National Anthem Auditions Turn Out the Talented

September 27, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

By Jennifer Willis
Communications Staff

Singing the national anthem before sporting events is a tradition that gained footing during World War II, when baseball stadiums became large-scale displays of patriotism. Today, it is as much a part of those events as the seventh-inning stretch or the halftime show.

Judges included Jessica Ertell, Juan Hernandez, Helen Bleach, Trent May and Matt and Ben from KNIX.

On Monday night, GCU held open auditions for anthem singers for this year’s men’s and women’s basketball games. With Ben Campbell and Matt McAllister from the KNIX morning show as guest judges, the Arena became a scene out of “American Idol.”

More than 40 hopeful singers showed up, and Jessica Ertell, the University’s game operations and fan loyalty manager, thought the auditions couldn’t have gone better.

“We had a lot of really good talent turn out,” Ertell said. “It’s going to be really difficult to pick just a few.”

Candidates turned out from metro Phoenix and beyond, looking for a chance to display their talents and sing in front of a large audience.

High school junior Melody Startzell made the two-hour drive from Prescott with her parents.

“I love singing,” Startzell said. “This is such a great opportunity to get more experience singing in front of groups of people.”

While she hasn’t decided where she wants to go to college, she said she was impressed with GCU and its music program.

“I’m definitely looking at schools with strong music programs,” she said.

Brooke Banister, a data integrity analyst at GCU, was one of several employees to audition. Like most of the people on hand, she loves to sing and has some experience singing the national anthem at events. Arriving at the auditions after work, she was the first one to check in and the first to audition.

“I’m glad I was able to get it out of the way right away,” Banister said. “I just hope I did it justice.”

Eight-year-old Juliette Hathaway auditioned. Her parents are GCU alumni.

The performer who stole the show was 8-year-old Juliette Hathaway. Exuding confidence beyond her years, she marched out into the middle of the floor, stood on her tiptoes to grab the mic and then belted out the anthem as if she owned the place. Her dad, who brought her to the auditions, said she loves to sing and has performed the anthem in front of groups several times before.

“Her mom and I are both GCU graduates,” he said. “We thought this would be something kind of fun for her to do at our school.”

Joining Campbell, McAllister and Ertell as judges were Women’s Basketball Head Coach Trent May, College of Fine Arts and Production Assistant Dean Juan Hernandez and Director of Event Services Helen Bleach.

Performers were graded in five categories: skill, pitch, appearance, confidence and how entertaining they were.

May said he was looking for someone with great confidence and a fun persona.

“Before a game starts, there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation,” he said. “You want to have someone that can go out there and really set a good tone to get the game started.”

Ben and Matt of the KNIX morning show.

Campbell and McAllister were impressed with the auditions — and the Arena.

“I think it’s really great that this was an open audition and anyone could come to try out,” McAllister said. “Even if they don’t get picked, it’s awesome for them to be able to try out and perform in front of people.”

Said Campbell: “We’re really excited for the Lady Antebellum concert to be held here in November. This is such a perfect venue. It really fills a void in the Valley and even in the state.”

McAllister joked that he likes the color purple, “so I feel very comfortable and at home here.” 

The singers will be notified by Ertell next Tuesday. Those selected will have a list of dates from which they can choose.

Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or [email protected].

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