Not many acts on “America’s Got Talent” can make judge Howard Stern get all mushy.
But a few weeks ago the women of the American Military Spouses Choir — including five pregnant wives — blew the roof off in Chicago with a standing-ovation version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“Some people know how to lift the human spirit — you did that today,” Stern told the women. “We soared with you.”
As choir member Stephanie Holmberg remembers it: “Woo, we blew them away!”
Holmberg and her husband, Maj. Steven Holmberg, are stationed at Fort Leavenworth while he goes to officers’ graduate school.
The major has stayed home with their two young children while his wife has been in New York preparing for the choir’s live performance Aug. 6 at Radio City Music Hall. The show airs at 8 p.m. on NBC.
“My husband is really stepping up,” Holmberg said in a phone interview from New York. “I couldn’t be here without his love and support, and he is doing some serious daddy duty right now.”
Who knows what the judges were expecting when 37 women in matching purple T-shirts took the stage at Rosemont Theatre in Chicago in late June.
But when the first soloist began belting, the raised eyebrows on Howie Mandel’s face seemed to say:Wow, these women can really sing.
The women have active-duty husbands in all branches of the military. Holmberg’s husband has been deployed three times, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and missed the birth of their first child. Added up, the choir members’ families have been through about 300 deployments.
The choir was formed last year by a nonprofit organization called CAMMO, the Center for American Military Music Opportunities.
CAMMO provides music therapy programs to service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Music producer David Foster approached the group, wanting a choir of military wives to perform with him during a star-spangled, star-studded show at the Kennedy Center.
CAMMO scrambled, pulling the choir together in two weeks. The women, scattered all over the country, auditioned on MP3 files and Skype. The group rehearses on Skype, too.
“Being a military spouse we are pretty expert on the whole Skyping thing,” says Holmberg, a registered nurse with church-choir experience.
She used to sing to her nursing-home patients. “Families would ask me to sing when their loved ones passed on,” she says. “We would open the window and sing a little memorial to them.”
The group’s first performance on “America’s Got Talent” turned into a big cryfest.
“Before we even sang the whole audience stood and and clapped for us. And here we are on stage and we’re crying. And I’m like, ‘OK, we have to pull it together,’” says Holmberg. “And after we sang they were screaming ‘U.S.A., U.S.A!’”
The choir got to skip the next competition round in Las Vegas and headed straight to New York. Holmberg’s been there since last week, rehearsing, being fitted for wardrobe and taping segments for Tuesday’s show in which the group is vying for a spot in the semifinals.
She wouldn’t reveal the choir’s song, “but,” she says, “ it will be warm and heartwarming.”
If they win the whole thing, the prize is $1 million and a show on the Las Vegas strip. Holmberg says that some of that money will definitely go to CAMMO for its work with soldiers.
But the Vegas show? How would that happen?
“It’s amazing to think how we’re going to pull that off,” says Holmberg. “But military spouses are all over the country, so we could do it. This is just me talking, but I think we could just rotate through deployments. I think we could expand the choir.”
She envisions a feel-good, all-American Vegas strip show. No glitter. Just lots of red, white and blue.
If, that is, the women can get past Tuesday’s round.
One of the choir’s lead vocalists happens to be eight months pregnant.
“So we’re like, ‘If you have that baby on stage we’re going through to the next round,’” Holmberg says.