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Airmen seek to hit the right notes at talent competition

By Lilly Flores-Janecek | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs Office | Dec. 6, 2007

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 culminates for the 56 Airmen this weekend with free live performances beginning Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bob Hope Theater. Two other shows with different performers are set for Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.

"We feel like the talent that we have 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 second place prize called a "Wilco."

In addition, the contestants who come 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 in 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 is also vying 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 in 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 just with everybody around the world."

Throughout the week contestants have undergone 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.

First-and-second place winners in five categories will be announced at a banquet Monday night.

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 of 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 Air Force and for the United States as they travel abroad," said Ms. White.