Although the Air Force Talent Contest format that's described here has been modified since this was written, this poem by MSgt Earl Hanna, USAF (ret) is still an excellent illustration of what life is like on the road to TOPS IN BLUE - you don't always make it the first time, and how you handle that indicates the kind of person you are.

At the time this was written and until 1993, the talent contest format had live, judged shows every step of the way. First at your base, then at your major command, then at Worldwide. To make it to the next step you had to win, except at Worldwide. Once at Worldwide, you did not need to win anything to be selected for TOPS IN BLUE. (That much is still true today - just showing up at Worldwide still guarantees you the chance of a lifetime.)

This is the same poem read by Tom Edwards, Director of Air Force Entertainment at the awards night ceremonies at the end of every Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest.


Somewhere I read there would be this day
Where the best would gather in their own way
An expression of talent would then be displayed
For all to witness as a big, big parade

I say to myself what can I do
To accomplish the name of TOPS IN BLUE
I know it's not possible without sweat on my brow
So I must not delay it's best to start now

So I take some ideas and toss them around
And then ask my friends "Hey, man, how'd I sound?"
Hey man stop laughing and tell me true
Will I ever make it to TOPS IN BLUE

Not like that is always the word
Man you're the worst I've ever heard
Aw, come on man, was I really that bad?
Naw, man, not really, you were just sad

So I try hard to cast off the criticism
And increase my goal with extra egotism
I've started it now so I'll see it through
And I'll have my chance at TOPS IN BLUE

The day of the base contest I'm nervous as hell
There's always that doubt that I might not fare well
So I sing my song and dance my dance
Never really thinking I'd really have a chance

Now it was up to the judges who held our fate
As my heart started to pound during the long, long wait
And I say "Let it please be me.."

The judges returned and tension was felt
as my heart fell below my belt.
They called off the winners and when they were through
I was one step closer to TOPS IN BLUE

I shake some hands, I take a bow
I wipe the sweat from my brow
I'm so excited, so filled with glee
My chest stands proud for all to see

This was just the beginning you understand
For now I must compete and win command
Where things would be rougher and competition tougher
And little time could be spent with the bad.

But with my chin in the air I went like the devil may care
determined to see my goal through
For I had my heart set and surely nothing could get
in the way of TOPS IN BLUE

Now at command on the stage
I stand with a microphone in my hand
I sing my song, I do my dance, and wonder again if I'll have a chance
For there's a lot of talent here I've watched them perform

I've heard the crowd cheer, I know that they had done their best
I wondered if I had stood the test
The judges took longer than they had before
Discussing and tallying who had the best score

And then the time came for the moment of truth
While everyone quietly shook in their boots
"Let it please be me..."

Then I heard a familiar sound which meant
I had won another round
I shook some hands, I took a bow
I wiped the sweat from my brow

It was at that moment I really knew
That I would have my chance at TOPS IN BLUE

When we arrived at Worldwide, the feeling was hard to describe
The anticipation was a great sensation, and could not be held inside
For there on display, before the show
stood two statues, "ROGER" and "WILCO"

One made of silver, the other of gold
They both stood tall, proud and bold.
Wow, they were such a beautiful sight
And I knew if I earned it I would get one tonight

Now the judges have gone to their rooms to decide
And I feel all choked up inside
My pulse beat faster and then I knew
It was the final call for TOPS IN BLUE
"Let it please be me..."

With everyone quiet a man came on the stage
With a list of finalists, and as he read the page
There were cheers and then some tears
As he continued down the line
I heard a lot of names, but I didn't hear mine

So I shook no hands and took no bow
For me my quest was over now
I realized then the best had won
But I still felt proud of what I'd done

I've gained self-confidence and I understand
That this competition has made me a better man
And even though I didn't accomplish what I had desired
Maybe someone in my audience had been inspired

Well, I've sung my song and did my dance
And I thank God for giving me the chance
To show the world what I could do
With just the thought of being TOPS IN BLUE



Every military unit issues one-page written documents describing the honorable actions of a particular person in that unit and/or the unit itself. TOPS IN BLUE is no exception. Every TOPS IN BLUE tour and each person on that tour receives a citation which reads somewhat like this example, taken from the 1988 stateside tour:

Citation To Tops In Blue 1988

Tops In Blue '88 distinguished itself by exemplary achievement as an Air Force entertainment showcase from 8 July to 12 December 1988. During the demanding tour, the professionalism of each cast member contributed immeasurably to the success of Tops In Blue '88. Traveling over 52,000 miles, the cast presented 100 performances for over 524,000 Air Force personnel and their families at 96 locations throughout the continental United States. These uniquely talented individuals combined their initiatives to produce a program which was heralded by commanders at all levels and greatly enhanced the morale of our Air Force personnel. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Tops In Blue '88 reflect great credit upon itself and the United States Air Force.

Billy J. Boles, Major General, USAF
Commander, Air Force Military Personnel Center (now AF Personnel Center)

The cast of TOPS IN BLUE 1998 had their citations signed by the Secretary of the Air Force for the first time in our history. This shows that TOPS IN BLUE is not just a Services-level program, but an Air Force-level program with high visibility and a positive impact on the Air Force mission.