Editor’s Note: This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus are back for a new round of “America’s Got Talent” that airs Tuesday, according to a news release from the production company.
The song choice came after a video on social media last year showed the paratrooper chorus members singing the song while waiting at a drop zone.
The Fayetteville Observer spoke by phone Monday with three members of the chorus, which is in California for the filming.
Q: How are things going?
Spc. Oscar Roldan: I think we’re all enjoying it. It’s definitely been a surreal experience being at this level. We’re surrounded by so many good acts. You just have to pinch yourself sometimes to know you’re really here in the same room as everyone else. I think we’re all excited to represent all the units of the 82nd Airborne Division as a whole. Hopefully, America loves us.
Q: Are all the members of the chorus there for this next round, or are some back at Fort Liberty?
Sgt. Marcus Gilbert: We have everybody. We picked up a couple of newcomers who we trained up quickly before taking them out here.
Q: To clarify, have taken on new members, or have members moved on and been replaced?
Gilbert: We are constantly evolving the chorus. So, you only get a two-year tenure with the chorus and move on to your next unit or next duty assignment. We also had auditions the past few months. We’re always looking for new voices to help us improve.
Q: How are practices now that you’re all on the show?
Sgt. Damarielis Vargas: Right now, it’s up to “America’s Got Talent.” We get up in the morning, and they provide breakfast and make sure we have everything we need as we warm up. As far as the day-to-day, it really depends on what we need. Yesterday, we had blocking, which is where the acts finally got to rehearse on the stage. Our day-to-day changes every day. There are the typical rehearsals of making sure we have our choreography down. We’re well taken care of here under the hands of “America’s Got Talent.”
Q: Prior to this season, did any of you watch “America’s Got Talent” in prior seasons?
Gilbert: I watched “America’s Got Talent” probably the past 10-12 seasons. I went back and watched the past five seasons when I knew we’d be on the show, to look at things like what the other choruses were doing — what choreography they’re doing, how much the judges wanted or how little they wanted. We did our homework before we accepted this assignment.
Q: What sets you apart from the other singing acts this season?
Vargas: I think the main thing that sets us apart from the other acts is we’re doing this to show that there are different possibilities and opportunities throughout the (Army) ranks. We’re all active-duty members and all come from different jobs. We’re not just singers and performers. We actually have jobs in the Army and want to represent the unity we have as a team and the opportunities throughout the Army, especially in the 82nd Airborne Division. I think the thing that sets us apart greatly from all the other acts, even though they’re super talented and amazing, is our bigger purpose just to perform here at “America’s Got Talent.”
Q: Where are your minds headed into this next round?
Rodan: I think we’re all locked in at the moment. I don’t think any of us are thinking about the “what ifs” about what we’re doing. We’re looking at the next objective, the next base line with the goal of conquering the current objective. Our focus is locked in at rehearsal for any last-minute refinement and what is needed at this level to get to the next round. I think at this point, it’s small checkups with each of us locked in ready to do it and excited to do it.
Q: How many songs do you have in a typical set list?
Gilbert: For most of our shows that we do, all our songs are by request. We send a repertoire or set list beforehand, and an organizer will choose what songs they want to hear before a ceremony. The next song we’re doing (for the show), I would not say it’s in the same musical genre as “My Girl,” but it brings good vibes, and we’re looking for inspiration to come out of it.
Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from this next performance that may be different from the last one?
Vargas: The last one, our first audition, was more of us showing we’re here ... when the “America’s Got Talent” opportunity came, we had maybe three weeks to prepare for the first audition. This second phase is completely different from the first. Throughout this whole process, we’re still going to keep the mindset that this is bigger than us. This is not just about us as individuals. It’s more so an opportunity for us to try to highlight for America to know we’re here if they need us as well as the opportunities here.
Rodan: I think probably our biggest mission is really to represent the division and let America know we’re here and this is who we are. I think a lot of people are aware of the 82nd Airborne Division and aware of our history and the things we’ve done. I think it’s about putting a human face on this big name. I think it’s a really important experience, especially since the average person in America may not know anything about the Army. I want them to know that yes, we’re capable of doing stuff like this, and we’re always ready to answer the call when America calls us anywhere in the world to deploy within 18 hours and be ready to get to business.
Q: Is there anything else to add about being in the chorus or being on the show?
Rodan: I think the big thing we want to reiterate and drive home and eliminate any confusion and questions is: We are America’s guard of honor, and we take that badge very seriously. I can speak for all of us in saying it’s quite an honor to wear the double A patch as we know the legacy behind it. I know the division after us just like the division before us can be proud of the massive history and massive lineage. I would like the audience to know we take our role very seriously, and we are here and will be here. Obviously, tune in at 8 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 19.
Gilbert: We always want to make sure that we thank (82nd Airborne Division commander) Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, who’s extended a large helping hand in making this possible. Not many units get the attention of the leader of the whole division, and we’re blessed to have a leader who’s really been there for us … there’s been lots of higher-up conversations to make sure this could happen.