RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Move over, Ruben.
Make room, Kelly and Fantasia.
The Air Force has its own “idol” in Europe.
Maj. Larry Speer, who got a rousing ovation from his home base crowd for singing Neil Diamond’s “America,” won the U.S. Air Forces in Europe singing contest on Saturday at the Ramstein Officers’ Club.
Speer, a C-20 pilot with the Ramstein-based 76th Airlift Squadron, never thought he had a chance when he first heard the other seven singers.
“Vocally, they are amazing,” he said, clutching his first place trophy. “I just had no clue what was going to happen.”
About 900 people attended the first-ever talent show that brought together the best Air Force singers from around the region. Pop singing couple Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, who put on a star-studded variety show on base Friday, gave out awards to the finalists.
While Speer doesn’t get a record contract like “American Idol” TV show winners Ruben Studdard, Kelly Clarkson or Fantasia Barrino, he can boast that he is the best in the command.
Top singers from bases around the continent — from Iceland to Turkey — competed in a format borrowed from the hit Fox-TV franchise. The Air Force called their talent show “USAFE Idol.”
Each person sang two songs of their choice, and four judges graded the performances to determine the winner.
Speer, who once sang for cover bands in high school and in church choirs, first sang Marc Cohn’s “Walkin’ in Memphis.” He ended the night by flipping his collar up and belting out Diamond’s 1981 patriotic hit.
He admitted that performing at his home base gave him a slight advantage over the other seven singers.
“Nothing wrong with home-court advantage,” he said from the USAFE Idol’s “green room” backstage.
Although the TV show judges are known for airing frank criticisms, the crowd didn’t get to hear or see how the panel voted.
And just as the Fox talent show franchise has had its share of controversy, the USAFE version wasn’t without a little friendly debate. Everyone had a favorite.
Staff Sgt. Mark Dearmond thought Senior Airman Michael Lemorie of Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, should have won. His wife Evelyne, however, believed runner-up Senior Airman Elsie Lengyon from Lajes Field, Azores, earned the title.
“She was great,” Evelyne Dearmond said. “She should have taken it.”
Those that came up short could try again.
Gen. Robert “Doc” Foglesong, USAFE commander, said it would be an annual event. He came up with the idea of the contest after coming across so many airmen who had musical talent.