciding factor in who will advance or not, Darr admitted to doing some recruiting before the event. Although she said about half of the friends she asked were unable to attend, Darr expects more people for next week.

Not only is audience participation a deciding factor in the judging portion but the audience themselves are involved in a competition of their own. Judges will give a "Spirit Award" to the best supportive unit or family readiness group, and a $300 prize will be given to the winner's unit or FRG fund.

Darr explained the benefits of participating in these types of events, "to be able to come here and relax and do something you enjoy, basically just have fun, it is a good release before going back to class on Monday and getting back to work."