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About 100 area singers audition to sing anthem

April 07, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Maggie Mellott started singing the theme song from the movie "Titanic" when she was 18 months old, said her mother, Clear Spring Elementary music teacher Chris Mellott.

On Saturday, 6-year-old Maggie, clad in red, white and blue, belted out the national anthem in front of three judges and a packed food court at Valley Mall in Hagerstown.

Maggie, of Chambersburg, Pa., was among about 100 Tri-State area residents vying for the chance to sing the anthem at Hagerstown Suns' home baseball games this season.

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The Suns and Verstandig Broadcasting of Greencastle, Pa., hosted the more than two-hour audition session for singers ages 5 and older in hopes of scouting enough local talent to have someone different sing the anthem at each of the team's 60 home games. By 10:30 a.m., nearly 90 people had registered for the competition, said Don Brake, Verstandig's operations manager.

Some closed their eyes during heartfelt renditions of the national anthem. Others added hip-hop, country and operatic vocal melodies to the song.

Most sang solo, but Ashanti fans Meggie Hebb and Ashlee Lohman, both of Waynesboro, Pa., took the team approach.

"We decided since we're best friends we'd do it together," said Meggie, 12. "We have a singing group called The Three Flames."

The third flame couldn't make it on Saturday, said Ashlee, also 12.

Smithsburg resident Sara Marten, 11, had already been practicing the national anthem for a school talent show. She felt "pretty good" about her showing on Saturday, she said.

Christina Aguilera fan Erin Mandley chided herself for missing a high note during her soulful rendition of the song. Her powerful performance, however, drew loud applause.

"I really want to be a singer when I grow up," said Erin, 14, of Hagerstown. "All my friends say I'm the best so I decided to try out."

His sermons might stir his congregation, but local minister Chris Bambrough's strong tenor voice wowed the food court crowd. A baseball fan and pastor at Dual High Church of God in Hagerstown, Bambrough said he studied opera in college but never had the opportunity to perform the national anthem at a ball game.

"I thought it would be a kick," Bambrough said.

Laura Musser's friends encouraged her to audition after they heard her singing the national anthem in tune to the canned soundtrack at a Suns game. The Waynesboro, Pa., resident donned a stars and stripes T-shirt and hair ribbon for the occasion.

"I've heard some good music today," said Musser, who idolizes Reba McEntire.

Three official judges - and a roomful of cafeteria-chair critics - graded the vocalists' performance. Judge Howard Nicholas, a retired singer who now lives in Hagerstown, said he was impressed by the competition, especially the vocal prowess of the younger contestants.

"It's just great," he said. "These young people, 5 and 6 years old even, are staying on key."

Surprise spectator Vernon Alter was a tougher audience.

"Some of 'em are good. Some of 'em are trying too hard," said Alter, of Hagerstown, who didn't expect to be serenaded when he sat down for coffee at the food court on Saturday morning.

Vocalist Will Shepard, 17, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., resigned himself to critiquing the competition after his lack of an adult guardian cost him his chance to audition. He was most impressed by Erin Mandley's performance, but Bambrough's was a close second, Shepard said.

"That guy with the opera voice was good, even though that's not my style," said Will, who prefers rhythm and blues and gospel music.

"I give them an "E" for effort," said John Gilroy, of Sabillasville, Md. "It's fun to listen, though. You've got the war on the TV (in the food court) and the national anthem on the stage. What more could you ask for?"

Due to time limitations Saturday, the last 30 or so contestants would likely have to arrange auditions with the Suns at a later date, Brake said.

Winners will be notified by phone within the next few weeks, he said.

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