Banner vocalists on track

Last modified: 4/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
Nikki Brouillette approached the microphone, hat pulled low, hair flowing out the back, vocal cords strong and ready.

The tiny 14-year-old from Ipswich, Mass., was one of 19 contestants auditioning yesterday to sing the national anthem before races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon this summer.

Rockets' red glare? Bombs bursting in air? Child's play. Brouillette was the free and the brave, masterfully handling the three lines that have been exposing weaker voices for decades.

"I love to sing," said Brouillette, accompanied by her father, Paul.

It was an American Idol format, on a day that reminded no one of racing. Instead of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez judging talent, we had, among others, Roadkill from The Morning Buzz, Scorch from Rock 101 and Gary Hoey, billed as a "guitar legend" on the name card at the judges table.

Track officials, looking for two people to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a stock car race July 16 and a truck race Sept. 24, planned to audition the first 75 to register.

They got 19 and lots of slush instead. They also got a ton of talent and plenty of inspiration.

Start with Brouillette, who sings in four choruses. A NASCAR fan who wore a Kasey Kahne hat, she surprised the judges with a powerful voice that came from a small body. Also surprising was her goal in life.

Singer?

No.

Veterinarian.

Not surprising, though, was her selection as one of six finalists, whose videos will be posted on the internet starting

tomorrow. Fans can vote on nhms.com through May 9.

Brouillette, like the other winners, began singing early. Before walking. Before talking, even.

"When she was 2 or 3, she would sing in the house, in the shower or in the tub," Paul Brouillette said. "You can always hear a good voice, and some of the sounds she would make in the house told you she had to sing."

Camryn Allard, an 8-year-old from Tyngsboro, Mass., has Down syndrome and a pretty good voice. He wore a cowboy hat and a jacket with colorful Peanut M&M characters on the back.

Allard once sang the anthem at Bishop Guertin High for his brother's hockey game. "Oh Canada, too," he informed his interviewer.

And then there was Christopher Duffley of Manchester, a 9-year-old celebrity who's already been featured by several New Hampshire media outlets. Duffley, who's blind, had his Manchester gig singing the anthem at the Fisher Cats game postponed.

But he made the final six and had things in perspective all day.

"It's all right if people don't win," he said. "They can still sing."

"His spirit was incredible," Hoey said. "He said to me, 'I'm blind, but I see with my heart and hands.' "

Courtney Parsons also made the finals.

The 16-year-old Londonderry High student sang with her school choir at Disney World and has been in several rock bands. Now she may sing in front of 40,000 NASCAR fans this summer.

"In the crib she would hum," said her mother, Lynda Parsons. "We would hear her on the monitor."

Alex Wentworth of Rollinsford is 15, a student at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Dover.

She's the lone freshman member of the Chamber Singers, a select group at her school. She plays piano and violin. She's sang in local productions of Annie, Charlotte's Web, Damn Yankees and Pippi Longstocking.

She wore gloves at the audition, cupped the microphone with both hands and landed a spot in the finals.

"I was nervous, but when I got to the microphone I wasn't," Wentworth said. "I stop being nervous when I get to the mike."

Last year's Miss Manchester, 24-year-old Alicia Rossman of Brentwood, was a finalist, too. She got a microphone for Christmas when she was 5.

And while singing the anthem at University of New Hampshire hockey games, Manchester Monarchs games and New Hampshire Fisher Cats games was exciting, nothing beats what happened to her eight years ago, when she was a high school student with braces.

"I sang with Shania Twain on stage," Rossman said. "It was at Mohegan Sun. I had a sign that said, 'I'd really like to sing with you,' and she called me up. I sang 'You're Still the One.' She gave me a hug, and I went back to my seat."

Rossman showed how truly hard the anthem is to sing, stopping in the middle of her video performance to start over.

"Sorry," she said. "I started way too high."

After rebounding like Kevin Garnett, Rossman said, "Everyone starts the song at different notes. If you start at the wrong note, you're screwed."

"There's so much of a range," Brouillette added. "If you start too high, your voice can crack."

The cold in Garage 3 only added to the challenge. Steamy breath came from each singer. So did a lot of heart.

"You're really good," Parsons said to Brouillette after the competition. "How old are you?"

"Fourteen," Brouillette answered. "You were really good, too."

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)


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