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At Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, last month, Airman 1st Class Malcolm Hudson sings “My Funny Valentine” during a make-or-break audition for the U.S. Air Force’s traveling entertainment team, Tops in Blue. Hudson, a munitions airman with the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, later got word he’d been selected for a one-year tour as a member of the hard-to-get-into team. For a video of Hudson's audition, see the link at the top of the story.

At Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, last month, Airman 1st Class Malcolm Hudson sings “My Funny Valentine” during a make-or-break audition for the U.S. Air Force’s traveling entertainment team, Tops in Blue. Hudson, a munitions airman with the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, later got word he’d been selected for a one-year tour as a member of the hard-to-get-into team. For a video of Hudson's audition, see the link at the top of the story. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

Video: The audition

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — He’s been singing in church since he was 3 and plays piano Sundays at the base chapel.

But Airman 1st Class Malcolm Hudson’s day job with the Air Force has not been about perfect pitch, but rather about perfect adjustments to bomb fins and fuses.

In November, though, a master sergeant at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea told him that with a voice like his, he ought to audition for Tops in Blue, the U.S. Air Force’s elite traveling entertainment troupe based at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Those lucky enough to be selected spend a year traveling the world and performing in variety shows for servicemembers and families.

Hudson, a munitions systems apprentice with the 8th Munitions Squadron, part of Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing, liked that idea. After all, music has been his chief passion all his life.

Hudson, 22, grew up in De Berry, Texas, singing in church choirs steeped in the Southern Baptist, gospel music tradition, he said. He later took courses at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he majored in vocal performance.

The baritone decided to apply for Tops in Blue but learned the deadline was a scant two days away.

"You really need to get something together quickly," the master sergeant told him.

Applicants have to fill out a form and send a videotape that showcases their particular talent. The wing, also known as the Wolf Pack, got behind him.

They let him use the chapel’s baby grand piano to record his audition video, and the public affairs office sent a videographer to film it. Hudson decided on "My Funny Valentine," an oft-recorded jazz standard.

And because he had no sheet music for it and no one to accompany him, he wrote his own arrangement.

"I’m very critical of my work, so it took four takes," he said.

Two weeks later, just before Christmas, he was notified he’d made the first cut and was invited to Lackland in January to audition with other hopefuls in a live show.

"I usually don’t get nervous, but I was very nervous," he said.

Hudson, wearing a red shirt to evoke a Valentine theme, was accompanied by a five-piece band. He stuck to the piano arrangement he’d worked out at Kunsan, but added a few jazz accents to his singing.

The audience reacted with a standing ovation. About a week later came word he’d been chosen for a year with Tops in Blue.

News of his break spread quickly across Kunsan.

"Just everybody knew," he said. "They would slap me on the shoulder, tell me, ‘Congratulations.’ I mean all the time."

He leaves the base soon for the Tops in Blue 2009 tour.

He said he likes the idea of using his musical gifts to help boost the morale of fellow servicemembers. And as someone who has been to just one foreign country — South Korea — he’s also excited because Tops in Blue typically tours dozens of countries.

"I don’t know how they fit it all in, but I’m looking forward to it," Hudson said. "I’ve always wanted to see the world."


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