National Anthem Auditions
Better than…having to listen to me sing the national anthem.
The “Star Spangled Banner” is a notoriously difficult song to sing. Its one and a half octave range of chest-pounding passion has stumped many singers. Nonetheless last Saturday, for the first time ever, the Dodgers held open auditions for a chance to sing the national anthem at a Dodgers exhibition game. Over 500 people showed up.
Baseball has been America's pastime longer than the Star Spangled Banner has been our national anthem. Francis Scott Key's poetic ode to patriotism and explosions was not adopted as America's national anthem until 1931. In 1962 the Dodgers settled into Chavez Ravine and are now entering their 50th season at Dodgers Stadium with a little bit of optimism (thank you, Magic Johnson).
The auditions were held on the field, with a fully illuminated JumboTron and the smell of Dodger dogs wafting through the stadium for maximum effect. A table of judges consisting of several front office Dodgers staff and 1965 Dodgers World Series hero Sweet Lou Johnson sat patiently through each performance.
Anyone who has seen more than ten minutes of any singing competition knows that open auditions can be a very unpredictable event. Thankfully, perhaps due to the location or the sacred material, most of the nuts attended the cross-town auditions for The Voice and almost every person who approached the microphone was at least capable of belting out the challenging standard.
At 9:30 a.m. the auditions got underway with over 175 people having already checked in. Many were dressed in scarves and coats as they fought the persistent drizzle. Local radio personality Manny Streetz served as emcee informing the contestants they were to start from “rockets' red glare” and finish the second half of the anthem.
By 11:30 a.m., only 82 people had approached the microphone.
From operatic sopranos to melismatic R&B divas, bellowing baritones to honeyed barbershop quartets, the range of participants was extremely varied with both men and women turning up in equal measures. Although this gathering was a competition, a supportive crowd supplied plenty of applause for those who were clearly nervous or out of tune. The crowd was a little wary of the more polished performers.
Each participant wore noise-cancelling headphones in order to combat the delay from the public address system. As each word was finished it would come roaring back from centerfield, requiring an impeccable inner metronome to stop from looping into endless feedback. That is, if participants could remember the actual words to the anthem. Variations on almost every word echoed across the stadium throughout the day.
Wild-haired rocker Ray Porschien got the first callback from Sweet Lou, who requested a second performance from the Jim Morrison impersonator. He charmed the crowd with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but it was an eight-year-old who won over the crowd.
Dressed in a tux with a red bow tie, Anthony Mercado from Redlands produced an American flag handkerchief from his pocket mid-performance. His mother, who had performed before him, stood on the warning track beaming.
Despite another 400+ performers following Mercado's heart-warming performance he had sealed the deal, winning the opportunity to perform this Tuesday for an exhibition game between the Angels and the Dodgers.
Personal Bias: If I were running the auditions I would have made each participant only sing “And the home of the brave!” and we'd have been done in 30 minutes.
The Crowd: From middle-aged women in push-up bras to third graders in Hello Kitty shirts, the only unifier was courage.
Random Notebook Dump: Call me crazy but I expected to see more American flag shirts or at least Dodger blue.