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Armed Forces talent search premieres

Nine talented members of the Armed Forces rocked the stage Monday night at the Tacoma Freedom Fair as part of the first-ever Armed Forces Icon. Photo credit: La Stella Foundation

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Among all the patriotic traditions that make the Tacoma Freedom Fair on Ruston Way such a popular Fourth of July event, there was something new this year: From the stage at the Camp Patriot location, the "talent search was on for the next big singing sensation."  It was there that nine talented artists competed to become the first-ever Armed Forces Icon.

Modeled after the popular American Idol TV series, this year's Armed Forces Icon program was "... excited to showcase the musical talents of our men and women serving, as well as those in our veteran community," said Tony La Stella, co-producer of the show along with David Maestas.  "Many of these individuals have amazing talents and should be recognized for both their service to this country and for their singing ability.  Our contestants are judged on ... how they sing and something significant about their military service (without consideration of rank). The combination will give us a real Armed Forces Icon; but every contestant is already a winner." According to La Stella, Monday's show was "Fantastic! Everything we dreamed it would be and more ... and the audience loved it."

The pilot show for what Maestas and La Stella hope will become a nationally syndicated TV series, was the brainchild of an elderly veteran named Joseph Varley. The original concept was "a little too close to American Idol," but Maestas and La Stella tweaked and revised it, and Armed Forces Icon was born. The program already has a Letter of Intent from National PBS broadcasting, and Travis Fox, the show's TV producer, hopes other networks will be interested once they see the pilot. If that happens, the dream is for Armed Forces Icon to go national, with shows from military bases around the country. La Stella says that they would even like to take the show "to U.S. bases internationally to audition soldiers serving" around the globe. In the short term, an Armed Forces Icon tour of local venues featuring this year's contestants - is in the works.

For now, the Armed Forces Icon show is unique to the South Sound. This year's show featured nine local active-duty military members and veterans.  First prize of a couples' weekend getaway to Quinault Beach Resort was awarded to Mandy McClurg for her performance of Marren Morris' "My Church". Second prize of a $100 gift certificate to Guitar Center went to Kerry French for her rendition of "Last Dance" by Donna Summer; and Kryssianna Paulo placed third with her cover of Adele's "Make You Feel My Love."

Now, if things go according to plan, the world will soon see that some local troops are incredibly talented. And if you missed the performance on the Fourth of July, it should be available for public viewing on their website,, at a later date.

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