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(Enlarge) Staff Sgt. Rob Humphrey sings a rendition of the jazz song 'Fever' during the Operation Rising Star competition at Fort Myer, Va.

Wearing a black fedora, a red shirt, black pants and black shoes, Staff Sgt. Rob Humphrey heard squeals from the audience on Sept. 26 when he performed his rendition of "Fever," a jazz standard recently revitalized by the popular jazz singer Michael Buble'.

Humphrey's performance landed him in second place during the fourth week of Operation Rising Star, the military's equivalent of "American Idol." The six-week singing competition is being held at Fort Myer, Va. Humphrey, the only contestant from Fort Meade, is competing against five other service members from other installations within the Military District of Washington.

"I'm trying to win. I'm doing everything I can," said Humphrey, a noncommissioned officer in Alpha Company, 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion. He's scheduled to compete for the fifth week on Wednesday evening after Soundoff! went to press. With the final performance of the competition on Wednesday, Humphrey is urging the Fort Meade community to come to Fort Myer to cheer him on. The audience's vote counts for 50 percent of his total score.

"It's not just about me trying to win the competition, it's about supporting the troops," Humphrey said. The first- place winner will receive $500, with an additional $500 going to his or her unit. The second-place winner receives $250 and the third-place winner gets $100.

Operation Rising Star is an Armywide singing competition held at Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities at Army installations throughout the world, including Iraq. It is sponsored by the Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Group in Alexandria, Va., and is open to service members of all branches. Formerly known as Military Idol, the competition changed its name earlier this year and is currently being held at 42 installations worldwide.

The first-place winner from each installation goes on to the Armywide finals which will be hosted online at www.OpRisingStar.com. The winners are required to submit a video of their final performance and an additional a cappela song. The videos are posted at www.OpRisingStar.com for the judges to view beginning on Nov. 9. From the 42 worldwide contestants, the judges select 12 winners who go on the semifinals.

In the semifinals, a Web-viewing audience then critiques the videos of the 12 contestants from Nov. 13 to 26 and selects six contestants for the final round. In the final round, the Web audience has from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 to judge the final six competitors and select the 2007 Military Rising Star. The winner receives $2,000. The second-place winner gets $1,000 and the third-place winner is awarded $500.

Humphrey, 30, who was turned away from an "American Idol" audition in August because of his age, is rehearsing four to five hours a week to win the Fort Myer competition. He said his win could make it possible for Fort Meade to host Operating Rising Star next year. "Wouldn't it be cool if I won?" he asked.

"I've been singing since I was in first and second grade. Music has always been an important part of my life," Humphrey said, recalling how as a child he listened to rhythm & blues and soul music on the radio with his mother while they lived in Sarasota, Fla. In elementary school, Humphrey studied music theory and history and sang in the chorus during high school. During his junior year, he enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program for the Marine Corps.

Three days after graduation, Humphrey went to basic training. During his service from the mid-to-late '90s Humphrey kept his love of music alive by singing in local competitions and at karaoke contests. He later decided to leave the Marines and go to college. In 2001 he married his wife, Jennifer, and enrolled in Tallahassee Community College in the fall of 2002. Humphrey majored in music history with the goal of becoming a music teacher, but then the second Gulf War began. Humphrey joined the Army in 2003.

Two years later, he began watching "American Idol" and started to dream big. "I would kid around to my wife and say 'I'm going to do American Idol. I'm so much better than that guy.' " Jennifer said at first she thought her husband was "crazy," but when he began practicing songs and listening to music to include in his repertoire, she began to dream big too. Humphrey started looking into auditioning for "American Idol" and also thought of auditioning for Military Idol, but missed last year's tryouts for the military contest. When he heard about auditions for Operation Rising Star in September, Humphrey was serious.

After winning second place for the opening weeks of the competition at Fort Myer, Humphrey has his eye on John Wollaston, the consistent first-place winner. Wollaston has impressed the judges and the audience with country-western songs. During the Sept. 26 contest, Wollaston also sang a jazz standard. "I have to beat this guy," Humphrey said, noting Wollaston raised the bar during his performance and wore a tuxedo.

Patricia Jacobs, director of Marketing at MWR at Fort Myer, said Humphrey's performances of rhythm & blues songs have made him one of the contestants to beat. "He has charisma," Jacobs said, recalling how Humphrey's performance of "Gone" by the group N'Sync during the third week had the audience on its feet. She compared Humphrey to singer Justin Timberlake.

"That's pretty nice of her," Humphrey said. He hopes to see the Fort Meade community at the Spates Community Club at Fort Myer during his final performance on Wednesday at 5 p.m. Jennifer and their four children will be there. If Humphrey wins at Fort Myer and makes it through the online portion of the contest to become this year's Military Star, she said the win would be "the icing on the cake." Maybe, just maybe "he could make it to the big time."

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