Last Sunday, I listened to 24 different renditions of the National Anthem.
I had met a gal named Carole Adams Hattar, who sat at our table a week earlier at the Michelle Johnson concert at the Smith Center. I had asked Carole about her work and her answer led me to the Alexis Park Pegasus Showroom on Sunday, May 7th. At the showroom, I heard versions of the National Anthem sung by boys and girls ages 7 to 18. One of these singers, I was told, was going to lead a crowd of 15,000 people in the National Anthem this July.
Carole, I discovered, is Director of Community Relations and Special Events for the NBA Summer League which will be held July 7-17 in Las Vegas AND she is a founding member of the Tomorrow Stars Foundation which was sponsoring the Sunday auditions. The winner of the audition, called the 2023 Summer League Anthem Idol, will get a trophy, publicity, etc., but more importantly, will sing the National Anthem at Opening Weekend of the NBA Summer League.
The NBA Smmer League co-founders, along with their Board of Directors, established the non-profit Tomorrow’s Stars Foundation years ago. The National Anthem competition is just one of the many STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) Programs they run year-round in Las Vegas.
I write often about activities for the over-50 crowd (because of my own “maturity”) so why not give a listen to the younger generation?
When I arrived at the Pegasus Showroom, the place was not filled with people, as it was a private audition event, but Carole was there and gave me a big welcome. (Boy, had I made that much of an impression on her?) Turns out, she gave big welcomes to everyone who arrived and was great with introductions. Her first greetings were to the eight judges she had recruited for the day. I was impressed. Names and photos of the judges were on a poster advertising the May 7th auditions. Those judges represented a variety of music industry and arts professionals from across the country, now Las Vegas residents.
The judges were Pat Caddick (writer producer, orchestrator, and musical director), Billie Cole (vocal coach to the stars, producer, music director and originally from Australia), Dylan Gonzalez (who came alone but has a twin sister Dakota and both have millions of followers as Social media influencers. Dylan is also a recording artist and co-founder of of the Peace Train Foundation), Danica Ruiz (15-year-old singer, songwriter and former Summer League Anthem Idol winner), Jonathan Scott (over 40 years in entertainment, with credits in radio, television and show production), Christian Shelton (singer known for his performance in a 2021 Super Bowl commercial, a UNLV student majoring in vocal performance, social media influencer and post-audition soloist for the judges with an amazing operatic selection), TrinaMarie Shaw (USOA Mrs. Nevada 2022, a real estate broker, writer, speaker, and philanthropist) and Michael Sinatra (a jazz singer carrying on the family tradition, recording artist, and musician).
The youngsters who auditioned had previously submitted tapes of their performance. The 24 were selected for the “Live” auditions out of 50 video submissions. Each finalist had an appointment time, and one by one, the youngsters introduced themselves and sang the National Anthem.
Small conversations were held with each youngster. Their favorite singers included: Taylor Swift, Adele and even Ella Fitzgerald. A cellphone for many of the singers helped give them the perfect pitch they needed to begin. With Michael Sinatra on the judging panel, one young contestant was asked if she knew who Frank Sinatra was and as she said “no”. (I wasn’t the only one n the room feeling my age.) The National Anthem is not an easy song — the range and high notes can cause problems even for professionals. Only one auditioner had to stop and start again.
The judges had a number of favorites among the singers and after the auditions, they discussed each one, admitting they enjoyed seeing all the young people who auditioned. In the end, however, they unanimously agreed the winner was Julia McLain, age 9. Julia was confident, had great stage presence, and her high notes were loud and strong.
As the judges discussed their favorite singers, they also came to a recommendation that perhaps a master class for all the contestants would be a good follow-up to the auditions. Carole liked the idea, so we’ll see.
Carole mentioned that one of her many responsibilities actually involves finding singers for all the National Anthems to be sung for the over 80 games of NBA Summer League, as well as half-time entertainment. Typically, she calls on local Las Vegas entertainers, but she has professionals and amateurs who contact her from around the country. TV stations and media from around the world cover the NBA Sumner League games, so a singer can get national exposure by just singing the National Anthem. The Summer League games are held at both Thomas & Mack Center and COX Pavilion. Carole noted that in the last two years, she has developed the Summer League Youth Talent Showcase. It features talented youngsters and offers them opportunity to sing before a crowd of 3500 in COX Pavilion. The more established singers perform in Thomas & Mack arena which seats 15,000. Julia, the 2023 Summer League Anthem Idol, will perform in Thomas & Mack.
Needless to say, I was impressed with these auditions. The stage was decorated with blue and white balloons. The judges were offered soft drinks, snacks, and Summer League gift bags. The contestants received a Summer League t-shirt and key chain. They were all lovely kids, and all were praised by Carole. Carole does not work alone for this event. Her staff included her assistants, Kenzie Carmichael, Justice Ethridge, and Nick Mardirossian, all from UNLV.
Following is a short video including a few notes from a random selection of auditions. At the end is Julia McLain’s audition.