The singing of the national anthem to commence sporting events adds a touch of class and patriotism to these occasions. In the case of games featuring Americans or held in the United States, The Star-Spangled Banner has served to boost the spirits of American crowds and athletes. Fittingly, the U.S. national anthem, with lyrics by Francis Scott Key and music by John Stafford Smith, is a stirring and rousing tune that effectively serves to inspire its listeners… most of the time. On rare occasions, lack of preparation, poor creative decisions, and unfortunate circumstances have turned the singing of the American national anthem into disastrous and comedic episodes.
Throughout the years, several less-than-stellar performances of The Star-Spangled Banner in sporting events have been the focus of public criticism. Christina Aguilera‘s rendition during Super Bowl XLV, for example, was lambasted because she botched up the lyrics of the song’s fourth line. Then there was Michael Bolton‘s 2003 ALCS game performance, wherein he had to resort to reading lyrics written on his palm to recall the song’s words. But really, those are nothing compared to the ten worst renditions we’ve compiled for you in the following list, performances arranged from bad to worst:
10. Natalie Gilbert / 2003 NBA Playoffs: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks
In 2003, the NBA ran the Toyota Get the Feeling of a Star promotion through which a young singing talent, voted on by fans, got to deliver the American national anthem at an official game. The contest’s winner was Natalie Gilbert, who earned the honor of singing The Star-Spangled Banner right before the Trail Blazers faced the Thunder in Game 3 of their playoff series. Unfortunately, Natalie woke up with a flu that day and was understandably overcome with nervousness by the enormity of the occasion. As a result, on the second line of the song, the eighth grader froze, chuckled a bit, then covered her face in shame. But then suddenly, like a hero swooping in to save the day, then OKC assistant coach Maurice Cheeks walked over to Gilbert, put his arm around her, and helped her remember the words to finish the song.
“It was like a guardian angel had come and put his arm around my shoulder and helped me get through one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had,” Natalie gushed.
Cheeks’s gesture of assisting Gilbert gained national attention, and the two even made the rounds of talk shows to discuss the heartwarming moment.
9. Scott Stapp / 2005 NASCAR Ford 400 Championship Race
Creed’s lead vocalist Scott Stapp may be a Grammy-award winner, but it seems that picking him to sing the national anthem before the 2005 NASCAR Ford 400 Championship race was a terrible decision. Of course, it can be argued that Stapp merely delivered the song in the Creed-like manner he would’ve been expected to. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Stapp’s growling, which strangely incorporated saliva-gargling sounds as he sang “And the rockets’ red glare,” was an awful fit for the tune.
8. Alexis Normand / 2013 Memorial Cup: Portland Winterhawks vs. Halifax Mooseheads
In fairness to Canadian jazz singer Alexis Normand, she was booked to sing the American national anthem just hours before her performance preceding the 2013 Memorial Cup game between the Portland Winterhawks and the Halifax Mooseheads. Regardless of the circumstances, however, it can hardly be denied that the outcome was nothing short of disastrous.
Normand actually started out quite well but lost her way just a few lines into the number when she sang “twilight’s first gleaming” instead of “twilight’s last gleaming.” Alexis then paused a while to compose herself, but ended up just humming the tune, making it impossible for American hockey players to hold in their laughter.
A day later, Normand tweeted, “I’m embarrassed and deeply sorry. I wish I’d had more time to learn the American anthem.”
7. Madison Rising / 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series at Daytona
A band that calls itself “the most patriotic rock band” is probably a good choice for performing the American national anthem. Or maybe not. Madison Rising delivered such a bizarre version of the The Star-Spangled Banner that it caused Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski to comment, “Well I wish they would just sing the damn song.”
The performance actually started out quite dramatically with soothing guitar plucking and heartfelt vocals. But as the song reached its climax, the band suddenly went full-on rock, complete with an irregular beat and incomprehensible growling. And while Madison Rising probably thought their creative choice was inspired and innovative, it really just came across as strange and crass.
6. Roseanne Barr / 1990 MLB Game: San Diego Padres vs. Cincinnati Reds
When people think “terrible national anthem performance,” this one that featured crotch-grabbing and spitting is the one that comes to most people’s minds. In fact, Roseanne Barr‘s screeching rendition was so awful that then US President Bush called the stunt “disgraceful”. Really, what was Roseanne thinking?
