Leno's all Armed Services Talent Show delivers laughs
By PFC Jess N. Levens
| | December 06, 2002
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Jay Leno filled his studio in Burbank, Calif., with a unique crowd of men and women Nov. 27 for the taping of a special Tonight Show dedicated to the U.S. military and showcasing the talents of a select few service members.
Personnel from U.S. Armed Forces bases throughout Southern California filed into Leno's studios as passers-by yelled, "Thank you" and "We appreciate your service" from their cars.
Sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines applauded and yelled as Leno came to the stage to welcome and thank them. He entertained the audience with a short, off-camera comedy shtick before explaining how shooting would go and heading back to his dressing room.
A production team member proposed a dance competition to the all-military crowd before the cameras went live.
One member from each branch volunteered and went on stage. The dancing freedom fighters were accompanied by a loud, hip-hop beat. The dancing or attempts at dancing, livened up the crowd and earned each volunteer a Tonight Show t-shirt. They weren't the only ones who left The Tonight Show taping with more than fond memories. Leno's crew tossed stuffed animals, t-shirts, and other souvenirs into the crowd.
When The Tonight Show Band kicked off a jazzy tune and Leno returned to the center of the stage, the crowd greeted him with wild applause and cheers.
He began the show with a monologue that was mostly military-oriented. He then took a seat and welcomed his first guest, actor, Rob Schneider, who was there promoting his new movie.
Once the laughing from Schneider's silly banter died down, it was time to start the talent show featuring the unique talents of U.S. service members.
Representing the Marine Corps was PFC Amy Collingwood, an Arab linguist headed to her military occupational specialty school after wrapping up her duties on recruiter assistance. The Sarasota, Fla., native, has a unique talent of speaking backward. Leno would give her a phrase, and within seconds, she repeated it completely backward.
"I started speaking backward as a little kid. I learned to read, and I just played with the words in my head," said Collingwood.
Leno tested her talent by saying phrases such as, "Kevin Eubanks has a shiny bald head."
Within seconds Collingwood replied, "Deah dlab ynihs a sah sknabuE niveK."
Collingwood, like the nine other Marines who auditioned for a spot in the talent show, submitted a videotape of her unique abilities to the Leno crew.
"When I heard that I had been picked, I was so excited; not just to be on national television, but also to represent the Marine Corps in front of the whole country," said Collingwood.
"I'm so proud of her. She was given an opportunity to show the country that a normal girl can be a Marine, and still have fun and be silly sometimes. It's just an awesome opportunity to familiarize people with their military," said Bindy Collingwood, Collingwood's mother.
Other talents included a sailor who jumped rope while riding a unicycle, a Coast Guard brass band, an airman who played two trumpets at once, and a group of soldiers who did their own Riverdance rendition.
Although no clear winner was determined, each contestant brought the crowd to its feet.
During a commercial break, the band played "America the Beautiful." Everyone in the audience stood at attention.
"It was awesome. I cried on the inside," said Lance Cpl. David E. Guerra, orders clerk, Consolidated Personnel Administration Center, MCRD San Diego.
The show was taped not only to honor service members, but also to show the American people a side of the military most don't see very often, according to Kevin Eubanks, The Tonight Show music director.
"Shows like this make it easier for us to relate to the military," he said. "It shows them as friends and peers, not intangible warriors. We (civilians) feel more at home with them."
Collingwood supported Eubanks opinion of showing a softer side of the military.
"The show helped prove that we (service members) are human, too," she said. "We like to have fun, and we think for ourselves."
Thanks to the coordinating efforts of the Single Marine Program here, 17 Marines from the Depot braved the holiday weekend traffic to join in The Tonight Show festivities.
"It was really cool to come to L.A. to see a live taping," said Guerra. "The audience interaction was amazing. If the opportunity comes up again, I'm planning to take full advantage of it."