Judges look for best to perform anthem at basketball games

Sarah Jewell, 20, of Edmonton sings during auditions held on Monday afternoon in Diddle Arena for a position to sing the national anthem during WKU sporting events.

Cole Claybourn

From Carl Lewis’ 1993 lyrical blunder at a game between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks to Christina Aguilera’s improvisational performance prior to Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the national anthem has taken its fair share of beatings at sporting events.

Those two, among other notably bad performances of the song, were on the back of Mitzi Groom’s mind Sunday and Monday as she judged the national anthem auditions for the WKU men’s and women’s basketball games.

Groom, the head of the music department, said those two performances are prime examples of what has gone wrong with the national anthem at recent sporting events and exactly what she and the other judges did not want to see at WKU games this season.

“Unfortunately at NFL games and other professional games, we see all these rock stars who are putting too much of their own twist on the song,” she said. “A lot of times, amateurs who sing model after that, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be sung.”

That’s why Groom said WKU is using the auditions to find singers who will “show the song respect” and won’t promise to “make it up” to a booing crowd midway through the song like Lewis did.

“When people mix the song up their own way, that’s a clear case of lack of respect for the song,” she said. “It’s amazing how people will change the way the national anthem is sung simply because of the venue.”

Groom said the judges were searching for people who would sing it without their own flare but would still sound good and engage the crowd.

They had more than 50 singers to choose from, as people from all ages came to Diddle Arena to audition.

Morgan Cornelius, Athletic Marketing student assistant, helped organize the auditions and said the goal was to do something different than what had been done in years past.

Previously there was a small list of singers who would be called upon multiple times throughout the season to sing, she said.

“We just wanted a different variety of people to do it because we usually had the same few people to do it,” she said.

But this year, Cornelius said she wanted to get the word out to more members of the community, which included making an announcement at the first home football game against Indiana.

It was done in the hopes of not having repeat performances of renditions such as those regarded by TIME magazine as the worst national anthem performances ever, including Rosanne Barr’s at a 1990 San Diego Padres game and Kat DeLuna’s at a 2008 Dallas Cowboys game, which was drowned out by boos.

Jennifer Adam, a WKU music department faculty member, was also a judge for the auditions and said her philosophy is the same as Groom’s.

“We aren’t doing it to show off our own talents,” she said. “There’s a lot of inflections that people put in there, but it’s not written like that, so why sing it like that?”