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O say can you sing? Performers line up for a chance to perform the anthem at Jazz games

By Nina Giardinelli, KSL | Posted - Sep 21st, 2019 @ 11:57am


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SALT LAKE CITY — From sax players to soloists to quartets, people of all ages traveled from near and far for a chance to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” before one of the 44 Jazz home games this coming NBA season.

Auditions took place Friday at Vivint Smart Home Arena in front of a panel of four judges. While some performers walked just a couple of blocks to the audition, others traveled from out of state for the occasion.

Olivia Grover, a 12-year-old singer, traveled from St. Anthony, Idaho, with her quartet and their parents. She said the four-hour drive was well worth the experience.

“Most kids in little-town Idaho don’t really do this,” she said, adding that “we’ve been pumped up for like a month now.”

Though 12-year-old William Alexander walked shyly up to the microphone, his voice was anything but timid when he delivered his rendition of the anthem. He came to Utah all the way from Staten Island, N.Y., with his father for a chance to sing in an NBA arena.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to showcase my voice to the world, and the Utah Jazz is a very big sports team,” he said. He’s been singing since he was 5.

Judges included musician Kurt Bestor, Utah Jazz music director Roger Orton, Carly Robbins, the team’s director of game operations, and Jazz announcer Dan Roberts.

Bestor said he will be looking for authenticity as well as delivery in the group of performers that will ultimately be selected. He noted that he likes to see performers who “believe in what they are singing” and not just “in their own voice.”

Robbins said “we are looking looking for someone who can fill an arena with their sound, really belt it out.”

Most of the 200 were solo artists, but there were some groups and instrumentalists on hand to try to win a slot.

“We encourage instrumentals because it’s just different and it’s nice to see what people can do in that area,” Robbins said.

Melissa Kula, who has been playing the sax for 18 years and has performed the anthem for the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins, said she was impressed by the level of camaraderie displayed during the tryouts.

After her audition, she said “people were telling me I did a great job and that was great, I’ve never had that happen when I’ve auditioned.”

While some competitors came from out of state, others hope to represent minority communities in Utah.

“We call ourselves ‘Four Minors’ just because we are four minorities trying to sing,” said Isaiah Nyuol, who attends Taylorsville High School.

The audition for him was also an opportunity to represent his culture.

“My family is from South Sudan and a lot of what you see especially in the media is just like starving kids from Africa,” he said. “And while my family deals with that, too, we also have a lot more to offer.”

Selections will be made by Oct. 15.

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Nina Giardinelli

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