Bonnie-Jill Laflin, an actress and model who founded Hounds and Heroes who ranked in the “Maxim” Hot 100 Women of 2005, visits with troops in Iraq. (Photo courtesy of Bonnie-Jill Laflin, cleared for public release, not for commercial use, attribution requested.)
Celebrities add “star power” to Army’s Operation Rising Star
By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Like the power brought to Fox TV’’s “American Idol,” by Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul during the early seasons, the celebrity judges participating in the 2010 Operation Rising Star production will bring their own star-studded qualities to the military singing competition.
Active duty Soldiers and Family members from 12 garrisons across the Army will be singing their hearts out to a celerity panel of judges, as well as a world-wide live audience at Fort Belvoir’s Wallace Theatre, via the internet and broadcast on the Pentagon Channel.
Though only one can be crowned the winner, all 12 semi-finalists will benefit by being judged by active recording artists, one of whom won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.
Not long after Kandi Burruss first appeared on BET’s “Teen Summit,” and later left the band Xscape, she began to focus on musical production and songwriting. In 1999, Burruss teamed with bandmate Tameka “Tiny” Cottle to score the international number one hit “No Scrubs” for TLC. The single received a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, an MTV Video Music Award, a Billboard Music Award and a Soul Train Music Award.
That same year, she scored a hit for Destiny’s Child on their second album, “The Writing’s on the Wall.” “Bills, Bills, Bills” also topped the Billboard “Hot 100” chart and was followed by their second single “Bug a Boo.” Burruss later worked with then newcomer Pink, by writing her debut single “There You Go” on Pink’s debut album “Can’t Take Me Home.”
Burruss was the first African-American woman ever to win the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’s Songwriter of the Year award in 2000. The following year, she won the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Award for Songwriter of the Year, becoming the first woman in history to achieve the honor.
In 2009, Burress joined the second season of the Bravo TV reality series, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and went back to work on her second album, titled B.L.O.G. Kandi signed a record deal with Asylum Records in early 2010 and will release her second album this month.
Also judging Operation Rising Star is Debra Byrd, an American vocalist who has worked with Barry Manilow and Bob Dylan. Byrd has appeared on Broadway and has served as the head vocal coach and arranger for American Idol for six seasons and Canadian Idol for six seasons, often singing backup for the contestants.
She has also toured, recorded, and appeared in videos with The Eurythmics, UB40, Lyle Lovett, Roberta Flack, Patti Austin and Bob Geldof.
As an actor, Byrd received outstanding reviews for her role as “Da Singer” in the national touring company of “Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk.” Byrd was also featured on Broadway in “The Human Comedy”, “Barry Manilow on Broadway,” “Haarlem Nocturne” and both the national tour and Broadway's “Ain't Misbehavin'.” In 2001, Byrd was nominated for a Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Could It Be Magic?”
"To be an Idol, you have to have more than a good voice. You need to have presence, a connection with the songs and understand what you're presenting," said Byrd, who believes that one of the keys to vocal success is keeping the essence of what the songs represent by capturing what makes them special.
Byrd was the vocal supervisor for the national tour of “Ain't Misbehavin'” starring Ruben Studdard, as well as the special 30th anniversary production at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. She served as the vocal coach for the 2006 tour of “High School Musical - The Concert” and the “Justin Timberlake, My Grammy Moment Contest.” Byrd has been the vocal coach for various Holland America's Cruise Line shows and ABC-TV's "All My Children."
Debra Byrd first judged this Army contest when it was known as “Military Idol” in 2006.
Country Music Singer Michael Peterson returns to Operation Rising Star this year for another season of judging, as well.
Following his debut on the country music scene in 1997 with his self-titled album which produced five Top 40 hits on the Billboard Not Country Singles & Tracks charts, including the number one hit “From Here to Eternity,” Peterson’s second album, 1999’s “Being Human,” produced two more chart singles. A third album, 2004’s “Modern Man,” was issued only in Europe because of the restructuring of the label’s parent company, AGR.
In 1997, Peterson was named Male Artist of the Year by Billboard, and a few years later, his second album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipping 500,000 copies in the U.S.
Whether he's performing country music hits to Legionnaires in the United States or troops stationed in Iraq, Michael Peterson continues to raise awareness and money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship fund. The scholarship's mission is to ensure that children whose parents died while on active military duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 have the financial means to attend college. Through his musical talent, Peterson is helping the Legacy scholarship meet its mission.
The country music star is donating 50 percent of the net profits from the sale of his DVD, "It's Who We Are" and his CD "You Could Hear A Pin Drop" to the Legacy Scholarship fund.
In 2008, Peterson was announced as the recipient of the Bob Hope Spirit of Hope Award for his dedication and continued contributions to the troops of the United States Armed Forces.
Originally commissioned by the USO in 1997, the award is given to individuals that have "demonstrated tireless dedication to our country and to U.S. troops, both in times of peace and war."
The award was given to the award-winning country artist at a ceremony held at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Past winners of the award include U.S. Senators Strom Thurmond and Daniel K. Inouye, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, the Country Music Association and former astronaut John Glenn.
Bonnie-Jill Laflin, the first NBA female scout for the L.A. Lakers and an actress and model who founded Hounds and Heroes, will join the judging panel in 2010 as well. She first gained public attention as a cheerleader with the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. She’s also a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
After appearing on TV with guest roles on “Baywatch” and “Ally McBeal,” Laflin hosted “Hotlines,” in 2003 and the “United Rockcrawling & Off-Road Challenge Series” in 2004. In 2005, she was part of the opening week of “Deal or No Deal” on NBC and was ranked #89 on the “Maxim” Hot 100 Women of 2005.
Josh Gracin, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, is a country music singer who first gained public attention as the fourth-place finalist on the second season of Fox TV’s “American Idol.” He will not only be a guest judge in 2010, he’s taking time to perform during the show and to sign autographs and meet fans while he’s on Fort Belvoir.
After his elimination from the American Idol, Gracin completed his service in the Marine Corps, was honorably discharged, and immediately signed a record deal with Lyric Street Records. His self-titled debut album was released in 2004 and produced a number one hit, “Nothin’ to Lose,” and two more Top Five hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. His second album, “We Weren’t Crazy,” followed in 2008, and produced five more chart singles, including a Top Ten in its title track.
Rounding out the celebrity judges is Sgt. Maj. of the Army (Ret.) Jack Tilley who was the 12th Sgt. Maj. of the Army. He’s returning for his sixth season as a judge of Operation Rising Star.
The prize for the competitions most talented singer and performer is an all-expense-paid trip for two to Los Angeles, Calif. to record a three-song demo CD in a professional studio.
Just having the chance to be judged by these celebrities can also feel like a win. The trip to L.A. may be just the icing on the cake.