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Staff Sgt. Jeronimo Cordova-Estrada was one of seven singers to audition for the inaugural “Misawa Idol” last weekend at Misawa Air Base, Japan. A second open audition is this Saturday at the Tohoku Enlisted Club Ballroom. The eventual “Misawa Idol” wins $2,000.

Staff Sgt. Jeronimo Cordova-Estrada was one of seven singers to audition for the inaugural “Misawa Idol” last weekend at Misawa Air Base, Japan. A second open audition is this Saturday at the Tohoku Enlisted Club Ballroom. The eventual “Misawa Idol” wins $2,000. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The spotlight made the audience disappear for Staff Sgt. Jeronimo Cordova-Estrada, but he couldn’t quell the butterflies: He faltered in the first few notes of his a cappella solo. But he pulled it together and earned mostly kind words from the judges — though one ripped him for wearing a tie.

It was all part of the first night of auditions for the inaugural “Misawa Idol” last Saturday at the Tohoku Ballroom.

Misawa is the latest base in Japan to hold a spin-off of the Fox television hit “American Idol.” Seven military members, civilians and spouses sang last week in front of about 160 people. The final open audition is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. To try out, be at the club by 7 p.m. for a briefing, said Erin Lahart, club operations supervisor and entertainment-and-marketing specialist. “We’re probably going to take six to 10 [contestants] and cut from there.”

Top prize is $2,000, with $100 going to the best performer each week. The final show is set for June 3. Individuals must be at least 18 and a club member to audition. The show is open to anyone 18 or older. Free to club members, it costs $5 for nonmembers.

“Misawa Idol” is intended to get people involved with the clubs and to boost morale, Lahart said, “give them something to do at Misawa.” If all goes well, club officials would like to hold four shows a year, she said.

The club has adopted some “American Idol” features: Master Sgt. Anthony Campbell, a first sergeant with Misawa Security Operations Center, acts as the show’s cantankerous Simon Cowell — he’s the one who commented on Cordova-Estrada’s stuffy tie (Cordova-Estrada evertually took it off) — and Windy Torgerson, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron commander’s secretary, “seems to be our Paula [Abdul],” Lahart said. “She was hitting Tony the other night.” Kimberly Evans, an Edgren High School volunteer, is the third judge, and a different guest judge sits on the panel every week.

Contestants are critiqued on singing ability, appearance, stage presence and crowd response, Lahart said.

Senior Airman Tyreema Gordon, 22, hopes to get another shot on the stage. “I tried out because I knew I would get a lot of support from my friends,” she said. “And I need the $2,000 to pay bills.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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