What so loudly they hailed

Auditioning to sing the national anthem takes guts. Yesterday, Prince George's Stadium was the home of the brave.


BOWIE -- On a perfect day for baseball, they gathered at the ballpark - if only the calendar read April and not still March - and raced down the stadium's concrete steps one by one for their turn at the microphone near home plate and a shot at greatness.

Or at least a shot at singing the national anthem at one of the 71 Bowie Baysox home games this season.

Some sang beautifully, like opera singers or gospel vocalists. Others sang horrific renditions, a la those awful auditions on the television hit American Idol. One preteen began to cry during her tryout, thrown off by a flub and unable to continue despite the encouragement of the crowd. Several messed up the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner," a notoriously difficult song to get right.

But all 60 contestants - from elementary school-age girls to senior citizens - shared one quality: the bravery to belt it out a cappella in front of spectators (dozens yesterday, and likely thousands if chosen) and a panel of three judges who quietly made notes critiquing each performance. They will choose 12 to 15 singers in the next few days. The remaining slots on the schedule will be filled by previous performers, military groups or other Baysox sponsors.

"Everyone always asks if they can send in tapes or CDs or videos, but there's nothing like hearing them live on our sound system in front of people," said Phil Wrye, director of marketing for the team, the Double-A affiliate of the Orioles. "We let anyone who wants to fulfill that dream of singing the national anthem at a professional sporting event. We try to give them that chance."

In the meantime, he had to listen to the national anthem sung five dozen times.

A quartet of brunet moms from in and around Alexandria, Va., dressed in coordinating black tops, sang a four-part harmony. They have been singing together for a few months, though their biggest gigs so far have been on the streets of Old Town and in a bar there, where they have gone alternately by the names The Del Raves and Olive and the Martinis. And, of course, they all sing solo to their children and in the shower and in the minivan.

"We got the idea to audition, and if we get it, we'll bring our kids and everyone we know," said Traci Miller, who sang alongside Siobhan Quinn, Heather Kelly and Suzanne Hellmann.

"It was fun," Quinn said. "When you get out and do an audition, it's nerve-racking, but at the same time you have to remember to breathe."

Starr Martin, a Baltimore woman who works in customer service, has sung in church, at weddings, even on television. Still, she loved the idea of being able to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a ballgame - even if it is just 90 seconds of fame.

"To sing the national anthem, you get so scared and it's just a few verses," she said. "But it's a wonderful song."

The singers each seemed to take a different approach, even if they were singing the same words. One young man wore a suit and tie. One woman, whose husband had to work and couldn't find a sitter, bounced her 9-month-old daughter on her hip as she sang. One wore hot-pink flip-flops; another, jet-black stilettos.

Wrye's staff is looking for a range of styles and, simply put, "people who carry a tune and know all the words and don't get nervous in front of a crowd."

Easier said than done, perhaps.

Kyle Robinson, a 23-year-old who is stationed at Fort Meade in the Air Force and one of the few who spoke during his audition, tried to start with a bit of comedy, saying he expected to be picked up in a limousine and to enter the field flanked by Washington Redskins cheerleaders. He said he was just trying to get the judges' attention. Unfortunately, he followed by botching the words to the song.

"I might have messed up my callback," he shrugged. His goal had been to do something "patriotic." "I'm in the military," he explained, "but all I do is push towels at the fitness center."

Jennifer Hewitt is 8. She tried out last year and didn't make it, but that didn't stop her. The tiny Odenton girl was back on the field to sing again yesterday. "I've seen other kids do it and I thought I could do it myself," she said.

Her 6-year-old sister "begged and begged" to join Jennifer and her mother, Jeanne Toussaint, yesterday at Prince George's Stadium. But Mom said no.

"She doesn't know the words yet," Toussaint said.


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