(U.S. Army photo by Bill Bradner, FMWRC Public Affairs. Cleared for public release, not for commercial use, attribution requested)
Army wife Gomez wins Operation Rising Star military singing contest
By Tim Hipps
FMWRC Public Affairs
FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Melissa Gomez, who left Soldiering to become a full-time Army wife and mother, won the 2010 Operation Rising Star military singing contest Nov. 19 at Wallace Theater.
Gomez, 29, of Fort Bragg, N.C., prevailed over runner-up Maj. Serelda Herbin, 34, of Fort Hood, Texas, and third-place finisher Senior Airman Joanell Jackson, 24, of Fort Polk, La.
“I thought for sure Serelda was going to win,” Gomez said.
Gomez, who works with a large Army Community Service group at Fort Bragg, had family supporters in her hometown, Philadelphia, and her father’s native Puerto Rico voting early and often in the contest based on the premises of FOX Television’s American Idol.
“ACS and Fort Bragg totally represented for me,” she said. “I didn’t think I had that many people on board, but last night I was getting lots of calls from people saying, ‘We’ve been voting …’
“They were showing everybody the show.”
After Spc. Nicholas Davis of Grafenwoehr, Germany, (originally from Rockingham, N.C.) was eliminated, the Tar Heel State boarded the Gomez bandwagon.
“North Carolina, in general, was representing after Nick fell out,” Gomez said. “Some of his people said they just needed North Carolina to win.
“I had my church in Philadelphia, my family, my mother’s work, my family in Puerto Rico – they were all watching the show online and voting.”
Gomez joined the Army at age 17 and promptly married a Soldier. She served six years before leaving as a sergeant to become a full-time military mother.
“They kept deploying us separately and I had to keep sending my children to live with my mom,” Gomez explained. “I was in a really active MOS. It was mostly me who kept coming down on orders, so I had to decide to be a mom.”
A self-professed late bloomer, Gomez began singing around age 12. She also plays a few Latin percussion instruments. In 2004, she toured domestic military installations and Korea with USA Express, a stage band sponsored by Army Entertainment Division.
For winning Operation Rising Star, Gomez will record a three-song demo CD at Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, Calif., paid for by the Army Family and MWR Command.
“I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” she said. “I’m mentally prepared for the worst and just hope for the best. I look forward to really, really working with Victor [Hurtado] and Joey [Beebe], two completely talented people that I know can make me sound amazing, and Miss [Debra] Byrd.
“That’s what I look forward to big-time.”
Lisa Pratt, the 2009 Operation Rising Star winner, gave Gomez some tips about what to expect during the whirlwind week in Hollywood, where the new champion hopes to unveil some ideas of her own.
“It feels like I’m going to get to represent spouses and veterans in a positive light,” Gomez said. “I want to focus on keeping it where it needs to be because we have a hard job. I’ve been through it nine months of the year without a husband.”
“Life goes on for us whether he’s here or not – and I’ve got to keep it rolling.”
Gomez rolled through Operation Rising Star Finals Week by singing “I Need You” and “How Do I Live” by LeeAnn Rimes, “Out Here on My Own” by Irene Cara, “I Ain’t Got Nothing” by Alicia Keys, and “Turn the Beat Around” by Gloria Estefan.
Herbin presented a strong challenge with “At Last” by Jennifer Holliday, “I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain, “My Heart Will Go On,” by Celine Dion, “One Moment in Time” by Whitney Houston, and Holliday’s “I Am Changing,” which nearly brought the house down during the semifinals on Wednesday night.
“I think I just said to throw it on the stage,” Operation Rising Star judge Debra Byrd, a vocal coach for American Idol, said to Herbin after her performance of “I Am Changing.” “Well, ladies and gentlemen, she just threw down on the stage. I applaud you because you came here with the determination of song choice, song choice and song choice.
“From your last two performances, you kicked it up into high gear and put a hot sauce on it. I applaud you. I applaud you. Well done.”
The three finalists delivered an entertaining medley of Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” Keys’ “I Ain’t Got Nothing” and Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” during the semifinals on Wednesday night.
“You guys picked these songs to win and I don’t blame you,” Byrd said. “You want to get these biggie songs in. I applaud you for your effort. … I applaud you for the courage to pick these bombastic songs because that’s the mind of a winner – you want to pick the biggie.
“Whew, I know you’re glad that’s over with. I applaud you ladies.”
Second-place finisher Herbin said she was “content, happy and grateful for being here, but it is a competition and we knew the rules.”
“Hey, there can only be one,” she said with a teary-eyed smile and a laugh. “Overall, I had a great time.”
Third-place finisher Jackson, a last-minute substitute in the top 12, was content with the outcome and elated by the experience.
“I’m happy with the outcome,” she said. “I had fun. It was a great experience. Two weeks, 12 people, and now we’re family. I didn’t have that much time to advertise, but people really enjoyed my voice. I was really shocked that I made to the final round.
“I have accomplished what I need to accomplish to prove that I am a singer and that I enjoy singing and that I do have a talent.”
Jackson said she would love to continue entertaining troops.
“Maybe when I finish my mission at Fort Polk and I’m done with my military career, maybe do what Michael has done,” she said of Military Operation Rising Star judge Michael Peterson’s affinity for performing for troops. “I’ve been in Tops in Blue and being able to travel to encourage troops is a great opportunity – I would really love to do that.”
Serving in the Air Force with a husband in the Army, Jackson, who also serves as a mother of four, said someone needs to change careers.
“We’re in two different branches and we’ve been separated for awhile,” she explained. “I want to live with my husband. I miss him so much. I love the military, it’s a great thing, but I really do want to have my family near.”