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O say, can you sing?

March 18, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

The audience at Valley Mall's food court barely coould see 6-year-old Olivia Baker behind the banner hanging in front of the stage.

But they could hear her just fine as she sang the national anthem, auditioning for a chance to sing it at one of the Hagerstown Suns' 70 home games this season.

Olivia took some audible breathes between lines, and repeated some lines when she lost track of the song. Those imperfections were forgiven by the more than 100 people in the food court as they applauded the little girl's performance.

"She was precious. She didn't even have any music to sing by," said food court diner Betty Muck, 72, of Waynesboro, Pa. "She was nervous, but she did real well."

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Suns Assistant General Manager Michael Swope was happily surprised by the quality of the tryouts, the first public auditions he thinks the Suns have had for singers of the anthem.

"I expected to hear 25 percent good and 75 percent the other," Swope said.

Instead, he said, just about everyone who tried out could qualify, but the judges still need to narrow the list down to the best 15 people in each of the three age groups. The age groups are 5-10, 11 -18 and 19 and older.

Participants should hear from the Suns within two weeks if they made the cut, Swope said.

Those who chose to sing other songs Karaoke-style rather than singing the anthem a cappella Saturday will have to sing the anthem for the Suns to prove they know the lyrics and can hit the high notes before they can perform at a ball game, Valley Mall Marketing Director Julie Simmons said.

So many people signed up to try out - 68 - organizers said they will schedule more time next year for auditions.

Olivia, of the Cedar Lawn area, had never sung before a large live audience before, but had been practicing for her parents in the living room, the kitchen and in the car.

Among those who tried out Saturday, the young children generally got the loudest applause.

Gillian Kramer, 11, of Hagerstown, kicked off the tryouts with a rousing rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." Dressed in red, white and blue, Gillian demonstrated her obvious experience - she performed in "Peter Pan" at age 4 and was in "Annie" last summer at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.

Despite his inexperience, Bradly Mills, 6, probably stole the show.

Dressed up with a Scooby Doo necktie, the Clear Spring Elementary kindergartner released his two-fisted grip on the microphone only briefly to swing his left arm out during a climatic moment in the song.

After finishing his performance before an enthralled crowd, Bradly got hugs from his father and his teary mother.

"I thought with all the people he would get a little shook up, but he did real well," said Bradly's father, Lynn Mills, 34, of Big Pool.

Most of the people trying out were women and teenage girls, some singing the anthem and others singing standards such as "The Rose" or pop favorites such as Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

Michelle Fox, 31, of Hedgesville, W.Va., sang Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." because she was fighting a cold, which would have made it harder to hit the national anthem's high notes.

J.P. Nichols, 38, of Waynesboro, chose to sing "Flamingo" because it was too early in the day for the anthem's high notes.

At least a couple of teens from Washington County's All-County Chorus tried out, including soloist Kathryn Angle.

"I was a little nervous. I could have done better," said Kathryn, 14, of Boonsboro.

Rachel Hodges, 13, of Hagerstown, also was a little critical of her performance.

"I was a little nervous. I could tell I was going too fast and a little off-key, but I had fun," Rachel said.

Rachel said she didn't even notice when some music from another mall event started playing in the background.

Kelli Nutter, 35, of Hagerstown, is trying to progress through the different leagues. After having sung the anthem at last year's West End Little League All-Stars, she tried out Saturday for the minor-league Suns and hopes to eventually sing for the major- league Baltimore Orioles.

Most people sang a traditional version of the anthem, with a few adding some personal style.

David Benkert, 32, of Hagerstown, adjusted the key to better fit his voice and threw in a "yeah, yeah" after "land of the free."

Barb Mosior, 41, of Chambersburg, Pa., followed her son, Ben, 11, in the tryouts.

"I was very proud of him," Mosior said. "It was fun doing it with him. That was the best part."

Many of the diners appeared to enjoy the tryouts during their lunch hour.

One exception was Zachary Hull, 4, who walked through the food court with his hands over his ears as if he was in pain.

"I can't stand the noise," shouted Zachary, of Mercersburg, Pa.

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