By Danielle DeSimone

The lights, the cameras, the stardom – every year, service members in Bagram, Afghanistan take to the stage and put on a show that everyone talks about for weeks. The USO’s beloved “Bagram’s Got Talent” event allows service members to spend an evening performing, laughing, cheering and forgetting – for just a moment – that they are on the front lines.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented this popular semi-annual event from physically taking place. However, the USO team believed that, as they say in showbiz, “the show must go on.” With a little help from the USO and Jeanine Mason, winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” season 5 and star of “Roswell, New Mexico” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” service members still had their chance to step into the spotlight,- virtually.

“Bagram’s Got Talent” Connects Service Members to Home and Each Other

This was the fifth “Bagram’s Got Talent” event, which usually draws huge crowds of contestants and audiences from across the base. This year, due to COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, the USO delivered this popular program virtually. Performances were streamed via Facebook Live video, and those viewing safely from their social distanced barracks voted by commenting with the name of their favorite performer in the video’s comment section.

This year, the fifth “Bagram’s Got Talent” show, hosted by the USO for performing troops deployed in Afghanistan, had to be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions. | Photo credit USO Bagram

The challenges of deployment and the COVID-19 pandemic were present throughout the show. From the pianist who couldn’t accompany his trumpet-playing friend due to COVID-19 quarantine, to another service member’s singing tribute to his daughter waiting back home – the reminders were everywhere.

But overall, “Bagram’s Got Talent” served as a way to connect service members with each other and, as with all aspects of the USO’s mission, to boost morale among the troops.

Service members showed off their singing skills, but also shared moments of levity and fun in an otherwise challenging time. Joyful reggae performances and acoustic guitar tributes to family members back home were some of the top performances, as service members and some of their family members back home tuned in to watch.

“Congratulations Kalepo!” A loved one commented on the Facebook video, from thousands of miles away. “Proud of you!”

Celebrities Make Surprise Appearances to Thank the Troops

Photo credit USO Bagram

Jeanine Mason, winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” season 5 and actress on “Roswell, New Mexico” and “Grey’s Anatomy” helped host the event from across the world.

Celebrities of all kinds joined the Facebook Live video event to say hello to service members tuning in from Afghanistan and thank them for their service. Special appearances included comedian and veteran Daniel Betts, “Star Wars” actor Greg Grunberg, United States Women’s National Soccer Team player Kylie Bivens, comedian and veteran Benari Poulten, country singer Rachel Lipsky, rapper The Boy Illinois and longtime USO supporter, Chef Robert Irvine.

Jeanine Mason, winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” season 5 and actress on “Roswell, New Mexico” and “Grey’s Anatomy” also helped host the event from across the world, and announced the official winner of “Bagram’s Got Talent” at the end of the night.

These appearances and words of encouragement from celebrities are especially important in a time when service members are separated not only from loved ones back home, but also from each other due to social distancing. Hearing from celebrities while on deployment might seem like a small gesture, but it is an excellent reminder to the troops that they are not forgotten.

“You guys are the real heroes. Thank you so much for all you do and all the sacrifices you make to keep us safe,” Grunberg said. “And for everyone participating in the ‘Bagram’s Got Talent’ competition – go get ‘em!”