Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hopefuls Vie to Sing National Anthem for Jumbo Shrimp; by Matt Soergel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hopefuls Vie to Sing National Anthem for Jumbo Shrimp; by Matt Soergel

Article excerpt

Byline: msoergel@jacksonville.com

"The Star-Spangled Banner" has been the bane of many a singer, and there's usually an element of anticipated disaster looming as listeners wait for the toughest parts. Sure, the singer may get past "the rockets' red glare," but can they traverse the even more challenging "land of the free?" Maybe. Maybe not.

It takes guts to tackle it, alone, in front of strangers.

Yet on a balmy, breezy Thursday afternoon at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, singer after singer stepped up confidently to a mic behind home plate and offered their version of the national anthem.

Some renditions were big and bold, and some were more tender. Some had a bit of vocal improvisation (though nothing remotely like Fergie's recent rendition) and some were traditional, right down the middle of the plate.

A hundred people were booked to show up, auditioning for the chance to sing the anthem before one of 69 of the Jacksonville Jumbo

Shrimp's 70 home games (the opener, on April 11, is already booked). While a groundskeeper groomed the base paths, they sang as a three-person panel of judges sat a short distance away, "American Idol" style, but with far less mugging for the camera.

Bianca Pontello, just 10, belted out a big, assured version, one much bigger than her small frame might suggest was possible. Her mother, Christina, first noted that voice when her daughter was 5, singing along in the back seat with Shakira. "Whoa. Where's that coming from?" she thought.

Bianca confirmed that the "land of the free" part is the biggest challenge. "The line before that, you have to a take a BIG breath," she said.

For Tori Jackson, 20, a University of North Florida student and pop-country singer, it's not the melody that's so tough. It's the words. "That is the biggest concern, forgetting the words. It's not terminology we use every day," she said.

For the record, she remembered them all.

Some singers took time out from work to try out.

Scott Hammer, 51, sang while wearing work boots, jeans and yellow reflective vest. He was heading back to work as a dispatcher for a company that specializes in oversized shipping.

Meanwhile, Jarvis Weeks, 23, rushed over on break from his chef's job at St. Vincent's Medical Center, still wearing a blue chef's cap and food-stained white jacket.

Lindsey Lyniuk's mother, Renie, led her to the mic, then stepped away to film; after the anthem's rousing ending, she once again went to her daughter's side to lead her from the field.

Lyniuk, 25, who is blind, has already sung a patriotic song in front of a big audience -- a worldwide one, in fact. Before the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, she was one of the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind students who sang and signed "America the Beautiful" with Alicia Keys. …

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