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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Career sailor William Velasco suggested more than once that his daughter, who sang and played the piano while still a tot, join the Navy’s music corps.

“She kind of laughed at that,” Velasco recalled. “She’d probably seen enough of the Navy in my house.”

But Camile Velasco did sing for the Navy this week — at least the sailors serving with her father aboard the USS Blue Ridge — as well as 21.8 million viewers engrossed in the Fox TV talent show, “American Idol.” According to Nielsen Media Research, it’s the most watched show in prime time. She advanced to the top 12 contestants last week.

And even the show’s most acerbic judge, Simon Cowell, was nice to her, after Camile performed the song, “One Last Cry.”

“You’ve got potential,” Cowell told Camile, according to a press release sent out this week by the U.S. 7th Fleet.

The Blue Ridge is the flagship of the 7th Fleet, and when word leaked out that one of its sailor’s daughters was competing on the mega-hit show for a record contract and the fame and fortune that might bring, well, even the saltiest sailors got a little excited.

In addition to the more mundane items listed in the ship’s night orders logbook on Wednesday, such as checking the lube oil in boiler No. 1, was the fact that Camile Velasco would be one of 32 contestants on “American Idol.”

“It almost makes me cry,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Chistopher Hydron, a personnelman, said after watching the performance with other sailors in the mess decks, according to the 7th Fleet press release.

Velasco was more subdued in a phone interview from the ship on Friday, although that might have been because he was up most of the night on watch. “I was real happy for her,” he said. “I was excited to see her. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Velasco said he’d been worried, while watching his daughter sing, that the judges would be unkind to her. He was relieved when they praised her.

Velasco, 43, a machinist’s mate first class, said Camile had always been musically inclined, singing and learning to play the piano when she was about 5. Camile’s sister is also a good musician, he said, and they must have inherited that talent from their mother. “I don’t sing, myself,” he said.

But he reared both girls after he and their mother divorced, and spent 10 years as a single father, stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. “It was tough,” he said. His mother lived with him and helped out, he added, and the girls also spent time with their mother.

When Velasco was sent to Yokosuka, Camile, 18, decided to stay in Hawaii with her mother, he said. Her day job was waiting tables at the International House of Pancakes.

He learned that Camile was singing and playing piano sometimes at hotels, but he’d never seen her sing professionally. She didn’t tell him that she was auditioning for the show, but after being picked to perform, she e-mailed him. And he said they talked by phone before the Blue Ridge left port last month.

It wasn’t Velasco who told the Blue Ridge about the show. According to 7th Fleet officials, Camile’s stepfather e-mailed the ship’s captain with the news.

On Friday, her father said, Camile was in California, preparing for the next “American Idol” installment.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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