Face of Defense: Loadmaster Soars on ‘American Idol’
By Air Force 2nd Lt. Ander Bowser
439th Airlift Wing
WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass., Mar. 21, 2012 For one aspiring singer here, her 15 minutes of fame stretched out over weeks as a contestant on the Fox singing competition series “American Idol.”
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Blaire Sieber sings during an “American Idol” performance. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Millions of viewers watched Air Force Tech. Sgt. Blaire Sieber’s opportunity to live out her dream.
"It's really hard to describe the experience," the 337th Airlift Squadron loadmaster said in a telephone interview. "You feel like you're on top of the world."
Sieber, from Medford, Mass., received marks of approval from the “American Idol” judges: singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, rock legend Steven Tyler and Grammy Award-winning producer Randy Jackson during her bid to be a finalist in the show’s 11th season.
The first step was her audition in Savannah, Ga.
"I wasn't sure that I was going to make it, so I turned it into a vacation just in case," she said.
But the audition process was no vacation, she said. Potential contestants endure at least three sets of cuts. The number of people who show up to audition can exceed 10,000 in each city, but only a few hundred make it past the first preliminary auditions. Those who are chosen then sing in front of producers. After another cut, contestants audition in front of the judges, which is the only audition phase shown on the show.
Those selected by these judges are then sent to Hollywood for the start of the process that yields the finalists who compete for audience votes when the competition starts in earnest.
Sieber said her experience consisted of many long days.
"It's the first round that takes the longest. I got there at 5 or 6 in the morning," she said. "I don't think I auditioned until 4 in the afternoon, and some people might not have auditioned until 2 the next morning."
The odds of being selected are slim. Anywhere from 10 to 60 of the thousands who audition in each of several cities make it to the Hollywood round.
"We all put “‘American Idol’ on a pedestal, because it has been going on for so long," Sieber said. "You feel like you're on this rollercoaster that is perpetually moving."
Sieber made it to the top 42 performers out of the more than 100,000 contestants who auditioned and the hundreds who had advanced to Hollywood. And this wasn't her first time making it onto the show’s audition episodes.
"This is my third time auditioning, and second time on the show," said Sieber, a certified nursing assistant who is studying to become a nurse. "I didn't make it to Hollywood the first time." Last year, she received the coveted “golden ticket” to Hollywood, but was unable to advance past the first round there.
This year, Sieber advanced through three "Hollywood Week" rounds and one performance round in Las Vegas, which got her into the top 42. She bowed out gracefully when her time was up.
Sieber said she would do it again if given the opportunity. "You have to keep high hopes and say, 'It is going to work out in the end,'" she said.
The judges’ comments encouraged her, Sieber said, noting that Tyler liked her "growl."
"Get comfortable with that growl in your voice and become friends with it," The Aerosmith singer said. Lopez told the aspiring singer to open up more.
"She told me that she wanted more from me," Sieber said. "The way I interpreted it was that she wanted more emotion in my singing."
Sieber said it was a challenge to compete in front of such musical luminaries.
"Before my first critique from J-Lo, I tried not to focus on whether the judges were dancing in their seats or not," Sieber said. "They are still people you idolize, but you have to focus on your performance."
Sieber has eight years of experience as a C-5 loadmaster. When she puts on the uniform to serve in the Air Force Reserve here, she said, it's all military business.
"I'm really lucky because I'm aircrew, and they've given me opportunities to reschedule my unit training assemblies, volunteer for missions and manage my Reserve schedule with a week here, a couple weeks there," she said. "That has really helped me get the hang of balancing the Reserve with my school and work schedules."
Striking a balance in service to her country, her medical career, educational and singing aspirations has been tough, but not impossible, she said.
(Air Force Senior Airman Kelly Galloway, 439th Airlift Wing, contributed to this article.)