Moody vocalist, technician hand-selected to tour with Tops In Blue

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte N. Brantley-Sisk
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
When the 2011 Tops In Blue performing group hits the road in April, two Flying Tigers will be among the crew hand-selected to tour the world for 10 months after an intense audition process at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Derek Speights from the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron and Airman 1st Class Kegan Davis from the 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron were notified of their selection to the group in December shortly after returning from the tryouts.

"The days of trying out were long and grueling because the group's management wanted to see what each person could bring to Tops In Blue," said Sergeant Speights, who was raised in Norfolk, Va., and will perform as a vocalist. "They purposefully put us in awkward situations that forced us to show we weren't stuck in our ways. They wanted us to break out and show we were willing to do anything."

While details about the audition process are generally kept quiet, it's known to be a trying time.

"The days were all really long because that's the way life on the road will be," said Airman Davis, who is from Kentucky and will provide technical support for the crew. "They wanted to know you could still function on only a few hours of sleep but still do your job effectively. It was a tough process but being a part of the team and being able to travel to so many places will be worth it."

Sergeant Speights agreed with him, saying that although life on the road is notorious for being exhausting and tough, the nature of the job has its rewards.

"During one part of the audition process, we sang Christmas carols to preschoolers as a way to give back to the community," he said. "Just hearing those songs, they were so happy and dancing along and I realized that it's not just about our talents- it's about making a difference. So even though the process was tough, getting to sing in front of audiences will be great."

Each year, the 35-man Tops In Blue team performs hundreds of shows in hundreds of locations all over the world.

Getting the chance to experience places other than their hometowns is a reason both Sergeant Speights and Airman Davis gave for joining the Air Force.

Although the vocalists and other on-stage performers are the focus of the limelight, their performances would not be possible without the technical support.

"Before trying out, I didn't know much about the lighting or sound equipment," said Airman Davis. "But between the day we leave for Lackland AFB on Jan. 23 and when we head out on tour two months later, it'll be weeks of busily perfecting our process for setting up the stage."

The Tops In Blue members are responsible for more than 80,000 tons equipment per performance and have special effects equal to using 556 lights.

The amount of time taken to set up and take down the equipment varies but can take the crew six or more hours daily. Because of this timely requirement, their day often starts before the crack of dawn and may not end until early the next morning.

"The audition process was tough and weeded out those who wouldn't function well with strenuous days on the road and then on the stage," said Sergeant Speights. "There were plenty of talented people there who ended up quitting because they weren't accustomed to it.

"One of the major things the management wanted to see was how you act when you're tired and stressed out," he added. "Each show ends with meeting the audience members and since we're ambassadors for the Air Force, we must maintain a professional image even though we've had a long day."

After talking to the audience members, the stage is torn down and the team members head to bed around 1 a.m., only to start again early the next morning.

Tops In Blue was created in 1953 and since then has been on TV and in movies, produced albums and performed at large venues including world and state fairs and Super Bowl XIX.