By Tim HippsDecember 7, 2007
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 7, 2007) - Spc. Richard Sianoya, winner of the 2007 Operation Rising Star singing contest, plans to use his $2,000 prize to help move his mother from their hometown of Manila, Philippines, to live with him at Fort Irwin, Calif.
"I'm actually spending that money to go home for vacation to visit my family in March," said Spc. Sianoya, 23, who was born and raised in Manila. "I'm going home to get my mom so she can live with me over here."
His mother, Sylvia, has an interview with U.S. Embassy officials in the Philippines scheduled for January to apply for an extended visa.
"We have petitioned to bring her to live permanently with me in the States, so this could not have come at a better time," he said.
Spc. Sianoya, who attended John F. Kennedy High School in Tumon, Guam, came to America when he was 15 and joined the U.S. Army at age 17.
He adds the title of Operation Rising Star to an impressive Army Entertainment Division resume that includes a spot in the 2006 U.S. Army Soldier Show and a 2005 Military Idol runner-up finish.
Thirty-six installations and more than 300 vocalists participated in Operation Rising Star, which replaced Military Idol this year, a singing contest based on FOX television's American Idol. The competition was open to active-duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel from all branches of the U.S. military.
Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities hosted local competitions in September and October. The contest moved to the Internet in November with online viewing and balloting at
www.OpRisingStar.com, where more than 15,000 votes narrowed the field of contestants from 12 to six.
After another week of online viewing and balloting - made possible by support form Army Knowledge Online - Spc. Sianoya received 261 votes over runner-up Spc. Joel Tahimik of Fort Hood, Texas. Sgt. 1st Class Dendre Wright of Fort Bliss, Texas, finished third.
"It helps me to express myself by singing a song from the heart," said Spc. Sianoya, whose favorite artists include Justin Timberlake, Michael Buble, Elton John, John Mayer, Robin Thicke and John Legend. "I appreciate that the Army recognizes talents in the military and has these programs."
For his a capella performance, Sianoya sang "My Girl," The Temptations' No. 1 single written and produced by Miracles members Smokey Robinson and Ronald White. Spc. Sianoya followed with his music-accompanied rendition of Thicke's "Can U Believe."
"I just want to say thanks to the people that voted for me throughout the competition - my family, my unit and friends, and, of course, God, for giving me the talent to sing," Spc. Sianoya said.
Runner-up Spc. Tahimik, who coincidentally also hails from Manila, said singing goes with the territory of growing up in the Philippines.
"Singing in the Philippines is like playing baseball in America," he explained. "When we party, it's about eating and singing. There's always a karaoke bar or barbecue house nearby. It seems like almost every four blocks there's another karaoke bar.
"Filipinos just love to sing."
Spc. Tahimik, 36, who made spending money as a wedding singer in his homeland, won a "Sing Aling" contest in 2003 that was nationally televised in the Philippines. He first stepped on U.S. soil to attend Army basic training after spending a year in Guam.
"I'm happy with second place," he said of earning $1,000. "If it arrives in a timely manner, my kids are going to have a good Christmas."
Spc. Tahimik's named his first son Julian, 11, after the son of John Lennon, one of his favorite singers. Both boys were born in July. He also has two daughters, Allysa, 6, and Jamie, 4, who he refers to as "my singer."
Spc. Tahimik, who displayed dazzling stage presence, sang The Manhattans' "Kiss and Say Goodbye," a capella, and "On The Wings of Love" by Jeffrey Osborne as his musical-accompanied number.
"I watched the original performers on YouTube and tried to copy them," he said. "I watched myself in front of a mirror."
Spc. Tahimik, a finance specialist who also plays guitar, finished third in the local 2005 Military Idol competition at Fort Hood. Performing for others is his favorite form of self-expression.
"I just like singing to people," said Tahimik, who aspires to perform in the U.S. Army Soldier Show before completing his career as a Soldier. "Music can make me laugh, can make me cry."
(Tim Hipps works for the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)