By Tim Hipps
IMCOM Public Affairs
LOS ANGELES – Operation Rising Star winner Army Reserve Sgt. Melissa Neal and husband Army CW2 Nate Neal cherished attending the Grammys and EMI Music’s after-party Feb. 12 at the Capitol Records Building.
“It’s absolutely surreal,” Nate said while riding to the Staples Center for the 54th annual Grammy Awards, a show stolen by British songstress Adele and dedicated to the life of Whitney Houston, who died at the nearby Beverly Hills Hilton on the eve of the show. “The whole experience thus far has just been unbelievable.”
From Germany to Beverly Hills to the Staples Center to Hollywood and Vine, the military couple shared many memorable moments, thanks in part to Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which supported the military singing contest.
And the Army couple was just getting busy with a week they likely will never forget. Upon arrival from Germany, they spent a couple of days “getting lost” while sightseeing Southern California.
They cruised up and down hilly Sunset Boulevard in a convertible and strolled along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which consists of more than 2,400 brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. The stars bear the names of actors, musicians, directors, producers, musical and theatrical groups, and fictional characters that made their mark in the entertainment industry.
“That was really cool,” Nate said. “Really cool.”
2011 Operation Rising Star winner Army Reserve Sgt. Melissa Neal, wife of Army CW2 Nate Neal of Illesheim, Germany, records at EMI Music's Capitol Records studio in Hollywood, Calif., as part of her grand prize for winning the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation military singing contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. U.S. Army photos by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs
On Saturday night, they ventured inside the Capitol Records Building, where Melissa recorded scratch vocals on the same microphone Paul McCartney’s voice graced two days earlier.
“It was amazing,” Melissa said of her first recording session in Hollywood. “A little overwhelming because there are lots of switches and buttons, but a lot of fun – a lot of fun. It was amazing. To be able to share that microphone with some God-given talent was unreal.
“They said 48 hours before me, Sir Paul McCartney was recording there in that same room. That is amazing – unbelievable.”
The Neals said the week spent among Hollywood stars exceeded all of their expectations since the December night when Melissa won the 2011 Operation Rising Star competition at Fort Sam Houston Theatre on Joint Base San Antonio.
“This has certainly been an immersion into Hollywood for us,” Nate said. “It’s been surreal being this close to everything – being able to step out our door in Beverly Hills and walk to Rodeo Drive. It’s just unbelievable.”
“Go Army,” Melissa chimed in. “Go Army. It’s been fantastic. This has been an absolutely amazing Hollywood-L.A. experience for us.”
Next stop: the downtown Staples Center – home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings – for the biggest night in music: the Grammy Awards show, which further amazed Melissa.
“Amazing,” she said. “Unbelievably amazing. That’s all I have to say about that. Amazing, big-time.
“Paul McCartney was amazing, and Adele, amazing. Bruno Mars was really good. And Rihanna – I love, Rihanna. They were all fantastic. Oh, and Jennifer Hudson was awesome, awesome.”
Neal said he most enjoyed seeing The Beach Boys “live on stage and McCartney singing Beatles tunes.” Melissa’s nod went to Adele, who won six categories, including song and record of the year.
“I love her,” Melissa said. “She was absolutely amazing. She had lost her voice and this was her first performance back. And she was stunning.”
Following the 3½-hour show at the Staples Center, it was time to mingle at the Capitol Records Tower with the likes of Lady Antebellum, Coldplay, Bob Seger, Slash, Paris Hilton and Katy Perry, among a myriad of entertainment stars, directors and producers.
They crossed Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards and passed the exit for the Hollywood Bowl en route to the party, which featured a fabricated roller-coaster photo op, tarot card readers and a Ferris wheel in the parking lot loaded with food and drink vendors serving complementary goodies.
“Unbelievable – absolutely unbelievable,” Nate said after the after-party. “I met Slash from Guns ‘N’ Roses, kind of a big deal. I talked to him for about a minute and shook his hand. It was really cool. I met Eric Church, who I’m a big fan of. Got to hang out and eat some good food, drink some good drinks, and just have a good time.”
“I got to see Corey Feldman,” Melissa said. “Corey Feldman! I’m a Goonie! The party was all it was cracked up to be, and then some. Awesome. Amazing.”
“Definitely a night to remember, for sure,” Nate added. “It was an experience that we’re never going to forget, for sure.”
“Ever,” Melissa confirmed.
The next morning, Melissa got busy recording lead vocals for her three-song demo compact disc, another part of her winning prize, inside the Capitol Records studios.
Amanda Sealy, wife of Army Spc. Keith Sealy, won the Operation Rising Star Ultimate Fan Game and attended the Grammys with her guest, Nikki Gonzalez. The Sealys, stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., will soon move to Fort Benning, Ga.
Editor's note: This is the first of a series on Operation Rising Star recording week in Hollywood by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs