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Airmen seek to hit the right notes at talent competition

Airman 1st Class Brian Carmack solicits a laugh from a panel of judges during a comedy routine in the "specialty" audition during the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest held at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, from December 2-10. The five-person panel of current and former Tops in Blue judges are (from left) Staff Sgt. Daniel Rutherford, Fort Meade, Maryland; Staff Sgt. LaTanza Meabon-Whiteside, Little Rock AFB, Ark.; Staff Sgt. Amber Young, Offutt AFB, Neb.; Staff Sgt. Tatenisia Stirrup, Tinker AFB, Okla.; and Senior Airman Bryce Zabric, Dyess AFB, Texas. World Wide is the first step to Tops in Blue.  Airman Carmack, a dental assistant at Lackland AFB, is competing for male vocalist for the 2008 Tops in Blue show.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

Airman 1st Class Brian Carmack solicits a laugh from a panel of judges during a comedy routine in the "specialty" audition during the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest held at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, from December 2-10. The five-person panel of current and former Tops in Blue judges are (from left) Staff Sgt. Daniel Rutherford, Fort Meade, Maryland; Staff Sgt. LaTanza Meabon-Whiteside, Little Rock AFB, Ark.; Staff Sgt. Amber Young, Offutt AFB, Neb.; Staff Sgt. Tatenisia Stirrup, Tinker AFB, Okla.; and Senior Airman Bryce Zabric, Dyess AFB, Texas. World Wide is the first step to Tops in Blue. Airman Carmack, a dental assistant at Lackland AFB, is competing for male vocalist for the 2008 Tops in Blue show. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

In a Bill Cosby impression, Senor Airman Jonathan Allen reads from a children's book to a panel during the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Airman Allen, from F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., is a trumpet player and is competing for a spot on the 2008 Tops in Blue team. The competition, held Dec. 2-10, is the first step to Tops in Blue.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

In a Bill Cosby impression, Senor Airman Jonathan Allen reads from a children's book to a panel during the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Airman Allen, from F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., is a trumpet player and is competing for a spot on the 2008 Tops in Blue team. The competition, held Dec. 2-10, is the first step to Tops in Blue. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

Gloria Singleton, 37th Mission Support Group, takes the measurements of Airman 1st Class Jaron Seleis on Monday at the Arnold Hall Community Center. Airmen from around the world are participating in the Worldwide Talent Contest this week on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where they will vie for positions on the 2008 Tops In Blue team. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Gloria Singleton, 37th Mission Support Group, takes the measurements of Airman 1st Class Jaron Seleis on Monday at the Arnold Hall Community Center. Airmen from around the world are participating in the Worldwide Talent Contest this week on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where they will vie for positions on the 2008 Tops In Blue team. (USAF photo by Robbin Cresswell)

Senior Airman Shala Baugh, a linguist from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., reads from a children's book as she tries to impress a panel of former and current Tops in Blue members. Airman Baugh is a competitor in the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest held at Lackland AFB, Texas, from Dec. 2-10.  The talent contest is the first step to Tops in Blue.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

Senior Airman Shala Baugh, a linguist from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., reads from a children's book as she tries to impress a panel of former and current Tops in Blue members. Airman Baugh is a competitor in the Air Force World Wide Talent Contest held at Lackland AFB, Texas, from Dec. 2-10. The talent contest is the first step to Tops in Blue. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS -- Airmen from 18 to 42-years-old from stateside to Turkey are at Lackland this week honing their musical talents as they compete in the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest.

The fierce competition culminated for the 56 Airmen Dec. 7-9 with  live performances at the Bob Hope Theater.

"We feel like the talent that we had this year is probably some of the best talent we've had in the past four to five years," said Jeri White, Tops In Blue production director. "It will be very competitive."

Initially, 160 Airmen submitted video tapes and applications to participate in the Worldwide Talent Contest for a coveted "Roger," that is similar to an "Oscar" and this second place prize called a "Wilco."

In addition, the contestants -- who came from a wide range of career fields including medical technicians, security forces and avionics -- are vying for positions on the 2008 Tops In Blue Team. The Air Force expeditionary entertainment unit travels to more than 20 countries and more than 120 locations every year entertaining military members and their families.

"Before I even joined the Air Force, I dreamed of being a member of Tops In Blue," said Airman 1st Class Alice Lewis of Georgia. "I was 13-years-old when I saw them perform in Japan when I visited my uncle's base and I decided then that I wanted to do that some day."

The 23-year-old Airman, currently stationed at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, is a vocalist and began performing when she was 4 years old. Still she admits she is a little nervous about the competition but thrilled to have made the initial cut and thankful for the experience.

Airman 1st Class Matthew Vandiver of Houston  also competed for one of the 35 slots on the 2008 Tops In Blue Team. He began playing the clarinet 15 years ago at the age of 9 and has since learned to play the saxophone, piano, guitar and drums.

"My mother is tone deaf and my father has no rhythm, so I don't know where it came from actually," said Airman Vandiver, stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. "I just love music and that's the most important thing in my life. I really just want to share my talents with the Air Force and everybody around the world."

Throughout the week contestants underwent a number of auditions and personal interviews, attended various seminars and worked with former Tops In Blue members who returned to Lackland as team assistants and coaches for the Worldwide Talent Contest.

The contestants selected for the 2008 Tops In Blue Team will be announced Dec. 14. They will include 10 male vocalists, 10 female vocalists, a full band of 10 to 12 members and several bus drivers and technicians.

"Besides being performers on stage, they are ambassadors for the Air Force and so we look for the people who have the potential to grow with their craft. But more importantly, we want them to be ambassadors for the United States as they travel abroad," Ms. White said.
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