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Air Force Tops in Blue Selections

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Updated March 26, 2004
by Senior Airman Catharine Schmidt

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In one room, a man held his guitar close to him, while his foot tapped nervously on the ground. Six judges watched him intently as he answered their questions about his instrumental background. Across the hall, a man was given a sombrero and a feather boa to wear, as judges asked him to do his best Robert DeNiro impression.

This was what nearly 75 Airmen went through during the 2004 Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest here.

The contest was held by Tops in Blue officials, and not only were contestants competing for either first or second place in the competition, but they were also competing for a spot on the 2004 TIB tour.

“There are categories for the winners of the competition: female vocalist, male vocalist, instrumentalist and specialist,” said Staff Sgt. Marcie Mascaro, a Chinese linguist at Fort Meade, Md., and part of the operations staff for the contest. “Specialist is a catch all -- comedians, dancers and actors. (The winning score) is based on (his or her) performance onstage, and what was scored throughout the weeklong auditions.”

Auditions began March 14 as Airmen from around the Air Force began vying for their shot at becoming an Air Force expeditionary entertainer.

Airmen sent in applications and videotaped auditions to be considered as a contestant for the show.

“They send in a video of them performing their talent,” Sergeant Mascaro said. “(Their talent) can be anything from dancing to comedy to instrumental or vocals. And then we also have a technician side of it. (The technicians) work behind the scenes doing things such as lighting, audio, staging and transportation. So, basically anyone in the Air Force, whether (he or she has) an onstage talent or technical skill, is able to audition for Tops in Blue.”

Tops in Blue officials received hundreds of video applications, and chose about 75 to compete in the talent search, said Sergeant Mascaro, who also toured with TIB as a vocalist in 2002.

“There is a specialty audition, an instrumentalist audition, a vocalist audition and a personal interview with the director, (Thomas) Edwards,” Sergeant Mascaro said. “Mr. Edwards handpicks the team, not based on just talent, but ability to get along with others and (their) work ethic.”

Every contestant, including the technicians, goes through each audition, whether (he or she has) that specific talent or not. Sometimes judges find a hidden talent or potential the contestant may not have realized he or she had, said Jerri White, TIB production manager.

“We’re not looking for the most talented person for Tops in Blue, we’re looking for a person who has potential,” she said. “That’s what Tops in Blue is all about, it’s about finding potential and helping to enhance that potential and grow into a seasoned performer.”

Each audition room had six judges who consisted of former TIB members. Contestants in the vocal and instrumental auditions were asked questions about their musical background and asked to sing or play different pieces. They were also asked to perform with the judges.

In the specialty auditions, contestants were asked to do a variety of things. There were some dance auditions, as well as comedy auditions. For the comedy auditions, contestants were asked to put on a comedic show for the judges. They were also asked to do some impressions.

“This week has been … challenging,” said Senior Airman Tory Sanders, who performed in the male vocalist category. He is an information manager at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. “The judges can be hard on us sometimes, but they give good feedback and make us feel comfortable.”

Along with the auditions, the contestants did a technical review on the performance stage.

“Most of the contestants have never sung with a band before or in front of a live audience,” Ms. White said. “We try to give them some training through these auditions that a performer on stage would need.

“We have a musical director who talks to each contestant, and then he writes a chart for that individual person for the pit band. (The band comprises) five prior Tops in Blue members who come from across the United States,” she said. “(In the technical review) they get to work with the band one time before the dress rehearsal and then on the day of the show. We record the band playing their song, and they can rehearse in different facilities with that.”

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