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"That's what I want to do:" Fort Bragg soldiers audition for chorus

The 82nd Airborne Division's All American Chorus performs at the 2006 Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association championship in Las Vegas.

JASON B. CUTSHAW/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 4, 2018

Pvt. Danielle Fealey could serve her country. Or Fealey could sing.

The young soldier thought she had to choose.

But when Fealey arrived at Fort Bragg last year, she was greeted by the 82nd Airborne Division’s All American Chorus.

The chorus is comprised of paratroopers from across the division who serve a special duty as part entertainers and part unit ambassadors.

Fealey, who is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade as a human resources specialist, instantly knew she wanted to join them.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she said by way of explanation last week, as she stood in front of chorus leaders.

Fealey was one of three Fort Bragg soldiers selected to serve as part of the All American Chorus after a round of auditions at the unit’s headquarters on Gruber Road.

Officials with the chorus, which is part of the 82nd Airborne Division Band, said the auditions are held several times a year.

During the auditions, officials are often looking for more than just a good voice.

The All American Chorus is in high demand — performing upwards of 200 times a year on Fort Bragg — and has often been thrust into the national spotlight, including appearances at professional football, baseball and stock car racing events.

Sgt. 1st Class Scott Boyle, the chorus noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said leaders wanted soldiers who had talent, were excited and could help improve the unit.

Sometimes, that means no soldiers are chosen at auditions even though the chorus is undermanned.

“We are authorized for up to 30 paratroopers,” Boyle said. “But right now there are just 14.”

Serving with the All American Chorus is considered a two-year special duty. That means a soldier’s commander must release him or her to join the unit. It also means the chorus is constantly turning over, welcoming new members as others leave to resume careers as artillerymen, infantrymen and other Army jobs.

The turnover and the constant performances mean the chorus has little time to practice, said Maj. Bryan Ralls, the commander and conductor of the 82nd Airborne Division Band.

“We are very stringent in who we hire,” Ralls said. “We can’t train somebody how to sing. But we can polish.”

“It’s not about filling up the chorus and getting 30 vocalists in here,” he added. “If we did that, we’d have a subpar chorus.”

A Miami-native who moved to Fuquay-Varina as a child, Fealey has long had a love of music.

“It’s my passion,” she said.

In 2015, Fealey, then 16 years old, auditioned to compete on the show "American Idol.'' She beat out other hopefuls competing in Raleigh for a guaranteed audition with the show’s executive producers.

For years, Fealey also has made numerous appearances at sporting events, often singing the national anthem. But after joining the Army, Fealey assumed her singing would have to take a backseat to her military career.

That was before chorus leaders heard her sing.

Auditioning soldiers were required to sing three songs — two of their choosing and another selected by chorus leaders. They also were asked to sing back notes played on a piano and to repeat a verse sang by a chorus member.

Boyle said the audition is meant to showcase talent, but also to measure a soldier’s aptitude for hearing and processing music.

Fealey chose “Skyfall” by Adele and “At Last” by Etta James for her songs. Chorus leaders then asked her to perform the national anthem.

“It’s the song that makes everybody nervous every time,” Ralls said.

But if Fealey had any nerves, she didn’t show them. And chorus leaders, armed with score sheets, noticed.

The leaders shared looks and nods during the audition. At least one of them declined to fill out his score sheet for Fealey, instead simply writing “Go” in large block letters.

“That’s an easy yes,” Boyle said once Fealey left the room and the soldiers began to discuss her audition.

“Nice job. Nice voice,” Ralls added.

But Fealey is not quite ready to become a full-time member of the All American Chorus.

First, she must join the unit for a 30-day trial. After that, she must go to the U.S. Army Airborne School. All members of the chorus have to be on airborne status.

Fealy was the last of five soldiers to audition.

Boyle said leaders chose three to join them.

“That’s not a bad haul,” he said.

Spc. Shanaka McIntyre was the first to audition. And the first to receive an invitation to join the chorus on a trial basis.

A native of Guyana, South America, who moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 11, McIntyre said she has been singing since she was 7 years old.

She’s a combat engineer but wants to become an Army officer and serve as a trauma nurse.

Chorus leaders asked McIntyre about her short- and long-term goals before she sang.

The soldier joined the 82nd Airborne Division more than a year-and-a-half ago and was asked to audition at that time.

But McIntyre said she wanted to spend time in her chosen Army profession before taking a break to sing.

“If I can sing and represent the U.S. Army, that’s a plus,” she said.

McIntyre sang “Stand By Me” and “Pretty Blue Eyes.”

While nervous, chorus leaders said they loved her soft voice and jazz tune.

More importantly, they heard a singer who they believe can be even better if her talent is further developed.

Other soldiers chose “Summertime,” “Dance With My Father,” “Rockin’ Robin” and the “Ballad of the Green Berets” for their auditions.

But no one had selections as unique as Pvt. Christopher Kingdon.

Kingdon, who is a cavalry scout in the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, sang “All Shall Fade” from “Lord of the Rings” and “Snuff” by heavy metal band Slipknot.

A native of Salt Lake City, Kingdon joined the Army a little more than a year-and-a-half ago.

He first heard the All American Chorus during his welcome to Fort Bragg, but was unable to audition as his unit was deployed to Afghanistan.

Kingdon recently returned. And after time off, he has been invited to join the chorus for his 30-day trial.

Ralls said Kingdon had one of the best ranges he heard all day.

“He’s going to be fine,” he said. “He’ll be a quick train.”

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©2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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