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Airman Rhonda Smiley, who has been singing since age 6, will get a chance to show off her vocal chords at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in April, after winning Saturday’s "Aviano Idol" contest.

Airman Rhonda Smiley, who has been singing since age 6, will get a chance to show off her vocal chords at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in April, after winning Saturday’s "Aviano Idol" contest. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Airman Rhonda Smiley, who has been singing since age 6, will get a chance to show off her vocal chords at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in April, after winning Saturday’s "Aviano Idol" contest.

Airman Rhonda Smiley, who has been singing since age 6, will get a chance to show off her vocal chords at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in April, after winning Saturday’s "Aviano Idol" contest. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Liddy finished second in the "Aviano Idol" competition with a rendition of a Jewel song.

Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Liddy finished second in the "Aviano Idol" competition with a rendition of a Jewel song. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Every contestant had their fans at the “Aviano Idol” contest Saturday night at the base’s community center. Kyla Stidham, 4½, shows off support for her daddy, Staff Sgt. Christopher Stidham.

Every contestant had their fans at the “Aviano Idol” contest Saturday night at the base’s community center. Kyla Stidham, 4½, shows off support for her daddy, Staff Sgt. Christopher Stidham. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Rhonda Smiley might not be the idol of millions — at least not yet.

But the senior airman from the 603rd Air Control Squadron impressed a few hundred people Saturday night. Smiley won the “Aviano Idol” contest, earning a trip to Germany in April to take on the best from the rest of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

“I thought I had a shot, but I didn’t think I was going to win it,” the 23-year-old said.

She sang Alicia Keyes’ “Diary” and got a first-place vote from all three judges. Unlike “American Idol,” the judges didn’t air their critiques of each performer. There were television cameras, but there apparently wasn’t anyone watching to see an ear-splitting performance.

“Considering that this is a small base, if you’re not very good, you probably don’t want to go up there,” said audience member LaToya Jones-Sanders.

Seemingly everyone in the audience was there to support a friend.

“He’s going to win,” Neia Morton said of her friend, Staff Sgt. Yakeem Jones, before the show.

Several rows away in the base’s community center, Michaela Maximin, had a different opinion. She was there for Senior Airman Kristi Barber: “She’s the best.”

Smiley turned out to be the winner, though. Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Liddy from the 31st Maintenance Squadron was second and Capt. Summer Davis from the 31st Mission Support Group was third.

Backed by Touch ’n Go, a USAFE band, 11 performers took to the stage in the second in a series of “Idols” at USAFE bases. There were four competitors recently at Lajes Field in the Azores. Three stops in England, two in Germany and one in Turkey are still ahead. The top performers from all the bases will meet April 23 at Ramstein Air Base to determine the command’s top vocalist.

Smiley, born in Brunswick, Ga., grew up singing in various choirs.

“This was my first time singing with a band,” she said. “It was very good.”

Her father was in the Air Force, and she’s been in for six years. But she said singing “has always been a dream of mine.”

Jeffrey Davis, assistant director for the community center and one of the local organizers, said there weren’t any William Hungs that wanted to take the stage. Hung is infamous for his off-key audition on “American Idol” that he somehow turned into a record deal.

“We could have done one of those as well, but we didn’t think that was appropriate,” Davis said. “Plus there would have to be someone here that would actually do that.”

Instead, the laughs Saturday were supplied by host and AFN radio personality Chris Vadnais, who appeared to have better material than “American Idol” host Ryan Seachrist. Vadnais joked that the “USAFE Idol” winner would probably appear in an AFN commercial with Gen. Robert Foglesong, the USAFE commander.

“I don’t think he does very many of those, so it’s an honor,” he said.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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