JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash. -- Have you ever dreamt of performing for crowds of people, traveling the world over doing what you love? 16 talented members of the Joint Base Lewis McChord Community have that dream within their grasp.

On Sept. 1, the 2011 Operation Rising Star kicked off its annual singing contest with auditions at the Cascade Community Center here. It was open to all military branches, including family members.

The contest is hosted by 37 installations, each claiming a winner. The winner gets 500 dollars, second place gets 250, and third place gets $100. The playing field is then narrowed down to 12 finalists, who will compete against each other in San Antonio. Only one talented singer can be crowned the 2011 Rising Star. Many of these singers have grown up with musical ambitions, but instead have chosen to pursue careers in the military.

The chance of winning the grand prize of an all-inclusive trip for two to Los Angeles to record a three-song demo is drawing nearer for the contestants as they continue on through each round of the competition.

The first show of the competition kicked off at the Cascade Community Center Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. to a packed house of fans, friends, and family members, excitedly waiting for the 16 remaining vocalist's who were chosen out of the 30 hopefuls who auditioned Sept. 1.

The lights dim down as the host calls the evening's first contestant to the stage. Contestants sing a song of their choice for the first heat of the night and one from a popular artist. This week's artist: Paul Simon.

The disc jockey pumps out the music as the singers try to hit the notes needed to go the distance. A panel of two judges critiqued the performances throughout the night.

For Staff Sgt. Lamont Atkinson, the senior percussionist for the 56th Army Band, performing and singing music are natural for him. Atkinson selected "Late in the Evening" for the Paul Simon theme night.

"Put your hands together," Atkinson told the crowd before coming into the first verse.

"I've been with music ever since I was in the fifth grade," said Atkinson, whose influences are Latin, gospel, funk, and jazz.

Atkinson was originally in the Army Reserves and played music professionally before joining the Active Duty Army.

"The Army has put me on a path to success and has kept me focused," said Atkinson.

He said winning the competition would bring some excitement to his household and boost his family's confidence about what they can accomplish.

His family cheered him on during his performance, as the crowd's cheering became louder during the Paul Simon segment of the night.

Audience members have the opportunity to win $300 for their unit's Family Readiness Group by supporting and cheering the loudest.

Elizabeth Thunstedt, special events entertainment coordinator for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation and contest judge, said the Spirit Award will be presented on at the final competition on Sept. 29 along with the installation winner.

For more information visit or call Nelson Recreation Center at 967-2539.