Arena's national anthem audition a test of stamina for panel of judges

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau 

I have trained for a number of distance races in my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the endurance test of listening to the national anthem 85 times in less than two hours. 

I made it. And if that’s not service to my country, then I don’t know what is. 

The occasion was Monday’s third annual open audition at GCU Arena, where hopefuls brought their talent and courage — not necessarily in that order — with the goal of nailing down one of 12 slots available to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Antelope men’s basketball home games this coming season. 

It could have been much worse. There were at least half as many no-shows, meaning that our judicial panel, which included yours truly, could have gone a lot longer welded to our chairs. And that might have been enough to ruin the evening of Francis Scott Key himself. 

All told, we heard a brass band, a school choir, a trio, a duet, two trumpeters, a 9-year-old and a whole bunch of folks whose singing fell comfortably between awesome and awful. There was even an awkward center-court marriage proposal after one woman's tryout, and she gave no visible sign of accepting it. 

The Romeo had guts, and thankfully he didn’t compound his anxiety by belting out a few bars. 

Fortunately, a decision had been made beforehand by the Arena’s Jamie Santiago and head judge Helen Bleach, GCU’s senior director of university relations and campus events, to limit contestants to only part of the song, which usually comes in somewhere between 90 seconds and two minutes (although Alicia Keys took a leisurely 2:40 at the last Super Bowl). 

Some of the entries chose the challenging “And the rockets’ red glare” section, but most took it from the top. Few were allowed to go the full distance, and that kept things moving briskly. When Helen held up her hand, that was the cue to stop. It wasn’t exactly a gong — some fine singers were cut short — but it probably felt that way to the performers. 

The panel scored each contestant on a five-point scale in each of three categories: vocal/instrumental ability, lyric accuracy (hmmm, kind of tough with a trumpeter) and stage presence. There wasn’t time to confer, only to make a few quick notes, and I observed fellow judges Gabe Salazar, Emily Stephens, Molly Busch and Jackie Morales taking their roles very seriously. (This had to be a goofy gig for Gabe, a first-rate tenor who knows great singing and is married to international opera star Amber Wagner.) 

I was locked in, too, although some of my scribblings seemed rather bizarre (and not too helpful) afterward: 

“Weird pogo movement going on” 

“Better than other guy” 

“Sounded like smooth jazz” 

“Overdone cowboy style” 

“Looked pained and tortured” 

“Sounds like she’s yelling at me” 

“Black plastic boot on left foot” 

As you might expect, there were some forgotten and mangled lyrics — “the ramparts we watched” became “the ramparts we lost” at least once — but the biggest surprise was that an overwhelming majority of the performers were competent. Maybe not great, but decent enough to sing in the average church choir. If there had been a gong, few would have truly deserved it. 

The judges agreed on at least 10 winners, who will be notified in the next week or two. 

So, I think I’m done with the national anthem for a while. I feel bad for the marriage-proposal guy, but his evening was a winner in one respect. 

He didn’t have to hear me sing. 

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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