Hundreds of people took turns belting out The Star-Spangled Banner at Fayette Mall over the weekend to audition for the privilege of singing the national anthem at a Lexington Legends home game this year.
For six hours over two days, the mall reverberated to the sound of soloists, duets, trios, quartets, entire families and sprawling choirs — from little kids to senior citizens. A few drove to Lexington from as far away as Hazard and Morehead.
Some squarely hit each note. Others sort of grazed the notes in a warbled drive-by, merely inflicting flesh wounds. (The high note at the end of “O'er the land of the free” seemed an especially unreachable star.) But nearly everyone sang with gusto.
“Their enthusiasm is amazing,” remarked one of the judges, local radio host Mike Cameron of WXLG-1300 AM. “Nobody does it halfway. They give it their all.”
“It helps that we don't have any Simon Cowells up here,” Cameron added, referring to the acerbic American Idol judge who enjoys publicly shredding contestants.
The Legends will fill the 70 available home games from the weekend's 180 applicants, said spokeswoman Emily Crumrine. The team has relied on auditions to find singers since it started playing in 2001.
Judges scored the singers on the quality of their voice, their presentation and whether they remembered the lyrics. A few people had to pause and start again after forgetting what they were supposed to be seeing by the dawn's early light.
Donald Mason offered his rendition of the national anthem Sunday in a bowel-rumbling baritone. This was his third attempt to sing for the crowd at a Legends game. Past auditions weren't successful.
“Last year I did this really high version, and it was terrible. I couldn't get my breath,” said Mason, an administrative assistant at the University of Kentucky. “Hopefully, this year I get a game.”
Past winners who enjoyed their time in the spotlight came back for more. Vicki Lynn Fraley, 33, of Morehead sang the anthem at a Legends game last year. On Sunday, she auditioned twice more — once as a solo act and again as a duet with her 8-year-old daughter, Torianna.
Likewise, a gospel trio from Hazard called Uplifting Praise already has sung for the Legends twice. But the group tried again Sunday, with Joyce Gabbard, Clara Maggard and Pam Cole smoothly harmonizing.
Many singers said that performing the national anthem at a ballpark on a warm summer evening is a thrill and an honor, about as American an experience as a crooner could hope for.
Mason, the baritone, said he occasionally sings for various small groups. Compared to that, he said, singing for 5,000 Legends fans would be easy.
“When you're singing for only four or five people, that's intimate. They're right there with you,” Mason said. “But when you're singing in front of a big crowd, you're by yourself. You can almost zone out.”