Well, Barr later tried to explain the performance as a panicked response after she had sung a few notes, and everyone started booing. But what really happened that day seems pretty clear: Roseanne fully intended to create a stir. So perhaps she should be given some credit for being bad on purpose and for accomplishing what she had planned.
In 2011, more than two decades after her infamous performance, Barr was given the opportunity to redeem herself when she was invited to sing The Star-Spangled Banner for the University of Hawaii’s girls’ softball team.
5. Carl Lewis / 1993 NBA Game: Chicago Bulls vs. New Jersey Nets
Carl Lewis, with nine Olympic gold medals to his credit, is unquestionably an outstanding track and field athlete. But who suggested that he be assigned to sing the national anthem at an NBA game?
Lewis seemed confident when he began, even asking the crowd if they were ready. (They probably weren’t ready for what they were about to hear). He then belted out a strangely long “Oh” before proceeding to “say can you see,” but he sounded fine. And then Carl got to the anthem’s highest notes, which caused his voice to crack and the crowd to begin reacting. Lewis actually tried to talk the blooper away by candidly saying, “Uh-oh. I’ll make up for it now.” But he didn’t, and the crowd booed him loudly.
4. Cuba Gooding, Sr. / 2008 CIAA Men’s Basketball Finals: Johnson C. Smith vs. Fayetteville State
Those who remember The Main Ingredient’s 1972 smash Everybody Plays the Fool will likely recall the silky smooth vocals on the track. The man mainly responsible for that sweet delivery was Cuba Gooding, Sr., the lead singer for the group. Unfortunately, Gooding Sr. seems to have exemplified the message of his group’s biggest hit when he belted out an A capella performance of the national anthem before the 2008 CIAA championship game.
Despite the fact that the then 63-year-old crooner obviously put his heart and soul into his rendition, he was undeniably cringeworthy in his overly dramatic delivery.
3. Mateusz Krauwurst / 2010 KSW 14: Eric “Butterbean” Esch vs. Mariusz Pudzianowski
Butterbean was soundly defeated in his 2010 MMA fight against Mariusz Pudzianowski, and perhaps, Polish singer Mateusz Krauwurst’s horrible botch-up of the American national anthem is partly to blame.
Here’s an attempt to transcribe the lines that Krauwurst was singing:
Oh say can you see
Mah dumps, e-early lied
Were so proudly behaved
By the choir lives that leaning
Hair thee rockets were glare
And the rockets were glur
At that point, Mateusz’s performance was mercifully interrupted by the playing of the instrumental version of the Polish national anthem.
2. Harper Gruzins / 2012 MLS Game: FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
It’s cruel to say nasty things about an eleven-year-old’s attempt at singing what is widely considered one of the most difficult songs to deliver, but even Harper Gruins acknowledges that her performance of the national anthem at the Dallas – LA football game in 2012 definitely wasn’t her best. In fairness to Harper, though, she had been diligently practicing for the event, even posting this video of a practice run where she gives a more-than-decent delivery:
Unfortunately, come what was supposed to be her big break, Gruins often sounded whiny and off-key. “I couldn’t hear myself and the blowhorns got me off key,” she explained.
1. Caroline Marcil / 2005 Exhibition Game: Team USA vs. Team Canada
Caroline Marcil of Montreal was assigned to sing both the American and Canadian national anthems during the two countries’ exhibition hockey game in 2005. Unfortunately for her, a series of embarrassing events prevented her from completing either of the two songs.
Marcil began her rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner quite well until she suddenly stopped singing, apologized, then walked away from the rink due to her failure to recall the words to the song. The already flustered singer was then loudly booed by the crowd, but she bravely walked back onto the ice with her lyrics sheet in hand. Unfortunately, her high-heeled shoes caused her to slip and fall flat on her back and she lay motionless on the ice for a couple of seconds. That’s when Caroline decided that she had had enough and walked out of the rink without having completed either of the anthems she had been assigned to sing.
Fortunately, Marcil, whose first language is actually French, was able to redeem herself when Good Morning America flew her in to sing the national anthem at the show.