Military Spouses Choir to Perform on ‘America’s Got Talent’
By Tim Hipps
U.S. Army Installation Management Command
SAN ANTONIO, Aug. 6, 2013 A group that got its start in Army Entertainment is the driving force behind the American Military Spouses Choir, an "America's Got Talent" quarterfinalist scheduled to perform tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
The show will be televised live on NBC at 9 p.m. EDT.
The competing choir consists of 37 spouses of active-duty military personnel, including 10 Army wives whose husbands range in rank from sergeant to major general. All told, there are 50 military spouses in the choir, ranging in age from 19 to 54, whose husbands range in rank from corporal to two-star general.
The group is the brainchild of Victor Hurtado, an Army Entertainment veteran who has performed in and directed programs such as the U.S. Army Soldier Show, Operation Rising Star, Military Idol and Stars of Tomorrow, among others, for nearly three decades. Hurtado also founded CAMMO, a nonprofit Center for American Military Music Opportunities, which supports the military wives choir.
The group was assembled for a May 6 performance at the 2012 Kennedy Center Spring Gala in Washington, D.C., where they sang "The Promise That We Make," an original song co-written by Charlie Midnight, who penned "Living in America" for James Brown, and Bernie Herms, who arranged the Natalie Grant version of "Joy to the World."
"They were supposed to do a one-night performance at the Kennedy Center," Hurtado deadpanned. "And, oh, by the way, I put them together over the Internet while directing the last two weeks of Soldier Show last year."
Several clips of Foster introducing the American Military Spouses Choir are available on YouTube, as is footage of them singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on "America's Got Talent."
The lead vocalist for that number, Melissa Gomez, won Army Entertainment's 2010 Operation Rising Star, a military singing contest about to embark on its ninth season.
"Melissa has risen to the top from the very beginning," Hurtado said. "Her training that she got over the years with Army Entertainment was extremely evident."
The military wives climbed their first mountain, which obviously was not high enough, May 10 in Chicago, and advanced to the second round in Las Vegas, where they were told July 16 to pack their bags for a trip to New York.
"Their performance was strong enough to put them through," said Hurtado, who explained that 60 acts advanced to the "America's Got Talent" quarterfinals in New York, where 12 will perform each week for five weeks.
"There were a few that were put through without having to perform again [in Las Vegas],” Hurtado said. “It's going to keep going, because these ladies ain't playin."
Vicki Golding, Army Entertainment's 2006 Military Idol champion, is the choirmaster for the American Military Spouses Choir.
"She is the reason why we're able to do what we do," Hurtado said. "I send her the arrangements, she writes out the parts, and then Joey [Beebe] checks our work. She has become a real viable music director/choirmaster."
Beebe, another former Soldier Show performer, currently serves as music director of Army Entertainment's marquee program. He also works with soldiers and military family members competing in Operation Rising Star.
"Joey Beebe is the music director for CAMMO, so that makes him the music director for all the artists that fall under CAMMO," Hurtado said. "When the ladies first met, they actually met the night before the gig at the Kennedy Center. They had never met before. And Joey has had that choir since that night. He taught them the song. He made it sound amazing. And they performed the next day at the Kennedy Center.
"David Foster said it was some of the best vocal choral work, dynamically, musically, pitch-wise, everything, that he had ever experienced in his life," Hurtado continued. "And he told Joey that himself. Joey just stood there and listened. I've never seen Joey at a loss for words like that before."
Ron Henry, another former Army Entertainment performer and original member of the 4TROOPS recording group, also helps the American Military Spouses Choir.
"He's in line to work with the ladies when one of us is not there," Hurtado said. "Vicki, Joey, Ron and I have all groomed so well that we can all sing, fill in for 4TROOPS, or conduct a choir. To have that sort of stable, that we are all interchangeable like that, is pretty satisfying for someone who had Sergeant Henry coming to Alaska with me, and Specialist Beebe coming to be the first assistant director, or Vicki Golding, who won Military Idol and sings so beautifully and is such a skilled music director. Who knew, right?"
And then there are the ladies getting it done on stage for their troops.
"I have been a military spouse for 34 years, and this choir experience validates what I have learned about all military spouses," said Karen Gravlin Bartell of Fort Eustis, Va. "They are strong, loyal, resourceful, supportive, kind-hearted, honest and, of course, talented. 'America's Got Talent' and Radio City Music Hall are giving us the chance to show that to America."
"I love being part of a choir that sings in tribute to our military," said Michelle Gable, of Fort Meade, Md. "I sing to say 'thank you.' I sing to say 'I love you.' I sing so that those who are silent will be remembered."
"Being in the choir is a dream come true for me," said Gomez, an Army veteran and spouse with the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "I feel I am part of something so special that is afforded to me because I am a military spouse. Being in New York is still surreal. Performing at Radio City Music Hall solidifies our status as true artists in the music industry, and our cause is one worthy of recognition."
"First and foremost, I am in total awe, total shock of where we are now: New York City!" said Yari Dominguez, of Fort Rucker, Ala. "And we'll be performing at Radio City Music Hall, where the big dogs perform -- where legends have paved that path for others' dreams. It's a true honor to be singing with such an amazing group of ladies, knowing we all represent and stand for the same reason. It's a blessing -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The experience is more than just a competition, said Crystal Wood, of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
"This choir has given me a sisterhood and a support system that I have never had,” she added. “The love and support we have received from not only military families, but also from the public, is incredible. So many times as a military family, we are isolated and struggle alone.
“Since being on the show,” she continued, “so many families have said that we have inspired them, when in fact their support has inspired us. We are representing not only military families but also anyone who has been separated from their loved ones or experienced difficult situations. We are a beacon of hope for so many, that no matter how difficult the journey may be, you can always find a glimmer of light and the end of even the darkest tunnel. Performing at Radio City Music Hall is affirmation that as a society we all should support each other and we can overcome even our darkest moments."
Stephanie Holberg of Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said being in the choir means she is not alone.
"It's a blast being in New York City, beyond a dream to perform at Radio City Music Hall, and a huge honor to give military spouses a voice,” she said. “In a world where you hear so much negative news, this is such an amazing forum to share our stories and share something positive and patriotic like military spouses singing for their husbands and choir."
The remaining Army wives in the choir are Brandy Albert and Rachael Smith, both of Fort Belvoir, Va.; Deidra Lee Stubbs of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; and Sonjia Perry of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dropped by to visit during one of the American Military Spouses Choir rehearsals and his wife, Deanie, personally thanked the ladies.
More than 35,000 acts auditioned last autumn for this season of "America's Got Talent," which will culminate in September.